What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? — James 2:14
James, the brother of Jesus, says that faith without works is dead. When I first read this years ago, I thought this meant that if I didn’t do the things I knew I was supposed to do as a Christian, I was not saved. The more I thought about how pitiful I was at “doing” Christianity, the more I would worry that there was no place for me in Heaven. This way of thinking led me to a life with no victory in Jesus. The accuser would constantly whisper in my ear that I did not truly belong to God. I would try to remember that Jesus loved me and gave His life for me, but I was never sure.
Now that I have been growing in the Lord for 23 or so years, I am beginning to understand what James was talking about. Notice the question: Can that kind of faith save anyone? Can other people look at me, knowing that I profess to be a Christian, and see by my actions that Christ is worth following? If not, my faith is dead. Let me explain.
As a young believer, I received the good news of the Gospel of Christ. I knew that God wanted me to do my best in school, honor my parents, not have sex outside of marriage, not cuss, and not drink alcohol or smoke. I don’t remember anyone actually telling me these things, I just knew in my heart and mind that my body was now a temple for the Holy Spirit and there were things you did and things you didn’t do.
Also as a young believer, I led nobody to Christ. Why? Because I repeatedly chose to behave the opposite of how I knew to behave. On the few instances it was revealed that I was a Christian, I remember the words “you don’t act like one.” The Gospel stopped dead in its tracks with me. I had faith, but no works. My non-believing friends knew that I used the same foul words they did, drank the same alcohol they did, talked about and made fun of others just like they did, cheated just like they did, and slept around with my girlfriends . . . just like they did. Why would they want to simply add Jesus and church attendance to a corrupt lifestyle? They wouldn’t. Therefore, my faith when unaccompanied by works, was dead.
Slowly but surely, I began to be more obedient to Christ. One of my first tests of faith was to tell the truth to my boss when everything in me wanted to lie about something stupid I did at work. God made it very clear to me that I was to tell the truth regardless of the consequences I would receive. I really thought I would be fired if I told the truth. Possibly for the first time, I chose to obey God and go against my natural tendencies. I did not get fired. More importantly, I learned that God could be trusted. Even better than that, my co-workers and my boss saw a little glimpse of true Christian behavior. They absolutely couldn’t believe that I told the truth.
To this day, the hardest and greatest thing I ever chose to do in obedience to God is break off a sexual relationship I was having with one of my girlfriends. I was constantly convicted. She would see me play songs in church, hear me talk about the Bible and my faith in God, and all the while we both knew that what we were doing was wrong. When we finally talked about it, she felt like her intellectual knowledge that Christ died on the cross was enough to save. I felt like we should be obedient to God and actually do what His Word said. I didn’t really want to break up, but we broke up. When I told my friends the truth about why we broke up, they were flat out astounded.
Now, I say all that to say this: God is not after your behavior. He is after your heart. If He truly wins your heart, He will eventually get your behavior. However, if you refuse to do what you know in your heart is right, your faith is without works and is dead. Why? Because if your Christianity doesn’t produce a light for others to see, what good is it? If non-believers do not see the contrast of your life in the light and their life in the dark, you are simply a person hiding your light under a basket. Take off the basket, let others see the light of God inside of you. Why would they want what you have if you don’t do any of what you say that you know to be true?
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. — Matthew 5:16