As we begin to look at what is known as the theme of James epistle, works, we need to keep the balance of how James started off his letter. James bases his emphasis on works as the evidence of true faith but faith must be the foundation of everything we say and do:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13)
According to the first part of this chapter it is important that we show goes love to everyone, regardless of any personal biases we have, because that is the way the Father loves us. We cannot pick and choose who we are kind to, or who we do nice things for because having received God's love, while we were still sinners, we should understand that demonstrating this love by what we do is a fundamental part of our faith. Not to be biased in this is also fundamental. We hear directly from Jesus:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Now, if you can get your mind around this, that we are to love everyone we know and meet and that this love is translated by our words and actions, you are ready to consider what James has to say about good works:
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:14-17)
I think that we are so afraid of people becoming dependent on good works for salvation that we go to the other extreme and do not put any emphasis on our actions. We are constantly being accused of speaking the write words but not demonstrating it by our actions. In some cases this is an easy target for people to shoot at; in other cases it is the truth. We justify ourselves by what we do but we fail to recognize that what we do is for a very narrow ban of people, those who fit into what we consider acceptable folk. Outside of that group is whatever group we consider the untouchables. We spend a lot of energy condemning the "untouchables" instead of doing what Jesus did, which was to become their friend, to spend time with them, without compromising who he was or taught.
We think we are okay; we think we are not like this; we think we are including everyone, but I dare you to take a real good look in your heart. We usually use the excuse of having nothing to do with sin to avoid those we do not want to hang out with. We do not even consider that these scriptures have to do with our own actions and not those of others. How can we condemn people who have never even met Jesus. Oh, they have heard about him, and we have preached him to their face, but they have never actually met him. Then again, how many of us who claim him as Lord and Saviour have ever met him? If we had would we treat people the way we do? If we really understood that Jesus died for everyone, without exception, and that the Father loves our neighbour just as much as he loves us, would we ever be able to say an unkind word or be rude, or show any unkindness?
This is the reason James states that faith without works is dead. Faith without works is just a knowledge of theory and not a living of the truth. It is the reason James says:
"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." (James 2:19)
There is more to believing than the words we speak. There is more to believing than quoting scripture. There is more to believing than loving those who love you. True faith understands that love costs and that it is a daily cost. It is setting aside what we want to do what the Father wants, even if it means being kind to those who hate us, forgiving those who do evil to us, and showing love where love will not be returned. Faith, true faith, provokes us to action.