St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Faith Without Deeds Is Dead

Sermon on James 2:8-10, 14-18

Text: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Throughout the history of television, a popular type of program is the doctor or medical show. From “Marcus Welby, M.D.” to “ER,” people follow the doctor as he goes from patient to patient. In just about every show, there is an emergency, where the doctors do all they can to keep the patient alive. They use CPR and defibralators to bring the patient back to life. Sometimes they are not successful and the camera pans to the monitor that shows a flat line where the heart beat should be registering. You can tell that the patient has died. This morning as we study another part of God’s Word, we’re going to see how to tell if something else is alive or not. That something is faith. We will see that FAITH WITHOUT DEEDS IS DEAD. 1. Dead Faith Does Not Fulfill The Law Of Love. 2. Living Faith Proves Itself In Deeds Of Love.

Before we go any further, we want to remind ourselves of the purpose of this letter written by James. James wrote to Christians, people who had already been brought to faith. In this letter, James is not telling them how to be saved. Rather, he encourages them and admonishes them as Christians as to how they can show their love to God for all that he has done for them. In this way, the letter of James is very similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

James begins by quoting a law given by God in Leviticus. In verse eight, he writes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” James calls it a “royal law” because it comes from the Ruler of all things, God. The royal law is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Show the same sort of care and concern for others that you show yourself. If you are really doing this, James writes, you are doing it right. By observing the law in this way, you are showing that your mind is set on doing the will of God.

On the other hand, James continues in verse nine, “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” Showing favoritism is not in keeping with the royal law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Any kind of partiality shown to someone is not loving your neighbor as yourself. This verse says that they are “convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” The word “lawbreaker” is an interesting one. In the original Greek it has the idea of “crossing over a line into forbidden territory.” In other words, God sets up a “No Trespassing” sign around the area of partiality. If we step across the line, we are trespassing. We are breaking the law.

There may be some who would argue that partiality is a very insignificant infraction of God’s will. It really doesn’t count. But James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, counters that argument with the words of verse 10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James tells us that God’s law is a unit. Just as cutting a ring in one place ruins the ring, or breaking a vase in one place destroys the whole vase, so is the breaking of God’s law. Even though it may seem insignificant in the eyes of the world, yet it is a breaking of the whole law. There is no such thing as a more important law or command of God and a less significant one. While God’s law is made up of separate commands, it is still a unit.

Breaking even what may seem to be an insignificant command of God makes us guilty. When we break one command of God, we are guilty of having broken all of his commands. There is no such thing as a partial sinner.

Here it is good for us to reflect on our own lives. Have we ever been guilty of partiality? Have you ever shown favoritism to someone because of their social status in the community? Have you ever been partial to someone on the basis of their wealth, while looking down on someone who is less fortunate? Have you ever shown favoritism to someone because you happened to be related to them? Has the color of someone’s skin influenced the way you felt about them, even before you ever met them?

If the answer is “Yes” to any of these questions, then we, too, have broken God’s law. Since we have stumbled at just one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it. Even if we only did it once, that’s all that would be necessary to condemn us to hell for all eternity.

Here again, we have the wonderful news of what Jesus did for us. He, the very Son of God, came to the earth to keep the whole law of God in our place. Then, to pay the debt of sin that we owed to God, Jesus suffered and died on the cross. He paid our debt in full, and as proof of that, Jesus rose from the dead. We are forgiven. So that we might enjoy the blessings that Jesus won for us, God sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we might have faith. Faith is the hand that accepts the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life that are offered to us.

James continues in verse 14, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” In other words, James is saying that faith will naturally show itself in actions. What if there are no actions? James says in verse 17, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Here James is referring to what we call “fruits of faith.” Faith in Jesus naturally produces a certain way of acting or speaking or thinking. You might think of a fruit tree, perhaps an apple tree. The apple tree is going to produce apples. You don’t have to stand there and tell it to produce fruit. It just does it naturally. We might help it by pruning it or spraying it, but the tree will produce fruit on its own.

James says that the same thing is true for the Christian. They will naturally produce fruit, that is, deeds of love done for their Savior. A living faith shows itself in deeds of love. A purely intellectual faith, one that is only in the head, is dead or worthless. A living, saving faith will naturally show itself as it influences all that we say, do or think.

James anticipates an argument on this point from his readers. He even spells it out in the beginning of verse 18, “Someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’” Someone is claiming that there are “faith” Christians and there are “deeds” Christians, as if to say that the two can exist separately from one another. To these people, James issues a challenge, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” The challenge to false Christians to prove the existence of their faith without deeds of love is a challenge that they cannot meet. Faith and deeds cannot exist separately from each other. True, saving faith is seen by the very deeds of love that it does to carry out the will of God. True faith cannot exist separately from works, and works that are acceptable in the sight of God cannot be performed without faith. As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

To give an example of the difference between a living and dead faith, James places a situation in front of his readers. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.” When James says “without clothes,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are naked. It also has the idea of not having adequate clothing. Here we have someone who is lacking the basic necessities of life. Continuing, James writes, “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?”. What a total lack of compassion for this person in need! The one speaking says all the right things, but doesn’t do anything about it. This is the one who has a merely intellectual faith, a dead faith. James asks the question, “What good is it?”. The answer, obviously is, ‘None at all.’ On the other hand, the living faith, seeing someone in need and remembering God’s will that we love our neighbor as ourselves, would do what they could to help that person. A dead faith does not fulfill the law of love, but the living faith shows itself in deeds of love.

Again, here is a good time for self-examination. Have I been a fruitful Christian? Does my faith prompt me to deeds of love and kindness? Or has my faith, at times, been merely an intellectual exercise? I know all the right things to do or say, but don’t always carry it out. There are certain things in our lives that hinder our fruitfulness. With God’s help, we can prune those distracting things from our lives. We can show our thankfulness to God for all that he has done for us by the way that we treat and deal with others. In that way, we see evidence of the saving faith that has been created in us.

James wrote in verse 17, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead.” We pray that God would send his Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we might be strengthened as we read his Word and partake of his Holy Supper. May God give us such a faith that shows itself to be strong and alive by the way that we live. May all that we do give glory to our God. Amen.