For the last few weeks, we’ve seen people going the extra mile for neighbors, organizing birthday parades for kids, and even helping complete strangers who they’ll never even meet. It’s honestly been a beautiful thing. As followers of Jesus, we love seeing people come together meeting the needs of those less fortunate. And if you’re able, you’re probably helping where you can, too.
I want to remind us of two things, yes us, because I must be reminded of this, too.
- Helping those in need shouldn’t be exclusive to a pandemic
- Helping those in need should come from a heart of faith
These thoughts brought me to James 2,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14-17
Before I go any further, I want to be extremely clear that this passage isn’t talking about a work-based idea of salvation. Salvation cannot be earned by being a ‘good’ person or doing ‘good’ things. Salvation comes through the gospel alone, through the perfect life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Helping others can’t earn you salvation. I don’t have time to break down the rest of James, but this point extends through the rest of the book. I suggest checking it out at some point!
Okay, back to James 2:14-17
In these few verses, James is focusing on the heart of a believer. When your life belongs to Jesus, good works is a natural outpouring of your new life in Him. It’s when you aren’t exhibiting good works that you should take a second look at your faith.
Let’s break it down into a real-world example.
There is a man that owns an apple orchard. He always says, the life of the tree (the health of its leaves and fruit) come from the roots. In his orchard, if he sees a tree that continually doesn’t grow leaves or produce apples, he eventually assumes the tree is dead. If he checks on that tree every year, for a few years, and still nothing, he pulls the tree out altogether because it’s completely dead.
This is the very point James is trying to make. Year after year, we should be conforming to the image of Jesus and if we’re not, that’s a problem. Just like a tree that says that its an apple tree, but never produces apples or even leaves, is it really an apple tree?
Now, we’ve already established that good works isn’t a means of salvation, rather an outpouring of a heart made new by the gospel.
As you begin living out the truths of Jesus, a really cool thing will start to happen. When we participate in good works, we are becoming more like Jesus and we start to see a broken world through the lens of the gospel. When we start acting like Jesus, we start to see people like Jesus. We begin to see the broken people in our lives with compassion and urgency. We start to understand that we, ourselves, were broken and hurting, but the gospel created in us a new heart. With the very same gospel message, we can begin to embrace the lives of people who desperately need Jesus.
Starting with Jesus, we are led into a life full of good works that point people back to Jesus.
So, we must start with Jesus, but as mentioned in verse 16, there must be action that follows your faith. Not faith plus action, faith and then action. If your faith doesn’t lead you to care for others, then your faith is worthless. You are like the apple tree, standing dead in the orchard. Your faith in Jesus, should lead you to act like Jesus…remember, Jesus came to serve not be served (Matthew 20:28).
With that mindset, we step into verse 17. James is saying that there is a ‘faith’ that actually isn’t faith and that type of faith doesn’t bring salvation. This illegitimate faith is a faith that has traded the gospel for good works alone. Like I said before, true faith brings salvation and leads us to good works.
At the end of the day, when we do good things in our communities and don’t address the heart of people, there is a disconnect. When we serve people with a heart of good works, then people are only left with good works and that eventually ends. But, when we serve people in a way that address their hearts and is accompanied with good works, they not only hear about Jesus, but they see Jesus lived out.
To be clear, you don’t have to yell scripture at someone to help them. What I am saying, is that we must be sensitive to a person’s spiritual condition AND physical condition. We can’t talk to someone about Jesus while they are sitting there cold and hungry. We can, however, give them a meal and blanket to help build a relationship with them. Helping others in this way can give us an opportunity to tell them about the greatest gift ever given.
If you are helping those in need, that is amazing! Not many people stop long enough to see the needs of others. But, in this season, don’t forget that showing love to others doesn’t have to end when the pandemic is over. You can show love every day to those around you by not only helping with their physical needs, but their spiritual needs, too.
Remember why you do what you do,
- When you buy groceries for someone in need, you’re giving because you’ve been given the greatest gift
- When you call a friend to check in, you’re remember them because we have a personal God who knows our needs
- When you organize a birthday parade in your neighborhood, you’re bringing joy to others, because you’ve experienced the deepest form of joy found in Jesus
by Emily LaGrone