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There are two major sections to this chapter. I will make a few comments about each.
James 2:1-13 The Sin of Partiality
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.
So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.
In my church experience we don’t tend to favor the rich over the poor, the white over the black, the “Christian” over the Hindu – but we do play favorites. We don’t do a very good job of being on the lookout for first time guests and new people to our fellowship. We favor our friends and those we enjoy talking to and just hope that someone else – like the pastoral staff – is doing a good job with newbies. It is not uncommon for us to have visitors come to our church and never have someone initiate a conversation or introduce themselves to them. Who knows how many “Mahatma Gandhi’s” have come through our doors only never to return because they were not intentionally welcomed.
I realize that it can be awkward to introduce yourself to someone that you don’t know. But take the risk anyway as an act of faith, knowing that perhaps the Lord will use you to make an eternal difference in someone’s life.
James 2:14-26 Faith Without Works Is Dead
How do you reconcile what James says in these verses with what Paul says in Ephesians 2?
- What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (v. 14)
- So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (v. 17)
- You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (v. 24)
- For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (v. 26)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The simplest way for me to explain it is this: Ephesians answers the question how are we saved? James answers the question how do you know that you are genuinely saved? They are not saying different things they are just looking at salvation from two different timelines. We are saved not by our own work but by the work of Christ on the cross. But genuine faith will produce good works in the life of a believer. In other words, his faith will be backed up by his actions.
A young man at our college Bible study put it like this… I can say that I work at Chick-fil-A. I can even really like the food at CFA. I can wear a CFA hat and even be able to tell you how great the food is at CFA – but if I never actually work at CFA and I’m not on the payroll – then I really don’t work for CFA no matter what I say.
May this brick encourage you to be on the lookout for people new to your church as well as to help you understand the role of good works in a believer’s life.