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We live in a rationalistic world, where empirical evidence is deemed key in deciding whether something is true or reliable. In today’s passage, James calls for a similar approach to proving the genuineness of a person’s faith.
Just as telling a person with inadequate clothing or food to ‘go in peace, be warmed and filled’ (verses 15–16) without actually giving them any practical help does not make sense and is no good to anyone, saying you have faith is meaningless if your words are not backed up by evidence.
James points his readers back to the examples of Abraham and Rahab to illustrate this. For instance, on the strength of God’s promises alone, Abraham was willing to leave everything he knew and go where God led him (Genesis 12.1–4). And when God tested his faith in Genesis 22, telling him to do something unbearably costly – to sacrifice his son Isaac – Abraham went immediately, built the altar and was ready to obey. God stopped him from sacrificing Isaac, saying, ‘Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son’ (Genesis 22.12). Abraham had faith, which is evident in his willingness to move to an unknown place, and even obeying God in the most difficult circumstances. Without faith, those actions would have been impossible. But Abraham’s actions were the evidence that he ‘believed God’ (James 2.23) and had total faith in him.
And Rahab, a prostitute from Jericho, had heard how God had brought his people out of Egypt, as well as his promise to give them the land of Canaan. She believed in God, saying to the Israelite spies, ‘For the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and the earth beneath’ (Joshua 2.11), and she backed up this statement of faith by helping them do what God had told them instead of handing them over to her people.
James is highlighting that true faith in God means more than just saying the right things or having the right views. Even demons know the truth (James 2.19), but all our knowledge is useless if we don’t take God at his word, believing what he says and acting accordingly. If our lives display none of the ‘vital signs’ of faith in God, then we are spiritually dead. These sobering words help us realise that God’s promises help us put our faith into action, so that our lives display evidence of faith in him.
What has God promised us for both now and the future? Write down as many promises as you can think of or find in the Bible. If we truly believe in these promises, how should this shape our actions? How can you step out in faith today?
We are able to act generously, sacrificially and humbly towards others, because we believe this is what Jesus did for us. God has told us to love your neighbour as yourself. How are you putting your faith into action this week?
This reflection was written by Leonie Dorland, from the Bible Engagement team at Bible Society.
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