The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Faith, Lists, and Works ~ James 2

a863e94cb599221a9adad7d2ac087581On Sunday we opened up probably the most famous verse of James in James 2 where he says, “Faith without works is dead”. This is a verse that is deservedly famous, but also does bring up a tension. Because this verse looks almost directly contradictory to some of the teaching of Paul. For example Paul says this:

Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works”

Romans 3:27, “Can we boast then that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by works”

Galatians 2:16, “And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ…for no one will ever be saved by obeying the law”.

This tension though is more in perspective than in reality. James is writing to people who are using their faith as an excuse to not do works. Paul is writing to people who are seeking to use their works as reason to be accepted. And the different contexts make all the difference.

James is not arguing that works  must be added to faith, but that genuine faith includes works.

Douglas Moo puts it this way,

The difference between the [teachings of James and Paul] is the context in which these works are done. Paul denies that works can have any value in brining us into a relationship with God; James is insisting that, once that relationships is established, works are essential”.

So works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.  

Or as Calvin puts it, “Paul contends that we are justified apart from the help of works, so James does not allow those who lack good works to be reckoned righteous”.

So we ended with James’ main point: Faith without works is dead. And we challenge people to actually put James’ point into practice.

At the beginning of the service we had everyone write down five needs they see around them. Which is a great practice, and one you should do right now actually.

But at the end of the sermon I called people to look at their lists, and remember faith without works is dead. And that they each had a list of needs they could meet. So I challenged them to meet some needs. Because if faith is about works, it’s time to get to work.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Faith without works is dead.

Teaching Points:

  • Faith leads to change.
  • James is arguing that genuine faith includes works.
  • Works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What were some of the needs on your list? Which ones are hardest to meet? Are there people who can help you meet them? Why do you think faith needs works? What happens when faith doesn’t include works?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids about how when we follow Jesus we need to actually “do things”. Ask them the things that Jesus did, and then ask them which things they could do. Take time to do it then together.

Challenge for the Week: Put faith into action and meet a need.

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