What is the difference between faith that works and faith that doesn’t work?

Below is an outline to a sermon I prepared for my Introduction to Pastoral Ministry class last semester. Maybe I’ll preach it one day. I welcome your feedback.

James 2:14–17 (ESV):

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.


Two kinds of faith

Faith that is dead: A claim to faith in God but is not life changing

When someone makes the statement, “I am a Christian.” What is our immediate response? If you’ve known him a while and have been praying for his salvation, you will likely rejoice with them. A few weeks goes by, and you start noticing that not much has changed in this his life. I’m hoping I’m not the only one here who would think to myself, “I wonder if he actually knows what it means to be a Christian?” If you have a good enough relationship with him, you might bring this to his attention. If he responds by getting defensive and telling you it’s none of your business, it might be clear at this point that he wants the title of Christian, but none of the responsibilities that comes with it. He may believe in God and knows that Christ died for his sins, but his life does not reflect a decision to make Christ his Lord.

Faith that works: Faith in God that brings change

Faith in God that brings change looks different than the previous example. Instead of your friend becoming defensive, he will welcome your discussion and respond by making changes in his life that reflect the Lordship of Christ in his life.

Two kinds of outcomes

Outcomes that bring death: Ignoring the call to help the needy

In the first example, I mentioned that within the first few weeks, you notice your friend not making any changes in his life. Just what are those changes supposed to look like? In the passage we read in James 2, the example given is that of helping the needy. When you know someone who has recently become a Christian, but they are ignoring the responsibilities we have as Christians to help the needy, or more practically for many of us, serve in the church and being kind to others, the faith they have is actually bringing death rather than life.

Outcomes that bring death: An attitude of negligence brings death

When you neglect something that requires your attention to live, it will die. Just like plants and pets need someone to provide water and food, if you don’t make the effort to keep your faith alive, it will whittle away and die.

Outcomes that bring life: Responding to the call to help the needy

Faith that is alive will bear fruit. The proper response to faith in God is to keep our eyes open for opportunities to serve others. It is our life-giving actions that will demonstrate that we are serious about our faith in God.

Outcomes that bring life: Making decisions that will strengthen personal faith and the faith of others

When we make decisions to serve others, we are taking action that will bring life and strength to the community around us.


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