“Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:17,18).
I wish to point out the difference between good works and works of faith: acts which in themselves prove that the doer of them has faith. Perhaps James refers to deeds of this sort when he encourages us to show our faith through our works.
Proof of Faith
Feeding the hungry does not necessarily show that I have faith. But Abraham was willing to slay his son at God’s command (James 2:21). Our natural sensibilities reject this as a dreadful notion, but Abraham’s direction came from God and his obedience was born of faith—faith in the God of resurrection (Hebrews 11:19).
James also mentions the work of Rahab, who assisted the destroyers of her city (James 2:25). According to natural thinking, her conduct was disgraceful. However, her faith recognized that she and her people had revolted against the God of heaven and earth. By helping the spies, she reverted to her only true allegiance. This made her a traitor to Jericho, but demonstrated her obedience to God.
Opportunities From God
If you read the famous list of heroes and sufferers of faith in Hebrews 11, I do not think you will find even one person who is included for their “good works.” What I mean is, those actions which demonstrate the possession of faith are not usually or necessarily good works in the ordinary sense. In fact, they may seem to be bad actions, or foolish, or crazy. For example, it is not rational to build a ship, as Noah did, when he had never seen a flood (Hebrews 11:7). It also seems foolish for soldiers to attempt to take a city by marching around it for seven days, but God commanded it (Hebrews 11:30).
Works of faith can only be appreciated by faith until God vindicates them. Furthermore, it is not our responsibility to seek out works of faith. But as we walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), and live by faith (Romans 1:17), God will give us opportunities to perform acts of faith. David does not seek a bear to slay. The gold does not seek the furnace (1 Peter 1:7).
But when we come to good works, it is quite different. The Bible makes it clear that we should diligently maintain them. What God looks for in His people is that they should be good people. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Followers of Jesus Christ are branches in the true vine, and He nurtures and cultivates us for the purpose of bearing fruit (John 15).
God’s Word tells us in Titus 3:8, “they which have believed in God” should be “careful to maintain good works.” Ephesians chapter 2, which stresses salvation through faith, also reminds us that believers are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10).
Would it not be beneficial for the health of our souls—and the testimony of Jesus Christ—if, when we had a little time, or strength, or money that we could spare, we looked around to see what good we could do? And how much greater would be the blessing if the entire course of our lives was identified by service to Him. Dorcas was this kind of a person: her death was such a loss that she was brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-41).
Our Great Example
If we examine the life of our Lord Jesus, both good works and acts of faith abound. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Blessed truth! And He was “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He ran the whole race. The invisible joy of Heaven was the crown before the eye of His faith, and for that reason He “endured the cross, despising the shame.” May the Lord grant us the grace to seek His footsteps, and to win His praise.
—C. D. Maynard, adapted