Written by Teresa Goodnight
In James 2:18 in the New Living Translation (NLT), James writes “’Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith BY my good deeds.’” Before that, James also writes the verse we’re often more familiar with “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” James goes on to say “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Last month, we talked about how we are all sinners—and through faith in Jesus, all of us can be saved. It’s sort of a ground zero building block to be a Christian. However, this rather basic building block of faith is something many are confused on out of the gate. First, it is important to remember before we go any further—“God saved you by his GRACE when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is NOT a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2 8-9 NLT). So sin comes first. Grace from God comes next. Faith in God and his gift of grace would simply be the step to follow. Then, as our hearts change—gratitude for that grace we love to have slathered all over us leads us to actions—actions of love because He first loved us.
I say simply, but faith itself can feel like a mystery. God gives us some clear definitions. He specifically tells us how much we need—faith of a child (Psalms 116:6), small as a mustard seed (Luke 17:6). Then, if you want to think it through a little further, He actually tells us what kinds of actions we will be compelled to take if we truly have faith. These actions are NOT required to have faith in God; however, if you have faith in God, your heart and God’s Holy Spirit inside of you will compel you to these types of actions. To say you have faith, but to do nothing with it, is on par with a doctor running around talking about having a cure for a devastating disease but refusing to share it. I can imagine the families of patients with the disease beating down this doctor’s door saying “You say you have it. Prove it. Give it to us.” If the doctor continued to do nothing but talk, the families would depart calling the doctor a hypocrite or a liar—someone who says one thing with his mouth but does nothing about it with his actions. Pure puffery—all talk and no action.
Hebrews 11 is one of the best chapters to read on faith. There is a list of God’s people and their actions based on things they could not see. Plus, these actions came with outcomes they hoped in and believed God would honor. The chapter starts, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Oftentimes, we equate this kind of faith with simply doing good to others. In our minds, giving a thanksgiving meal once a year through our church or a toy through Toys for Tots for Christmas might be some of our best examples of faith in action. Those are on the list of generous things to do of course. However, for those in Hebrews, you see faith in action with excruciatingly difficult outcomes involving the lives of those taking action.
Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Some examples of this faith are Noah, who built a boat to board animals on a sunny day. Ok, maybe it was cloudy, but no one saw an earth-wide flood coming requiring such massive efforts. God spoke. Noah obeyed. Abraham left his home and took his family to a place he didn’t know—a stranger in a foreign country. Sarah, his wife, through mustard seed style faith (I mean, come on! How much could Sarah have knowing she was well past the age of childbearing?) bore Abraham the son of the promise of God, Isaac. Hebrews goes on to say many of these people died without even seeing the things promised—they just saw them from a distance and really believed they were coming. Their actions were based on promises from a God they could not see and many hopeful results that were impossibly far from tangible. These people were even looking forward to a Messiah, who would come to rescue them. They believed. They hoped. They had faith. That faith led them to action.
Hebrews talks further about Moses’ parents’ faith. They risked being killed, hiding him until they could no longer do so. Then, they found a way to send him in a basket they crafted to float down a river in front of an Egyptian princess—hoping He was as special as they believed, and God would somehow intervene. He did. That alone is more faith than I can even imagine trying to have. His family waited decades while Moses had to realize who his people were—and a few decades more for him to discover God’s calling to lead the Israelites out of the captivity. Their captivity lasted generations. They prayed. They waited. They clung to God’s faithfulness with their remaining faith.
Moses’ tale included another sacrifice–revoking all the earthly pleasures he had being the son of Pharaoh’s daughter to eventually lead his people out of captivity (a calling he didn’t yet know). By faith Moses led those same people through the Red Sea when God parted it. Can you even imagine? “Hey guys. Let’s go this way.” It had to require more faith than I really know to take those steps. Then, those same steps led to the death of the Egyptians chasing them as the parted waters merged. Those were steps of faith in action without knowing the outcome—but believing in God. They were difficult for all involved, but they chose to follow God.
Paul, the writer of Hebrews, goes on to tell us of more incredible feats of faith—and how some saw imprisonment, torture, and even death. Some lived in caves and holes in the ground, wandered deserts—taking their faith to the extreme, as they refused to revoke following Jesus. These people didn’t just say they believed. They lived it. Some even died for it.
Isn’t that God? Instead of defining faith for us with simply words—God shows us faith by the incredible faith-filled actions of these people. Their faith has left a legacy to impact generations to come. Interesting. Seems I’ve heard that concept somewhere before? Show me your faith BY your good deeds? (James 2:18).
So what does that look like for us today? I think it looks a little different for each of us. It’s based on circumstances in your life, gifts God has given you (spiritual gifts, financial gifts, parenting gifts, etc.). To stick with the cover theme as an example, it COULD look like fostering or adopting a child in this state where about 8,500 kids are looking for a home. The faith part MIGHT be that you don’t know how it will turn out. Maybe it scares you to bring someone into your home? Maybe you aren’t sure how you would find the time? Maybe you like your life as it is and don’t want to risk messing it up?
Another example? Parents who take on a second job to send their children to a Christian based school—because they believe God put on their heart that a Christian education for their children is the right choice for their family. For Community Spirit Magazine, it was purchasing the magazine not knowing what God would do with it, but knowing we wanted to touch the city for Christ and be part of His plan to motivate the Body of Christ (the “C”hurch) to action. It’s a bit of a battle in our hearts to press forward some days—but to think of God using us in His plan to change lives, to change one life? It’s worth pushing on.
What faith-based action does God have for you? It’s not the same for everyone. It’s between you and God. A faith-based choice would be answering urges from God’s Holy Spirit working inside of you to take action without possibly understanding how it will turn out. We CAN know we serve a God who does not leave us alone where He leads us (or where he doesn’t for that matter). Faith lived out is about following God’s prompt to action in our hearts, based on an understanding of who He is and what He seeks from us. The most basic thing he seeks? Jesus said it like this: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38).
Living out your faith, can certainly be as small as daily choices like deleting a Candy Crush (or dare I say Facebook/Instagram/Twitter) from your phone to free up time for reading the YouVersion Bible app on your phone. It’s not like you can see how much stronger you would be in your faith if you read the Bible as much as you invested time in those items, but isn’t that faith? Taking action? Hoping and believing God will bless you for following Him? Don’t these actions really prove our faith more than our words?
I cannot tell you exactly where that faith-based action move might be for you. I can just tell you what it MIGHT look like and send you off to be on the lookout for it. Whatever you do though, don’t be the doctor with the cure…talking and puffing about, but not having actions showing anything to be true. That won’t help anyone—certainly not an unbeliever.
These choices—actions based on faith, small or grand, they are the CORE of our faith. They are our legacy, our witness. Without them, it could be proof that some of us are just full of hot “Christian” air. †