“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26
Dead is dead. You know it when you see it. A spiritless body is dead. Even more so a body without the Spirit is far more dead. It holds a pretense to life, but it’s really just walking a lie. It’s the same with faith. Faith without works is dead. Take the energy out of faith, remove the source of faith, and faith is dead. Let’s be honest here, maybe faith was never alive in the first place, because it needs to be energized from the Energy Source where faith comes from, and if it hasn’t, then it’s not faith at all.
It’s not like James is posing the argument of which comes first, the chicken or the egg here. He’s saying the Spirit must be dwelling inside us to give us life. If the Spirit is living inside of me and giving me life then I will exhibit It’s energy. That word for “works” is “ergon” and “energy” is it’s root. There is the energy that the Holy Spirit imbues us with and then that energy must flow from us. Here’s the problem. If we’ve never become dependent on Your energy, Lord, if we’ve never learned to walk in faith in You in the first place, then there is no way that Your energy can flow from us. If You aren’t the Source of my life, I haven’t got life at all.
“Ergon” is active zeal. But it’s not just that I’m excited about the Lord or about obeying Him or about things in His Word. It matters where that zeal comes from. When Jesus performed miracles, John used this same word for that “performance.” Skip Moen says, “in the New Testament, it is the action that follows submission to God.” And I would offer that it is God’s response through the one submitting to Him. It’s the heart and compassion and energy of God being expressed through the one who has submitted himself to the heart and compassion and energy of God.
When I see or hear about a person in need, when someone shares their need personally with me, what is my response? Do I say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Let me pray for you.”? Or am I just as concerned with what I can give them or how I can step in and help fill their loss? Are they just on my mind at that moment or am I thinking of ways that I can step in the gap for them? Am I concerned about what resources beyond prayer I have that I can offer them even if my own resources are feeble? Would I lay down what I have for them? Or would I just pray for them and sympathize with them?
Jesus, You were a man of action and energy because You were a man of God. And at the same time You were the Son of God, therefore exhibiting God’s character, since You are God. If I want to know what it looks like to have faith and what the works or energy of faith looks like, all I have to do is look at You and look at how You responded to people in need. You acted. You expended Your spiritual and physical energy, Your Youness on them. You expended so much, that You expended all of You. You held nothing back. You are my ultimate example. So, how does my faith compare? Compared to that, do I even have faith at all?
This was a real issue in the church in James’ day. It’s why he wrote this. Is it any less an issue today? And let’s not just be concerned about the church. What about my own heart? Did God have James write this to speak to my own heart? How can I meet someone in need, how can I meet someone who is destitute, who is without food and clothes, who doesn’t have money for medical care, who’s children are sick because they are malnourished, and just go on with life as usual? How can I only meet their needs once a year and think I’m doing good? How does that help? How have I been an instrument of God’s energy in that person’s life or even my own? What does that have to do with You, Lord, more than me just trying to feel like a good guy doing the right thing? But is doing the right thing so easily done? Or does doing the real right thing take true sacrifice and continual commitment? Is the right thing something that really takes the heart of the Right One doing the Right Thing in me?
Sometimes faith isn’t a pretty thing to us. It was awful gruesome looking on Jesus. It got Him cast out, people wanted to tear Him apart with their teeth, and people just wanted to beat on Him, and then they couldn’t even look at Him. Some of His own followers said, “This is too hard.” Following You, meant a radically changed life. Not only was it a radically changed life, but it was a life committed to Your way. No, it was even more. It was a radically changed life committed IN Your way, committed in You. See, You were the first One who demonstrated the action and energy of faith. You showed what the results of faith in God look like. I believe, therefore I act upon it. I believe, therefore I let God have His way in Me. I believe, therefore I am God’s instrument, to act upon His ways, to demonstrate His energy, to exhibit His zeal. Yes, I am to be zealous for God, but faith is also about being zealous in God. I am to be zealous from Your zealousness in me for all the things that You are zealous about. Your zealousness ought to leap out from me if You are in me.
I can read the Bible a thousand times a thousand times and believe the words and say that they are good and true. And my life can be just like that Bible, full of wisdom, sitting on the shelf, pulled down to read, set back up on the shelf, treasured knowledge in my mind. All that wisdom, all that truth, all that potential for God’s energy, just sitting there, just sitting, just sitting, just sitting. But when does the life and power of Christ, of God, of You, begin to do more than sit? When does it become more than words shared? When does it become my life, my energy, my zeal? When can I not leave it on the shelf? When do the words become such deep encouragement that not only do I become passionate about them but that I am overwhelmed by passion in and for You? When does it become so real that You become more that wisdom from a book? When do You become the work, the energy inside of me? And when does it get to the point that the energy of You can’t be held back in me? When does it get to the point where the God and Jesus and Holy Spirit of this written word becomes the Spirit of the life and actions of Christ in and through me? When do I get from a book to the Word living and acting through me?
It’s so easy to center on our own families and to center in serving where we are comfortable, or maybe slightly uncomfortable. But is that really faith? Does that really take God energy? It’s funny, I was blessed by my husband to receive an ebook I was really excited about, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.” And I’ve been reading and rereading a section on the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. There are some women mentioned in that genealogy, which is usually a man’s place to be mentioned. So that was pretty unusual for Matthew to do that. And I can’t help but ask myself, “Why, Lord? Why these women?” And I don’t have all the answers.
I started journalling my devotion on that yesterday, on those women, but I couldn’t finish. Because Bathsheba really throws me for a loop. So I’ll just have to ponder her in the Lord for a while. But one of the other women was Rahab, a prostitute of the city of Jericho. And funny that her name is the one that just popped up in James. It’s funny because I was searching out information on Bathsheba this morning, not Rahab. And just this second, as I was typing this paragraph, I looked up and there was Rahab the harlot. “Likewise, also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?”
Rahab didn’t do a good thing. Rahab did a thing that could have gotten herself and her family killed by her own people. She was a traitor to her own people. She didn’t do a good thing. She did a radical thing. She did something that went totally against the grain. She laid everything on the line, everything. Maybe she had nothing to lose, but I think she had everything to lose. And why was she willing to do that? Was it because she was already putting her faith in God and He was beginning to energize her for His will?
Here’s what she told the men she was hiding, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” The point here is that lots of people were afraid. Lots of people in Jericho knew the truth. But Rahab, this dear prostitute, responded. She, of all those people, committed her way to the God of the Hebrews. She had committed to God and God had committed Himself to her. That’s why she could act the way she did.
I know she committed to You, Lord, because of something else she asked the spies. “Now, therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD…” She made them promise, because of her act of kindness that they would return like kindness to her and her family. That promise isn’t what stands out to me. It’s not an I rubbed your back now you rub mine kind of deal here. She chose for them to swear unto her by You, Lord. Her trust was not in their kindness, because our kindness was fleeting. I’m sure a prostitute would know about the fleeting nature of kindness from men. But she understood a deeper and stronger and true kindness. She was counting on and acting upon the kindness of You, Lord. She was counting on these men and their people acting upon the kindness of God.
Now, we can stand here and commend Rahab and commend the spies. But are we living like that? Are we willing to make someone else’s problem our problem? Or do we have the “not my problem” mentality like Cain. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Well, in Christ, yes, I am, and yes, you are. Shouldn’t we be asking, “What do you really need most? If I don’t have it to give to you, I want to do everything in my ability to find a way to meet that need for you.” I want to have eyes like You, to watch and see the real needs. I want to see the people who need their hands to be held or need a hug. I want to see the ones who need clothes, or shoes, or Bibles, or encouragement, or food, or medicine. I want to not only be their advocate, I want to give of myself for their need, even if it means my loss.
See, Jesus, I know that You didn’t worry about what You would lose to gain me. You looked ahead to the joy of gaining me and each child that You won to You. I want to have that kind of heart for others. You can take my stone heart any day and every day and give me a new heart alive in You. That old heart is no good. And if You need to take me through my own losses to understand the depth of Your energizing, then take me there. You are worth it all. And meeting the needs of Your children, is worth it all. I know. Because You already showed the worth in the price You paid for each of us.
Well, now it’s our turn. It’s our turn as believers, as TRUE believers, to share what You have shared with us. It’s my turn to meet other people’s needs as You have met my needs and continually meet my needs, both spiritual, physical, and emotional. It’s my turn to take the compassion You’ve expressed upon me and imbedded in me and express it upon others. It’s my turn to take Your radical life and let it be expressed through me.
Rahab could have believed everything she heard. She could have acknowledge that the God of the Hebrews was the supreme God. She could have acknowledged that He was going to wipe out her nation. Acknowledgement alone is not faith. Faith is acting in the energy of that acknowledgement of that belief. Faith is letting the knowledge and the words become life in your life. Faith is living that shows you are believing. Faith is stepping out in action upon those words You believe. See, faith “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) It’s the essence of your expectation and confidence. It’s the proof of things you can’t see.
Rahab didn’t see You, God, face to face. She saw Your evidences everywhere. She heard the word about You. She trusted in a God she couldn’t see because she saw the energy, the proof of You all around her. I have a God who leaves proof of Himself all around, and not just in the things, but Your proof is in the people. See, Rahab saw Your proof in the Hebrew people. She saw You were with them. And I think that gave her the hope that this same God could be with her. So she took a step of faith to come on the side of the Hebrew God. It was a risky step of faith, but that’s the essence of faith, of stepping out into the unseen future of You and with You. Faith is the energy of me giving up my energy to let You replace it with Yours.
I keep wanting to wrap things up, but it doesn’t quite wrap us so neatly when I want it to. Because here I am scrolling down through Hebrews 11 and I see Rahab commended a second time! “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” It’s not enough to hear. It’s not enough to know. I must be energized by that knowledge, that belief, that faith, and I must stake my life on it. I must be willing to risk it all. Because if I don’t risk it all, I lie in danger of those who believed not, and I just may perish with them all. As for me, I’d rather have the faith of a harlot.