“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” . . . “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:14, 17, AV)
I worked with a man one time who talked a big game. One of the things he claimed he was an avid and experienced snow skier. Now I was not there to see the result of his skiing exhibition, but I heard the report. He was skiing with an avid skier with whom we both worked. It was spring time and the snow was beginning to melt so that there were visible patches of mud on the slope. It wasn’t a difficult slope and all one had to do was ski around the mud patches towards the bottom of the mountain. The avid skier came and gave me a report on the ski weekend. He stated that the great talker was just that. His specific words were, “That guy is no skier. By the time he got to the bottom of the mountain, he was covered from head to toe with mud.”
The point is that words are one thing but actions speak louder than words. Another way to say it is this. We must walk the talk. This is what James is writing about here. It is easy for one to make a verbal profession of faith. I did so before I was saved. I remember sitting in a barber chair while in the Army at Fort Knox. The barber began to witness to me about Jesus. I told him directly that I knew where I was going when I died, because I knew the Lord. Yet, I was so far from the Lord that everyone that knew me well could see that I was an unbeliever. It showed in my actions. Well, the barber did not know any better, but took my word for it. You see, in actuality, my life and works did not match what I said.
The question that James asks is a rhetorical one that will prompt only one answer. Faith without works is no faith at all. It cannot be genuine saving faith if there is no transformation of the person. What kind of works should be displayed? The good works will include a devotion for God and His righteousness. One who has experienced saving faith will seek these things. This does not mean that the believer will become sinlessly perfect. However, it does mean that the believer’s life will be characterized by a pursuit of the virtues of godliness. Included in this will be purity, obedience to God’s word, a pursuit of the word, truthfulness, benevolence, etc.
When a person does not display the works that accompany repentance, one can only say that the person’s faith is dead. It has no value. Perhaps the best assessment of one’s profession of faith is to be seen in his or her affection for God and His righteousness. If the affection of one’s heart is not aligned towards God, His will, and His righteousness, that person should truly examine his or her profession of faith to determine if his or her faith is genuine.