Faith & works

A homily preached on Wednesday 9 July at Holy Trinity, Brancepeth, as part of our series on the Letter of James.

James 2:14-26

Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Tonight’s message from James is challenging to us, as people who say they have the Christian faith.

We might ask ourselves, ‘Am I doing enough good works to show that I have the kind of true, living faith that James says I need to have?’

We might feel a certain pressure to do more good works or to be a better person in order to reassure ourselves that our faith is not dead, but alive.

But to react that way would be to miss the point.

After all, James doesn’t urge us to add good works to our faith.

James says that true faith and good works always go together naturally.

We’re made acceptable in God’s sight by our faith alone. But true, living faith never remains alone – it naturally produces good works, just like a living tree always yields fruit or leaves.

If we were to try to add good works to a questionable faith, that would be something like taping fake fruit to a dying tree to try to make it look alive. It would be very obviously artificial, and completely futile; and it would probably hasten the death of the tree.

So how do we know if we have this true, living faith?

We’ll always doubt if we simply focus on ourselves and try to count up all our good works. In fact, if you do that, it’s a clear sign your faith is dead – like a flower that closes in on itself and blocks the light it needs to survive.

Rather, we must open ourselves, we must focus on the One in whom we have faith, Jesus Christ Himself.

Of all the people who’ve ever lived, only Jesus had enough faith and did enough good works to be wholly righteous in God’s sight. That’s because Jesus is the Son of God and the true and perfect heir of both Abraham and Rahab – the two OT figures James mentions as examples of people made righteous by their faith along with their works.

As for you and I, if we’re honest, we have to admit that, in and of ourselves, our faith in God is weak, our good works are feeble, and our character & motivations imperfect at best.

But friends, the good news is that we don’t have faith and do good works and in and of ourselves. We have faith and do good works in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

James says that the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. Indeed, our faith, our works and our bodies are all spiritually dead.

But as Peter says, Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).

And as Paul says, If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:10-11).

Admit that your own faith and works are dead; and trust in Jesus Christ. This is the true, living faith. All who believe this are filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to do good works in Christ’s Name. They become living, Spirit-filled members of Christ’s mystical body.

For as the body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit is alive, so also your faith and works shall be alive in Him.

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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