The Book of James is well known for its explanation that “faith without works is dead.” James 2 beginning in verse 14 through26 gives a thorough and very significant explanation of this much needed realization. The reality James emphasizes is that real, genuine faith produces actions which he calls works.
I was reminded of that thought a few minutes ago in reading the story of the second miraculous sign in the gospel of John, John 4:46-54. An official comes to Jesus in Cana begging Him to heal his son who he describes is at the point of death. Jesus responds, “Go; your son will live.” John goes on to explain, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” The official expressed his faith in Jesus’s words by taking the action of going back home. On his way, he is told that his son began getting better at the exact moment Jesus assured him that his son would live. Faith is expressed in action!
This being said, let’s be careful not to miss the context of James’ discussion. He begins chapter 2 with a chastisement of prejudging people based upon their dress and mistreating people based upon their social status. He accuses judgmental people of being guilty of violating the entire law of God in their judgmental actions. He concludes his argument with a faith statement, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
We are all very familiar and comfortable with law, rules, and judgments; but mercy? We are afraid that people will take advantage of us if we extend too much mercy, grace, and forgiveness; especially if our mercy is unqualified or without conditions. How can we be assured that people will not take advantage of our rich generosity and grace? Well, James’ answer follows this statement with the challenge that “Faith without works is dead.”
In other words, just take Jesus at His word, act mercifully and trust that truly “Mercy will triumph over judgment.” Now that’s a faith that works!