In this passage (James 2: 14-26), there is the implicit pre-supposition that those to whom it has been addressed may or may not have genuine faith. The same pre-supposition applies to this article. The critical question raised has to do with the genuineness of our faith.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that "the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The call therefore is for a prayerful and personal heart examination to confirm the genuineness of our claims to faith in Christ.
Once we know that we do in fact have genuine faith, what is left then is for us to allow our faith to run its course: That is (FULLY) without the introduction of misguided human motives, strategies & efforts.
The common reactions to the teaching of this passage in James include the following:
Some of us are drawn into an introspective examination as well as a retrospective assessment of how we have measured up to this truth. This sometimes leads us to the resolve to do better.
With this resolve, however, there is often the trap of human effort. Many people see this as a call to engage in assorted mechanical “How to Do Faith” disciplines instead of what we are in fact called to do. We are simply to gratefully and obediently yield to the Holy Spirit’s providence, leading and will. His will is reflected in His commands – His word. Our yielding to the Holy Spirit is often flawed if we fail to pay a careful attention to God’s word. To hastily jump into “doing faith” without understanding the commands of the One toward whom our faith must be exercised is idiotic. It is futile to engage in any presumed “work of faith” without understanding the will and commands of the One to whom we must respond in the practical expression of our faith. Simply put, we cannot rightly obey what we do not understand.
There is a second reaction to this passage in James. It involves the observation of how other people measure up to it. The usual (ungodly) tendency with this is to look at specific individuals with a critical or judgmental attitude. We ought to look at others only for the purpose of encouraging one another and for the emulation of what is good.
Both inside and outside the church we are not immune to: deception, pretence, immaturity, hypocrisy and spiritual laziness. All of these and more are embodied in the aberrations of faith without works and works without faith.
What this passage in James teaches us is that genuine faith without works is an impossible association. On the other hand, genuine faith and works proceed in an inseparable association. It is obvious from this that the proceedings of genuine faith and works have very little, if anything, to do with human decision. In fact, it is the interference of depraved human decision that produces the pretentiousness of faith without works or works without faith. Anyone can decide to engage in what is perceived to be good works without having faith; but it is impossible to simply decide to have genuine faith.
Faith can only be granted to us by God and always in full measure – Eph 2: 8&9. It is also genuine because it is granted of God. However, immaturity and laziness may cause a diminished exercise or expression of faith even when it is genuine. It is not faith itself that is diminished but our exercise of it.
The full and joyful expression of faith manifests itself in the active obedience that ensues from having this gift (this genuine, resolute and responsive faith) that has been universally and fully granted by God to all true (not self-made) believers.