Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 11
What is the profit, my brothers, if anyone speaks of having faith, but he does not have actions? Is that faith able to save him? [T]he faith by itself, if it does not have actions, is dead. But someone might say, “You have faith, and I have actions.” Show me your faith apart from the actions, and I will show you by my actions, the faith! [B]y actions is man declared righteous, and not by faith only. [F]or just as the body apart from the רוּחַ, ruach is dead, so also the faith apart from actions is dead! (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 2:14-26, mjlt)
We sit and listen; we study and read. We pray. We praise. We seek. We believe. How, then, could it be possible that our faith might actually be dead? How, with all our prayers, all our devotion, all our time spent in the Word, all our focus on the things of God, could the ability of our faith to save us be honestly called into question? Surely, we are doing all that God expects of us. Undoubtedly, He merely desires that we believe. What could we possibly be missing?
When we say that we have faith in the Messiah Yeshua, what we are actually declaring—though we may not realize it—is that we are unable to resist emulating the One in whom we believe… that our beliefs are self-compelled to externalize and manifest themselves through action. We betray that faith, then, when we reduce it to thoughts and feelings, and suppress the actions that our faith should naturally produce. “What is the profit” of such a faith? What good is it to anyone?
What good is it, for example, to see a brother or sister in need, and say, “I’ll pray for you!” but not give them what they need? What good is it to meet people who need to be saved, but only say to them, “God bless you!” and not tell them of the salvation they are missing? “What is the profit to that person’s life (v. 18)? So also, the faith by itself, if it does not have actions, is dead.”
Is there not something living and burning inside of us? Has not God awoken our spirit, shown us mysteries, and given us purpose? But if our faith is dormant—dead inside us—then an actionless faith faithfully represents the kind of faith we truly have. Or perhaps that faith is still breathing, yet it does not have actions because we are actively suffocating it—snuffing it out—by our passivity, fear, and lack of compassion and care. We smother and kill our own faith by keeping it from taking action.
“But someone might say, ‘You have faith, and I have actions,'” which clearly misses the point. To suppose that faith can exist without actions, or actions without faith, is to grant them each a power that neither one has on its own. A good or charitable action not produced by faith may bring help in time of need, but it is ultimately meaningless. An inward, actionless faith that “believe[s] that God is One” indicates belief, but it is essentially pointless—”even the demons believe that, and they shudder at the thought” (v. 19). True actions will always flow from faith. True faith will always result in action. “Show me your faith apart from the actions, and I will show you by my actions, the faith!”
So then, no matter what good, holy, or upright thing we think, feel, say, or believe, “faith apart from… actions is [both dead and] inactive” (v. 20), since it is “by actions [that] man [is] declared righteous, and not by faith only.” Take Av’raham, for example, whose belief was credited to him as righteousness because he put his faith into action when he brought Yitz’chaq up to the sacrificial altar (see Genesis 22). “Do you see that the faith was working with his actions, and by the actions the faith was perfected” (v. 22)? If we merely believe we are righteous, yet do not do righteousness through our actions, such a faith is inactive, imperfect, and, quite possibly, unrighteous.
Like a body without its רוּחַ, ruach is dead, “so also the faith apart from actions is dead!” If our faith is real—if it is true, if it is alive—then we must imitate our Master and activate it. Where there is a need, we fill it. Where there is a soul, we reach out to it. We focus not on ourselves, but on the needs of others; we sacrifice for righteousness’ sake, and seek not our own benefit. How full or empty is your faith today? Make sure it’s alive and “able to save.”
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!