Rich Mullins wrote a song called ‘Screen Door’ on James 2:14-26, the passage we studied this week. It looks at the problem of faith without works and says ‘it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine’. You can listen to the song here or view it here (the sound quality on the video is not as good, but it’s pretty special to watch the percussion effects on this otherwise unaccompanied song!)

This part of James has often been seen as an example of the Bible contradicting itself, with James advocating justification through works whereas Paul advocates justification by faith alone. There is no inherent contradiction in these passages, however (looking in particular at James 2:14-26 and Romans 4). As we saw in our last Bible study, just because a person claims to have faith does not mean they necessarily do have faith; faith has to be expressed through works (see also Matt 7:21-23). James is adamant that there can be no dichotomy that says ‘You have faith; I have works’ (James 2:18). These are not separate things at the opposite ends of a spectrum; rather, “Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove” (James 2:18, The Message) and “faith expresses itself in works” (James 2:22).

James looks at two examples from the Old Testament to back up his belief that faith and works need to be meshed together. The first is Abraham (see Genesis 15:6, Romans 4 and Galatians 3). The incident referred to in James is that recorded in Genesis 22 when Abraham ‘proved’ his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his only son. Abraham was justified by God long before Isaac was actually born, but this passage in Genesis shows us the evidence of his faith. Abraham believed God and was willing to act in obedience to him, even though if he really had killed Isaac, he did not know how God could keep His promise to him (though Hebrews 11:17-19 provides a clue, perhaps). Faith, James argues, results in ‘acts of obedience’. It’s worth pondering what this looks like in our lives.

Rahab (see Joshua 2) was a woman, a prostitute, from the lowest social class of the time. Her faith motivated her, too, to action (hiding the spies under the stalks of flax on the roof). She saved their lives and her actions led to the successful capture of Jericho and the saving of her own life. We enjoyed discussing the ethics of lying when considering her actions!

James wants there to be a ‘seamless unity of believing and doing’. If there is not this seamless unity, then there will be barrenness, a lack of fruit, death in our spiritual lieves. Faith without works really is as useless as a screen door on a submarine. But believing and doing together are as powerful as oxen yoked to a plough. “Faith comes from God and every word that He breathes. He lets you take it to your heart so you can give it hands and feet,” Rich Mullins says. The questions we need, therefore, to ask ourselves are:
* How can we put our faith into practice?
* What can we actually do to demonstrate the validity of our faith?
* What are the ‘hands and feet’ of our faith?

People came up with their own similes to express the idea that faith without works is dead. Garry’s contribution was “Faith without works is about as much good as a chocolate fireguard” and Mark’s was “Faith without works is about as much good as a doner kebab without the pitta bread: it’s just a mess.” Should we be worried that both these similes are connected to food?!