We started tonight’s Bible study by looking at James 2:13, where mercy is said to triumph over judgment. Mercy is getting what we don’t deserve! We deserve punishment, judgment and wrath, but find instead that God, who is rich in mercy, offers us forgiveness, love and salvation. Because we know what it is to receive mercy, we should be liberal in showing mercy to others.

We then moved on to look at what has, historically, been perhaps the most contentious passage in James (James 2:14-26). Here, James talks about the relationship between faith and works. Some have said that these verses paint a picture of a religion that is all about doing good works; Martin Luther, for example, believed that these verses contradicted Paul’s teaching on justification by faith in the book of Romans. The key to the connection between faith and works is in verse 22 where we see that faith and actions work together, with works completing faith. Really, the two things are indivisible. It is possible to have works without faith, but true faith will always manifest itself in good works; as Garry said, ‘faith is the seed and works are the fruit of that seed.’ Obviously, a person can be saved without having to do works (think about the thief on the cross), but the normal outworking of a life of faith will be seen in good deeds. James is, again, eminently practical. Faith is seen in practical ways, just as John talks about love being demonstrated through practical deeds in his first epistle. This is simply the fulfilment of Jesus’s commands that whatever we do for the least of these we do for Him (see Matt 25).

It is possible to have ‘dead’ faith: to attend church meetings, to say we believe in God, but for that to have no real impact on how we live. Real faith has to be the motivator and the springboard for our everyday living. A church’s ministries need to include ways of reaching out to its local community in practical ways. These may not look particularly ‘spiritual’, but are the bridge to relationships that ultimately can lead people to ask about the motivation behind such actions. As St Francis of Assisi used to say, ‘preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words’. They say that actions speak louder than words. Certainly we need to ensure that our actions and our words match up – faith and works inextricably bound together.