Faith that works – a sermon on James 2:14-26 by Rev Colin Pretorius.
I don’t know if you know the name Philippe Petit, otherwise known as the “the man who walked between the Towers.” In 1974, while the Twin Tower buildings in New York were still being constructed, he walked on a steel cable strung between the two buildings, about 400m above the ground. He made the trip across 8 times, walking and even dancing. Now imagine at the end of the first trip across that cable he asks one of the bystanders “Do you think I can do it again?” The bystander has seen him in action so he says “Yes.” On the way back he starts dancing on the cable and when he gets back he asks the same guy “Do you believe I can carry someone across on my shoulders?” Now the guy has already seen him doing some amazing things so he says “Yes, I think you can do it.” But then Mr high-wire says “I’m not asking if you think I can do it, I’m asking if you believe I can do it.” “Yes, I believe you can do it,” the bystander says. “Okay,” comes the response, “so, will you get on my shoulders then?”
Friends, the point of the story isn’t that the guy was crazy enough to walk or dance across that cable. The point is whether the bystander who said he believed was willing to put that belief into action. In our passage today James talks about the same thing – not about high-wire stuff, but about putting your faith into action. This isn’t the first time in the letter that he’s touched on this theme – no, in fact one of the dominant themes of the book has to do with putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak, in terms of your faith. James for instance speaks about
- a living faith characterised by joy in God even when facing trials or temptations;
- He speaks of a living faith characterised by trust in the Provider God even when the stormy seas of life toss you about.
- He speaks of a living faith characterised by a bridled tongue, a slowness to anger, and acting with mercy and compassion and care.
And in this morning’s passage he builds on the idea of a living faith. He wants to make sure his audience understands that lives of true faith are lives of not just saying but also of doing (v14). He illustrates this with two negative examples (v15-19) and also two positive examples (v20-26):
- Faith alone, or faith with works? (v 14)
- The down-and-out and the demons (v15-19)
- The patriarch and the prostitute (v20-26)