Two Nuns, a Bedpan, and Faith Without Works

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Text: James 2:17-20

Two nuns who worked for a home health care agency were out making their rounds when they ran out of gas. Yet as luck would have it there was a fuel station just down the road. So the nuns rummaged through their vehicle for a container to carry down to the station to fill with gas but all they could come up with was a clean bedpan. Always resourceful, the nuns carried the bedpan to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried it back to their car. As they were pouring the gas into the tank of the car, a couple drove by and was a little bemused by what they saw. Just then the man turned to his wife and said, “Honey, I sure do admire that kind of faith. If that works I’m changing my religion!”

James, the half brother of Jesus, had much to say about the subject of “pure” religion in a believer’s life. This younger sibling of our Lord grew up with Jesus under the same roof in Nazareth and shared an intimate view of the Son of God long before He became the famed miracle worker on the shores of Galilee. After Christ’s resurrection, James became an influential leader of first-century Christianity and the overseeing pastor of the Jerusalem church. He was certainly credentialed to be a spokesperson on the subject of authentic faith.
So what does he say?

Essentially, faith is so much more than a mere belief system, moral code, or verbal credence; a living faith will incontrovertibly change the way we live.

James never propagated a works-based salvation message, but like the Apostle Paul, he held that true gospel-transformation would undeniably bring about a very clear distinction of God’s fingerprints on one’s life (Titus 2:7).

Authentic faith, James exhorts, would persevere under trials of various kinds (James 1:2-4; 12). Every hardship we endure brings about a redemptive glory that we may never fully understand this side of heaven, yet testifies to the genuineness of our faith. As Hudson Taylor said, “At the timberline where the storms strike with the most fury, the sturdiest trees are found.”

A living faith trusts that God will never waste a hurt—not one.

Faith Without Works is Dead

James tells us that true faith’s adherents are “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22-25). They don’t just read the Bible; they let the Bible read them. They examine themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 119:59, Lamentations 3:40) in the light of scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any inconsistencies between behavior and belief, and then act on the conviction of that revelation.

James believed that faith would lead a person to become more disciplined with their words (James 1:26), that not many should aspire to become teachers because of the powerful ways that our words affect others (James 3:1-12). Words are free. It’s how we use them that may cost us dearly. Friedrich Nietzsche confessed, “All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” Truly, death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). People being transformed by God’s grace learn to choose their words carefully.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God,” according to James, was “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Authentic expressions of faith will be seen in how we treat people with dignity and compassion—especially those who are less fortunate than we are (James 1:26-27; 2:14-17). Our faith calling is to “show no partiality” and to guard ourselves from becoming “judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:1-4). We are to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

Ultimately, Jesus’ little brother grew up to believe that faith apart from works is “useless” (James 2:20). As we read in James 2:18, a great caption for his tombstone would’ve been “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” That certainly would’ve been a mic drop moment in any religious circle that wasn’t fleshing out their faith!

This week, take some time to read through the New Testament book of James and share some conversations about what it means for your family to flesh out a “living” faith. And please feel free to send us your feedback and let us know how we can be praying for you. May God bless you and cause His face to shine upon you as you make room to abide in Him this week!

twitter-64Faith is so much more than a mere belief system, moral code, or verbal credence; a living faith will incontrovertibly change the way we live.
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Want to know more about what it means to have a “saving” faith? Discover how to have a personal relationship with God.

For further study: James 1-5

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What do you think it must’ve been like growing up as the little brother of Jesus?
  2. How would you define a religion or faith that is “dead” or “useless”?
  3. Can you think of any examples in our society where systems of faith have come to replace a living faith?
  4. Can you identify any specific trials in your life that have revealed a growing faith?
  5. Where have you struggled to “bridle your tongue”? How can you choose your words more carefully and wisely?
  6. Have you been guilty of showing partiality in your circle of influence?
  7. Where can you flesh out compassion and dignity toward others this week?

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