Imagine two scenarios. One of a man declaring he is to be married, but you quickly work out that he has no plans to spend any meaningful time with his fiance or consider her needs. Naturally you doubt the substance of the marriage. Second of a lad who is into lad things ... until one day he meets a girl. Strangely from that day he is into things that she is into, things he would never have previously gone near. Of course you conclude he has fallen in love!
The letter of James is immensely practical. Other letters help us understand about God (they give us theology), but James is very much applied theology. The whole book is effectively saying 'if you believe this, then how is that worked out in real life?'. So we see in v14 the question 'what good is faith with no action to show it?'. He even asks 'can such a faith save you?'.
We used to have a poster that said 'if you were tried for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?'. James hits on a big topic for Christians: a fundamental of our faith is that we are saved by grace (see Ephesians 2:8 - 9). There is nothing, no action, we can do to save ourselves, it comes from God. Our part is to believe, to have faith. So where do the works come in? James is not saying 'what are you doing to be saved?', but 'since God has saved you, what are you now doing?'. We can declare what we like, but if no action flows from that then our belief is surely hollow with no substance.
So be clear the deeds are not earning, but rather an outflow or consequence of our belief. We can draw a spectrum, with deeds to earn salvation at one end, and faith with no action at the other end. The faith of James (and the New Testament) is in the middle, a living faith that applies to real life in action. Sometimes that will lead to radical change, where we naturally just want to be doing things different (remember the lad falling in love!). So the key question for us to reflect on is:
[UP] Where does your faith and your actions not match up?
Challenge: Ever Closer to Jesus
Note the challenge is not to do something! For that would be to simply load onto you a work, a thing to be done. No! Living faith that is applied comes about when we desire and draw close to Jesus - it will outwork from there. It's a love thing, your actions flowing from your love and being loved.
People who are not Christians understand faith in action. In the early days of the Foodbank we did an interview for local radio. After recording the piece the interviewer asked me about motivation, through which I was able to example something of the good news of Jesus. This made sense to her, since she could see it in action through the shelves of food. Our logo/slogan 'seeking to worship, seeking to serve' conveys this too: we believe & trust God (= worship), but our worship implies action (= service), we can't do one without the other. People get that!
James gives Abraham and Rahab, two contrasting examples of the faith into action principle. What do people around us see? This is important with our children, who see us waking up, eating, living, and evening time. I suggest we live our faith among them, seen in simple practices, key rhythms, and faith at crunch times. Simple practices are things like the prayer at meal time, thought or story at bedtime or out-to-school time, cards with verses on the fridge and so on. Key rhythms include gathered worship - the emphasis here is this is not something you are doing to earn points or tick a box, but rather reinforcing that this is something you do together as a family. Think what silently gets communicated: a 'doesn't matter' attitude implies that our time together is not important, whereas an encouragement to 'gather together' does the opposite. Of course children at different ages may object, and each family has to work out how best to negotiate that, but at the very least a sensitive emphasis on family together will communicate its importance.
There are 1000s of examples big and small of putting faith into practice. Because each of us has different lives and circumstances, I cannot give you a checklist of what to do. Each of us must be attentive to the Spirit, and see where He is nudging us to live different. It is therefore worth reflecting from time to time, how are our lives lived as an offering to God?