“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
- James 2:17
The Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard told a story you might call “The Parable of the Ducks.” In this story, there was a certain town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday morning, the ducks would waddle out of their houses, waddle down the main street and waddle into their church building. One week, as usual, they waddled down the aisle and sat in their pews. As the service began, the duck choir sang, and then the duck pastor stepped up and read from the Duck Bible. And he gave them a stirring, inspirational message. He urged them: “Ducks, God has given you wings! With these wings you can fly like birds! No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings, and you can rise up and soar like eagles!” All the ducks shouted, “AMEN!” And when the service was over … all the ducks waddled on home.
Those ducks might have had lots of faith. But their faith was dead. And in the second chapter of the book of James, James talks about the problem of dead faith. In verse 14, he asks two questions. The first is: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” The implied answer is, it’s no good at all. If you believe something in your head, but you don’t live it out with your hands, it’s useless faith. Next, James asks the hard question: “Can such faith save him?” Once again, the implied answer is no.
In verses 14-17, James is basically saying: “If you believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God and you believe that he died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave on the third day and you believe in Heaven and Hell—but those beliefs don’t change the way that you live—that’s not real faith. That’s dead faith.” That’s a sobering thought. So maybe it’s time for a spiritual check-up. If you really want to know if your faith in Christ is a dead faith, here are three things that would be true of you:
1. You talk the talk, but you don’t walk the walk. In verses 15-16, James gives an example that is repeated in churches more often than we’d like to admit. A Christian brother walks to church in the wintertime, and he’s way underdressed because he doesn’t have a warm coat. And a fellow believer says, “God bless you! Stay warm out there!” That’s a nice thing to say, but what good does it do the guy? None, really! Or a Christian sister comes to church and happens to mention that she’s run out of food stamps with a week left in the month. So, a fellow believer says to her, “I hope it all works out okay. I’ll pray for you.” That’s a kind thing to say, but it doesn’t put food on the poor woman’s table.
2. Your beliefs are biblical, but they don’t stir your emotions. A believer with dead faith believes the lyrics in the praise songs are biblically sound and accurately describe Jesus. But those lyrics don’t stir his heart. Those lyrics don’t move her spirit. The believer with dead faith attends church week-in and week-out and remains emotionally unmoved by what is sung, by what is preached, or by what is done. There is no passion for Christ, no true excitement for Christ, no real love for Christ.
3. Your faith is compartmentalized. It’s in your head, but it hasn’t led to repentance. It hasn’t changed your lifestyle. Jesus has made it clear that many believers will come to him on the day of judgment calling him, “Lord! Lord!” And Jesus will say to them, “I tell you the truth, I never knew you…. When you did not help the least of these brothers of mine who were hungry or thirsty or homeless or sick or in prison, you didn’t help me either. So, go away into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Warren Wiersbe says it really well: “Beware of a mere intellectual faith. No man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same any more than he can come into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the same…. Dead faith is not saving faith. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence of eternal life.”
So, ask yourself this important question: Is my faith a dead faith? Do I talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk? Are my beliefs biblical, but they don’t stir my emotions? Despite my beliefs about Jesus, am I actually going to miss out on heaven because my beliefs haven’t transformed my behavior?
By contrast, John Calvin explained real, biblical faith this way: “People are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.” Works can never save you. But neither can inactive faith. Real biblical faith … works. True, saving faith leads to action. Real, Biblical faith involves the whole person: mind, heart, spirit, and body. If God’s word has stirred your heart … DO it. Obey it. Live it. Because faith—real, real biblical faith—works.
Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us for our worship service Sundays at 10 a.m. at the new Dr. Ralph Baker School in Victorville. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.