As we continue our exploration of the letter from James we are discovering that it is intensely practical. James wants us to understand that genuine faith in Christ is not simply intellectual assent, rather it is a response that so transforms our hearts that it produces changed behaviours. James writes: ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’ (James 2:26 NIV2011) Good deeds don’t make us right with God, but good deeds that are the outworking of faith are the evidence that we are right with Christ.
Since James was the brother of Jesus it is perhaps not surprising that so much of what is taught in this letter has parallels in the gospels. Jesus told a parable where he likened Judgement Day to a farmer separating sheep from goats. Jesus said that the sheep represented those who would be invited to share in Christ’s inheritance; whilst the goats represent those cast into the eternal fire. The basis for the judgement was how they had treated Jesus, in other words their deeds. Both groups in the parable seem surprised by this and ask for an explanation. Jesus’ response is: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV2011)
Jesus shows how acting with compassion to those in society who are marginalised, despised, sick or needy is in fact to show practical love towards him. People who act in this way are true Christ followers and get to share his reward. Those who ignore those who are vulnerable in society however are judged to be ignoring Christ and are condemned for it.
In the parable the marginalised included the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the prisoner. What vulnerable people do you come into contact with on a day by day basis that Jesus would point to today? What acts of compassion are you able to do that would win Christ’s commendation: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’?
This blog post featured in the June 2014 edition of Lifelines