As a teenager I approached a minister, full of doubts and struggles and a thousand misunderstandings. My question was, Why doesn’t God seem to accept me? I’ve prayed the prayer a thousand times, why does heaven seem to be silent?
He told me that I shouldn’t worry about whether I was accepted, I just needed to get on and really live the Christian life.
So I went off and tried that (or at least what I imagined the Christian life to be). And I failed even by my own standards. And, despondently, I slinked off from Christian things for a good few years.
What kind of faith did I have at that time? I’d have probably articulated the gospel as something like: God’s big. You’re small. Behave.
I didn’t have gospel faith. I had demon faith (v19). I believed God was one. I believed Jesus was God’s Son. But little more.
Now what would James counsel at this point? Is James chapter 2 the encouragement to add good works to such rudimentary faith? Is he exhorting those with demon faith to top up their merit levels until they hit salvific proportions?
No. James is discussing the kind of faith that saves . In v14 the word “such” (or “that” in ESV) is important. James is not making a calculation: Demon faith plus good deeds equals salvation! Instead this is about discerning what kind of faith is true saving faith.
And the answer is – true saving faith is the kind of faith that’s always being fulfilled in active service. In other words, saving faith (Genesis 15 style) always leads to obedience (Genesis 22 style).
So what should that minister have said to me? I wish he’d said this:
“Glen, I don’t think you really know the gospel. I don’t think you could have the slightest understanding of Christ for you while harbouring these doubts. I don’t think the kind of faith you have is really the active, life-giving, always-leading-to-loving-service kind of faith. So let me tell you the gospel again, and drive it home to you until assured, authentic, vital faith is birthed in you. Let me preach the gospel of faith alone to you once more, knowing that the faith that saves will never be alone. Let me overwhelm you with the promise (Genesis 15) and then you’ll bear fruit in obedience (Genesis 22).”
I think that’s the approach to a dead faith: preach faith alone. And I think it’s completely mandated by James chapter 2.