James 2:14-26 (TNIV)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them?
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in Peace: keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
You see that [Abraham's] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone.
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
The context of this text is mercy: Mercy triumphs over judgment. James has been urging his fellow believers to not show favoritism towards the rich nor discrimination towards the poor, but instead - mercy. Apparently in James' world, there were those that claimed to follow Jesus, but also insisted on favoritism and discrimination. James points out that this claim to faith is hollow and empty, faith in Jesus produces footsteps of Jesus.
He is essentially pointing out the obvious: faith in God's mercy to forgive you on the Day of Judgment is only effective when I give mercy in God's name to those who need rescued, helped, cared for. Reminds me of what James said earlier about true religion: caring for the widow and orphan in their distress...
To be a Christian is to be one who believes that God desires to grant us mercy, to forgive us our sins on the Day of Judgment through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And this belief becomes alive in us and through us when we grant mercy to those around us, when we forgive the sins of others amongst us. Our belief is dead, our Christianity is dead, our religion is worthless if we do not give the mercy that we desire God to give us.
What would compel a Christian to only pronounce a blessing upon a hungry, cold person without actually getting some food and clothes to help out? Maybe too busy to do anything else but utter a quick blessing... Maybe too cynical: it's probably that hungry/cold person's own fault for their condition - if I help them out I am only enabling them in their poor choices. Maybe too naive about how God answers prayers - maybe they think that a miracle will be so much more effective than me going home and getting some hot food and warm clothes.
Too busy. Too cynical. Too naive. But we're a Christian. We deeply desire God's mercy now and at the Last Day. But too busy these days, too cynical, too naive to give out the mercy upon others that we crave from our Creator. But we're saved...
It seems like James is convincting us with this potent challenge, as well as inspiring us towards a greater faith: you can help the hungry, you can clothe the cold - that is something you and I could actually do. We know people who know people who need food and warmth, we could make a phone call or two and make a difference.
You want to be merciful, and you can be merciful. But don't be merciful for mercy's sake; be merciful for Christ's sake. Let Jesus be your motivation - if you want his mercy now and at the Day of Judgment, give mercy now and everyday. You can do it, you can do all things merciful in Christ you gives you strength.