SHOWING FAITH BY WORKS
Verse 18 says, "But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." If a vain and boastful person keeps on boasting, someone will eventually rise up and say, "You say that you have faith. But where is it? You should be quiet. You have faith, but I have works." Notice that this one does not say that he has works only; he does not say that he is without faith. This is not what a Christian would say. He says, "You have faith, and I have works. I have provided someone a meal today. I have given someone clothing today. Please show me your faith without works. What good is it if you only talk about these things?" Can you see the meaning in these words? When you read them, you must pay attention to the tone. When you read James, the most important thing is to take note of the tone. If you pay attention to the tone here, you have to admit that this word is spoken to the vain and boastful person. James is speaking here about practice; he is not dealing with justification by faith.
We must take note of the word "show" here. This person says, "Show me," and, "I will show you." Hence, James 2 is not talking about whether or not a man has faith before God. It is not dealing with our faith before God at all; rather, it is dealing with our faith before man. If someone boasts before man that he has faith, you should say to such a one, "Show me your faith without works." James 2 deals with the problem of faith before man. No one can see whether or not you have faith. Others see only if you have works, that is, if you feed others and give others clothes to wear. Do you realize that this requires faith also? Suppose that there is a brother or sister here tonight who lacks clothes or food. If I say to him or her that as long as we believe, we will be clothed and fed, that is not sufficient. James says that we have to feed him and clothe him, and at the same time we should have faith. Do you realize that it takes faith to give to others? This faith comes from two sides. If I do not have much money, perhaps only a few coins in my pocket, and I see someone without food and clothing, I have to exercise faith. I do not need to have faith for others; for them I need works only. But for myself, I need faith. If I do not have faith within me, I will probably not be able to give away these few coins until I have reconsidered and counted them a few more times. I will wonder if I will be able to get back what I would give away. But if I can spontaneously give away the few coins, it must mean that I have faith. Hence, when you see a poor man and give him food and clothing, you must have faith before you can have works. Without works, your faith cannot be manifested. Furthermore, even if you are rich and it does not take much faith for you to give away a little, how do you know that after you have given the money, it would not spoil the receiver and cause him to look to you again the next time to bear his burden? If you do good to others indiscriminately, would it not cause others to look to man continually for help? Many times we do not give something to beggars because we are afraid that doing so would cause them to be beggars forever. Thus, even if you are a rich person, you have to have faith that God can keep a person from developing a bad habit of depending and relying on others. You have to believe that God would not make you bear this person’s burden continually. This is a work, but it is a work of faith. It is a work that comes out of faith.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)