As a child of the 80’s I loved Transformers. I owned a collection of the toys that would rival even the most die – hard fan. I would often take these miniature robots and pretend to have epic battles between the Autobots and Decepticons replicating scenes I had watched on TV. But as a kid I noticed an obvious difference between the toys I owned and the cartoon or me depiction of them I would watch. These toys were not real. They were not alive.
In James 2 we read that someone who possesses a faith that does not have works is like one of those toy Transformers. It is fake. Unreal. Lifeless. If we say we believe in God but there is no fruit, no evidence of our belief, then our faith is not genuine. The point James is emphasizing is that a sincere faith works. Real faith is more than a mental agreement with a doctrine (James 2:19). It bears outward fruit and action that serves as evidence of an inner transformation (sorry about the pun).
But doesn’t this contradict the words of Paul in passages such as Romans 3:28? Although it might appear to be a contradiction James 2 and Romans 3 are not at odds. Paul is arguing that works do not contribute to our initial salvation. James is saying that if we are truly saved then we will bear fruit.
As we read through James 2 we are forced to ask ourselves, does our faith work? Is it real and genuine? There is an interesting cultural phenomenon that is occurring today. Someone can “identify” as something they are not if they so choose to do so. For example, someone who is biologically male can identify as a female. This situation is actually often seen within the context of the local church. And it serves as the essence of what James is writing against. Just because you call yourself a Christian does not mean you are a Christian. There must be a genuine salvation experience in which one places their faith and trust in Jesus to save them and then commits to follow Him in obedience. Out of this flows works that give evidence to the spiritual transformation that has taken place (1 Corinthians 15:10).
But James 2 is not just a call to examine ourselves to see if we have saving faith. It is also a reminder to the Christian of the importance of being fruitful. In John 15 Jesus commands us to abide in Him in order to bear much fruit. As we examine our lives we may find that our Christian life is not as fruitful as it could be. The tendency can be to simply try harder in our own strength. But that is not what Jesus calls us to. In order to be more fruitful we must abide. We must soak in His Word, seek Him in prayer, and ask Him to work in and through us. Then we go out and act in obedience to what He has called us to do.
This portion of James can lead to some pretty invasive questions that we must ask about our lives. Does our faith work? Is it bearing fruit as evidence of the spiritual transformation we say we have experienced? If not, we must place our trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord and allow Him to bear fruit in and through us. And we must also examine the fruitfulness of our lives. Obviously there is always room for growth. And so, we must be intentional to abide and allow Jesus to bear fruit in and through us.
Furthermore, we must not forget that being fruitful is not simply about the number of people you lead to Christ. Fruitfulness is often found in the ordinary things of life. A stay at home mother who raises her children, a father who disciples his son, and teenager who serves at church. All of these “ordinary” things advance the kingdom of God and can warrant the words from the Father, “well done, good and faithful servant.”