For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. – James 2:26

Everybody believes something. And whether what we believe is true or false, right or wrong, we will act on what we believe. That is to say that faith affects behavior. As we learned how the Scriptures define faith, now we will take a look at how faith works it way out in our daily living.

Those given to us as examples of faith in the Scripture did things as a result of their faith. Faith produces action. Faith works. Faith is not a work in and of itself. We are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is trust; it is belief. Specifically as we discuss it, faith is trust in the person of Jesus Christ. So while faith is not a work, faith does work. If it is alive and active and real, then faith will result in good works. Why is this? Faith leads to behavior. If we believe something it shows in how we live.

James tells us in his letter in the New Testament that faith that does not work is dead. Dead faith is useless. It cannot save. It is dead, lifeless, meaningless, and void. On the other hand, faith that results in works is living and active faith.

Let’s make a practical application here. If we claim to believe something but that belief does not result in action or behavior then we really do not believe what we claim to believe. The best example I ever heard of this came from my mentor in the ministry who stated it this way:

If you are in the woods and believe that you hear a bear coming to get you, you will run just as fast as if a bear is really there coming to get you.

Belief results in action, in works, in behavior. If we really believe something to be true, we act accordingly. This truth can have a kick to it when we start to examine our belief system. If we claim to believe something but it does not have a direct effect on what we do, then we really do not believe it. As I stated, everybody believes something, whether it is true or false, and we act on what we believe.

There is a two-fold danger here of which we need to be aware. First there is a danger in believing a lie. If we have a false belief in our belief system then how will that affect the way we act? For example, in the Old Testament King Saul became jealous and thought that David was out to kill him. He acted accordingly, becoming suspicious to the point that he tried to kill David by throwing a spear at him while he sat at the dinner table. Saul’s false belief led to murderous intent and actions (1 Samuel 18:9-12).

Secondly there is a danger that we will think that we believe something, but in reality we do not believe it. How do we know? If we think we believe but do not act, then we do not really believe. This happens when we mentally assent to something accepting in our minds that it is true, but we really do not embrace this belief with true faith, and as a result, we do not act on what we claim we believe. Assent without belief makes no difference in the way we think, talk, act, or live.

This would be exemplified in the life of a person who believed that a bear was coming through the woods to eat them and they just sat there. It makes no sense to think that your life is in danger and not try to fight or flee. Yet when it comes to doctrine, people claim to believe sound doctrine while in truth they may not even understand that doctrine at all. They think they believe the truth, but it does not affect the way they live. They hear, but do not do (James 1:22).

The real, eternal danger here is that we either believe a lie (false doctrine) or we think we are trusting Christ when we really are not. If we believe a lie, we are doomed, for only the truth makes us free (John 8:32). If we think we believe the truth but do not actually believe it, then we are self deceived and are in danger of hearing those most awful words in Scripture, “I never knew you, depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23).

Remember the Parable of the Soils from Matthew 13? Two of the four soils mentioned embraced the Word quickly but then died without bearing fruit – the shallow soil where the seed had no root and the thorny soil where the cares of this world choked the plant – they represent people who emotionally or mentally embrace the preaching of the gospel but do not actually have faith. They do not really believe what they have heard. What proof do we have of this? There is no root and no fruit. They wither and die with no root, or they never bear fruit being choked out by the cares of this world. If they had true faith, they would yield fruit (good works).

In order to understand faith we must strive to believe what God tells us so that we might rightly inform our belief system. We must be sure that what we claim to believe affects the way we live. In the Scriptures this is the idea that a good tree bears good fruit. If we have faith in Jesus Christ, we will bear good fruit. If we do not bear good fruit, then we need to examine what we really believe. We may believe in ourselves all the while thinking that this misplaced faith is the same thing as faith in Christ.

Saving faith is alive, it produces spiritual fruit, it is active and real because it is faith in the Word of God and in God Himself. Saving faith has no room for self, for pride, or for licentiousness (using grace as a license to sin). Saving faith is a gift from God. It is trust in Christ. It is proof of what we cannot see and the reality behind that for which we hope (Hebrews 11:1).