James, Faith and Works
Knowledge and Practice of the Word
There is no greater balance within the Christian faith than knowledge of the Word and practice of the Word. An important verse in James, along with the entire New Testament, is James 1:22 when James writes, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
To unpack all what hearing the Word means would take some time, but in its simplest form it means to hear what God has said in His Word. One could go further than just hear it, but also understand it. Dwell on it. Meditate on it. That’s hearing the Word. It’s vital to the Christian’s faith, for it’s in hearing the Word that we know who God is, who we are, and how salvation works. What about doing the Word? Well, that’s simply practicing what the Word teaches. For example, when Jesus says to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, we aren’t to merely think and dwell on it. Jesus intends that we really do love and really do consider others.
It’s really quite a basic concept. Our faith leads to works; our knowledge leads to practice; our belief leads to obedience.
Now, this balance is often “off” when you look at churches and individual Christians (including yourself). We all know churches and Christians who are more “knowledge-based” and others who are more “practical.” For some reason we pit these two against one another. But they were never supposed to be enemies! Think of a bike: the faith/belief/doctrine/knowledge of Christianity is one pedal, and the work/obedience/practice/action is the other. You need both equally to move forward. Sometimes one is higher than the other – not because it’s more important, but because that’s the season you’re in.
When you look at the New Testament letter written by James, you see, at firsthand, an emphasis on the practical. As hard as you may look, you won’t find explicit doctrinal statements like you do in Paul’s letters. Does this mean James didn’t care for doctrine? Absolutely not. Does it mean he didn’t regard doctrine and knowledge as of equal importance as the practical? Again, no. James was not written in the same way Paul wrote the letter to the Roman Church – a description of the gospel in detail, with a shorter look at how that gospel plays itself out in real, every day life at the end. James was written to specific group of churches in the 1st Century who definitely had an already established understanding of some of the main components of the gospel. James is encouraging and teaching them to live that gospel out.
Maybe you need that too – maybe you need encouragement to live out the gospel. If that’s the case, challenge yourself to read through the letter of James. As you read it, remember the key components of the gospel. Read all the practical commands in light of this gospel.