“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?”
James 2:14 (New Revised Standard Version)
Someone once declared that promised prayer has no power, only practiced prayer. That same observation can be applied to faith; profession of faith has no power, only practiced faith. Evidence of this unfolded one Sunday morning during my graduate studies. Sitting in a Sunday school class for young adults at the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a young man asked permission to address the class. His intention was to make a simple observation and ask the class for help. Then the instructor would proceed to teach the lesson he had prepared for the morning. Yet, the young man’s comment became the lesson for that day.
This man began his comments by sharing that some years earlier he made a profession of faith in Jesus as his personal Lord and was baptized in that church. But, he was a graduate student, busy with not only the demanding rigor of his studies, but also working a part-time job to help sustain him as a student. Then, there was also this girl. He was “madly in love with her” as he put it and that, naturally, required some of his attention and time. In the economy of a twenty-four hour day, there simply was no time remaining for the regular reading of the Bible and prayer.
Now, this man has found himself in the middle of a weighty life crisis, one that was causing him to unravel. He turned to his faith. It was then he made a comment that has shaped my own understanding of faith, something that has given more texture, and depth, and color to my own relationship to Jesus than anything I found in the classroom. “I turned to my faith and found that I had done nothing with my faith and now my faith could do nothing for me.” Then, a long lingering silence draped the room. Wisdom of such depth rarely can be met with words. The instructor then, with a deliberate and careful movement, placed his lesson upon an empty chair and asked, “What can we do for you?”
The only help the student asked for was accountability. “Beginning today, I am no longer neglecting my faith. Hold me accountable. Call me each day and ask what I have read in the Bible and how I am responding. What I need more than anything at this moment is a faith that will sustain me. Hold me accountable. I cannot move forward without God.” Here was a young man who discovered the profound truth that merely professing faith in Jesus lacked power. Vital, life-giving faith that sustains us requires practice. This is precisely what James would have us hear, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?”