14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 has a great picture of the person who puts their trust in God: a tree with deep roots. Because the roots are deep it produces green leaves and fruit in season. He contrasts it to those who put their trust in themselves: a stunted desert shrub. Desert shrubs have shallow roots.
James has lots of warnings about shallowness and self-tests to work out if that is me. Do I talk about faith that I’ve been redeemed by Jesus, but act like I’m still a slave to sin? Do I say I love my brother or sister and wish them good things when they’re in difficulty, but do nothing to help them? Sounds like words only – stunted leaves with shallow roots.
It may not have been the particular problem at the church James was writing to, but he could equally have warned me about shallow actions: going through the motions of good deeds in the arrogant belief I can buy what Jesus gives me.
Shallowness is so common now. We even have specialised professions dedicated to manipulating image of everything from political spin through fashions that somehow never make me look like the Photoshopped model, to the photographic tricks to make me think the next hamburger I buy really will be succulent and fresh like the photo.
But it seems nothing is new. God warned Samuel “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
How should I respond?
Have deep roots. If my life doesn’t yet produce the right fruit (Galatians 5:16-23), keep growing my roots deeper into God.
The best way to seem like a man of God is to be one. Not easy, but Jesus did the hard work: he set me free from sin and makes me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16-8), different from the old broken one. And I have complete faith that is what he has done.
Then I can talk with confidence about the faith I have in Jesus.
Written by David Cornell