Too often we lack works. Maybe we are not praying, not forgiving someone, not crucifying selfishness to care for others, or not sharing the gospel.
We know this is a serious problem, because James said that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). What’s more serious than dead faith?
But there’s a danger here in how we can read this verse. We can miss James’s point. We can think that since faith without works is dead, then if I lack works, I had better start working. I had better start praying, start forgiving, start caring more for others, start sharing the gospel. But that’s not what James is saying.
James is saying that since faith without works is dead, then if there are no works, the problem is that to some extent, my faith is dead. And that to correct the problem my faith must be revived.
A Heart Without a Pulse
To see James’s point, imagine he had said that “a heart by itself, if it does not have a pulse, is dead.” So, if I have no pulse, what’s the problem? A dead heart. And what should I do to get a pulse? Try to revive my heart.
If I try to make a pulse without reviving my dead heart, I might be able to create what looks like a pulse. But it won’t be a real pulse, because it won’t come from a living heart.
In the same way, if I try to do works without reviving my dead faith, I might be able to create what looks like works. But they won’t be genuine works, because they won’t come from a living faith in Jesus’s person and work and his provision to be working in my working.
Abiding and Bearing
Jesus taught the same truth in John 15. He said every branch that abides in him will bear fruit (John 15:5). So, if I don’t bear fruit, the problem is that I’m not abiding. Which means the solution isn’t to try to bear fruit; the solution is to start abiding. Fruit comes from abiding. And works come from living faith.
But how can faith be revived? Let’s say you don’t share the gospel because you fear what people might think of you. Since this is a lack of works, James would say the cause is dead faith. So how can you revive your faith?
Trust His Power
Faith is ultimately a supernatural work of God. So start by coming to Jesus Christ as you are, and trust his power to change your heart. Trust him as your redemption and perfect righteousness. Trust him as your Savior, Lord, and Treasure.
Confess your lack of works. Receive fresh assurance that you are fully and freely forgiven through his death on the cross and by faith united to the living one who is your righteousness.
Confess that your lack of works shows there is deadness in your faith. Ask God to revive, strengthen, and help your faith.
Then, to strengthen your faith, find which promises from God in the Scriptures you are not trusting. Lack of obedience is caused by not trusting God and his promises. So think about what commands you are not obeying, and what promises from God motivate that obedience.
Here is a promise I have used to battle my fear of sharing the gospel.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22–23)
Jesus promises that if I am insulted for his sake, I will be rewarded in heaven with even more joy in him. So if fear of being insulted keeps me from telling people about Christ, it’s because I’m not trusting this promise. I’m not trusting that if I’m insulted, God will reward me with more joy in Christ. Or I’m not trusting that joy in Christ will infinitely make up for the pain of being insulted. Or both.
That lack of trust is what James means by dead faith. So how can dead faith be revived?
Pray Over the Promises
Faith comes as we hear God’s word (Romans 10:17), the good news of what Jesus has accomplished for us, and as we pray for God to help our unbelief (Mark 9:24). So, ask God to help your unbelief, renew your rest in Jesus’s person and work, and pray over promises that motivate whatever works you are lacking.
So, for example, if you are struggling with evangelism, pray over the promise of Luke 6:22–23. Think deeply about it. Maybe pray over other passages that reinforce that promise, like Matthew 28:18–20 and 1 Peter 4:14.
Keep doing this in reliance upon God until he strengthens your faith so you believe that if you are insulted God will reward you with more joy in Christ, and that joy in Christ will far surpass the pain of any insults.
Feel the difference? When the Holy Spirit shows up, your faith is no longer dead. It’s been revived. And your revived faith will make you want to share the gospel with others. Because you know that any insults you receive will bring more joy in Christ forever.
We wouldn’t try to create a pulse without reviving the heart. So don’t try to create works without reviving your faith.