“What good is it . . . if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” – James 2:14
“He (she) doesn’t smoke, drink, or cuss,” we used to say of people who supposedly are clean living and of high moral character – supposedly! I say that because my experience has been that phrase has mostly been used tongue-in-cheek, a joke rather than a statement of fact, not that there aren’t certain people who might abstain from those three particular vices. But even if they do they’re probably guilty of other character flaws. Aren’t we all! And if we don’t believe that, we are kidding ourselves; or as scripture says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves” (even if we don’t smoke, drink, or cuss).
I don’t know about you, but willpower is a struggle for me. To not partake of something that gives me pleasure never comes easy, if at all, like giving up ice cream, for example, which is never going to happen. Yet, it seems every time I visit the doctor he tells me to cut something out, something I really enjoy, mostly sugars and carbs. Once he suggested I should substitute almonds for other salty, high carb snacks, only to be reprimanded by the dentist because almonds were cracking my teeth, and crowns are expensive. The bottom line is, either because I’m confused about what habits to change, or I simply lack the willpower, I still have my own share of character flaws, and plenty of them.
We all know we are better off if we don’t smoke, drink, or cuss, and we know we will be healthier if we follow the doctor’s orders. But even if we do, that is only half the equation, for if we’re not doing the “do’s” in life then the “don’ts” don’t really matter. Jesus, in his constant sparring with the Pharisees, told a couple of tongue-in-cheek stories himself. One was about a Pharisee praying in the temple, proud that he did all the right things (which means he probably didn’t smoke, drink, or cuss), unlike the tax-collector across the room, who was quick to admit his own flaws. In another story he told about two religious leaders who for very legitimate religious reasons, refused care to a wounded traveler along the road. Yet, a Samaritan came along, a religious outcast (who knows but that he smoked, drank, and cussed) – who stopped and rendered aid, thus saving the man’s life. And who does Jesus present as the obvious heroes in these two stories?
So, what’s the point of the “don’ts” if we don’t do the “do’s”? And “What good is it . . . if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”