This is the fourth of 13 sessions looking at selected passages from the Book of James. Click here to read the introduction and for an overview.

Click here to see the third session.

Session Four
It’s often said—and sadly, often true—that Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we’re in agreement with. As a whole, we’re so quick to point fingers of morality, to take on the task of judging others, and to make it known what we believe is “right” and “wrong.”

The worst of it, however, is that even when we mean well, we can still come across as rigid rule-makers. It doesn’t take much for the world to equate Christianity with a list of Thou-shalt-nots, especially with a lack of understanding about the freedom Jesus offers instead. A life of genuine faith—the kind we’re encouraged to live in the Book of James—is absolutely one that focuses on good works. Those good works, however, are not about things we “have to” or are “supposed to” do. Instead, they are the overflow of a heart of gratitude, one that understands humility, grace, and the overwhelming, overcoming love of God.

They are literally faith in action, the evidence of his working in our hearts.

The balance between faith and works is not one easily achieved. Yet, according to The Message translation of James 2, they fit together hand in glove. Understanding the depths to which God loves us gives insight into the fact that He loves others every bit as much. Considering how He extends compassion again and again in our own lives helps us offer it to others. Spending time in His presence helps us see the world more from His perspective than our own.

When it comes to teens, it’s so important to remember that it’s a life stage of testing and pushing boundaries. It’s a time of figuring out one’s individuality in thought, action and deed. As such, it’s also a time of establishing habits and patterns that literally can shape a life for better or worse. You might encourage a teen to be good, but you can’t make him or her. What you can do is model—and teach—a walk with God that is transparent, organic and real. A funny thing happens when we get our eyes off others and keep them on our own challenges and opportunities. With God’s help, we start seeing what’s possible instead of what’s not. We start focusing on faith and the good deeds follow naturally.

What the Word Says:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (Hebrews 2:18).

How It Applies:
From the outside in, the balance of faith and deeds can be a difficult thing to understand. Good deeds alone cannot earn God’s favor or salvation. Rather, they’re evidence of a heart that has been molded and softened by the compassion, love and grace of God.            

Questions for Group Discussion:
• Do you think it’s possible for God to love you any more (or less) based on what you do? Where do you get that idea?
• James 2:71, the verse immediately before this week’s reading, says “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” What do you think James meant by this statement?
• What do you think good works by Christians teach the world about Jesus and Christianity? In what ways could those works be misunderstood?
• How could God help a person grow in desire to do good works?

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