Today's passage: James 2
If I told you I was a Doctor, but did not practice in a hospital or clinic, would you believe me? If I did not have a certificate that showed you I had completed my medical training, residency and internship, would you be convinced? Only I would know for sure whether I was telling you the truth or not, maybe some friends from college could tell you as well, but you would have to look them up to get their stories.
This passage in James is probably one of the most misinterpreted passages of Scripture. People who believe their salvation is based on works, love it. They feel it proves that you have to do good things to enter Heaven. But James is not saying that at all. He tells us that faith without works is dead, not non-existent. I can tell you I am a Christian, but unless you see something in my life that seems Christ-like, you may not believe me. Unless I am doing the things a Christian should do, you might not be convinced. I don't have a certificate to hang on my wall that tells people the day I got saved. I used to have one for the day I was baptized (I may still have it somewhere) but the baptism didn't save me, it is another thing I did to show my salvation. Only God and I know for sure whether I have accepted His Son, Jesus Christ, for my salvation. I may have some friends that were present at the time you could ask, but you would still not have a guarantee.
If I don't behave as a Christian should, it will be pretty hard to persuade people to believe I am what I say I am. If I do behave as a Christian should, then I might be able to convince them. I may really be a doctor. I may have obtained a medical degree. I may have aced Anatomy and Organic Chemistry and all the classes a doctor would have needed to take. If I am not practicing medicine somewhere, that does not make me any less a doctor (although I would probably be pretty rusty should I start practicing again). It just makes people less convinced that I am one. If I opened a clinic, treated people, prescribed medicines, then you might say, "Oh, she's a doctor," even if I didn't have a medical degree hanging on my wall. You might even believe that someone who didn't have a degree was a doctor if they started doing those things. Hmmmm. Does that mean there are fake Christians? Unfortunately, just as there are fake doctors, there are people who are not the real thing spiritually either. And we have no way of knowing, because salvation takes place in the heart. We can only see what people do.
So if I say I am a Christian, and I am not practicing, I probably could not convince anyone to become a Christian too. If I see someone who is doing all the things a Christian should, I would possibly assume he is a Christian (but I cannot really know for sure). If I see someone who behaves in despicable ways, I would probably assume he is not a Christian. Maybe he just isn't practicing.