Read James 2:14-17
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (NLT)
When wrestling with biblical truth, it is so easy to resort to extremes. To so focus on one doctrine that it distorts other legitimate doctrines. To exalt certain texts and dismiss others. One such example is the tension in Scripture between the fact that good works cannot save us and the fact that we cannot be saved without good works. The Bible expresses both truths: we are saved by grace through faith; not all who profess verbal faith will enter heaven but only those who do the will of Jesus.
The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, argued that it was futile to simply provide food and shelter to the needy. Their eternal destinies were at stake. And yet he didn’t just determine to ‘save souls’. He realised that he wouldn’t even get a hearing unless he met immediate material needs. His was truly a social gospel, one which recognised the need to exercise faith but such an exercise of faith was not likely on an empty stomach.
We sometimes narrow the idea of ‘preaching the gospel’ down to talking of the death of Jesus on the cross. But the gospel is broader than that. It is good news to all in need. We are called on to love people. And love will involve sincere and sensitive efforts to point people to Jesus and his grace. Yet it will also involve a practical concern for their immediate needs.
Helping people materially is a matter of love, a demonstration of God’s own love for them. It is also the best context within which we can get a hearing to tell them of the supreme expression of his love for them: Jesus and the cross.