In Scripture, James appears to turn the idea of coming to God just by asking upside down, because he says that faith without works is dead. Without doing some good works as a result of coming to Christ, he questions whether we are even Christians. But Paul so clearly emphasizes that we don’t and can’t work our way into heaven, and in fact if we try to do so, we are binding ourselves to the Law, which is death. So which is it?
When you or I come to Christ, we bring not just our words, but our hearts. True, our hearts are fickle, but at least we try to give our hearts and if we come closer to Him, more of our hearts really do go to Him. Even for a friend, you will do “works”: you would help your friend move to a new home, talk out a problem, and otherwise go out of your way for your friend. But some say that they accept Jesus, and then do nothing He asks, and nothing to draw closer to Him. They have just taken out an insurance policy against a bad afterlife. Sure, accepting Christ with your words is important. But we are to confess with our mouths and believe (substitute the word “trust” if you stumble over “believe”) in our hearts. Both count.
James is pointing out that a heart turned towards God is going to act like it. Certainly some changes will appear. And some of those changes will be natural, and some may require effort. But the heart will steer the person. Works show that the heart has changed.
So, have you: 1. accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior (not just one, but both), 2. headed towards Him and not just continued on your old course, 3. felt a new affection for Him, which drives you to want to please Him? If you can’t say 2 and 3, they are really within your control. Hear and read what Scripture has to say. Think of things in your life from a Christ-centered perspective, and not just the old way. Jesus commands us to “learn of Him”. To learn about Him is to come to love Him, especially when you see that He doesn’t demand works to come. But the works will come, even unexpectedly, if you spend time with Him through Scripture, church, good teaching, and even talking to others about Him.
If you just want the insurance policy, do you really want God? Or do you just want an afterlife free of punishment? Forever serving and being with someone you don’t even like is not fun. Yet you are trying to work that deal with God. It will fail if that’s all you want, and you don’t really want the deal either because the deal involves an eternity with God! All these things work together. Can you see why works must appear in your life, and how they can help others and even yourself know that you are a Christian?