Faith, Works & Salvation (James 2:14-26)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

- James 2:14-26

The first test was how you respond to trials (James 1:2-11)
The second test was how you respond to temptation (James 1:12-15)
The third test was how you respond to frustrating situations. (James 1:19-21)
The fourth test was how you react to the Word of God (James 1:22-27)
The fifth test was if you show partiality or distinctions toward the rich, powerful, popular, desirable, ect (James 2:1-13)
The sixth test is the evidence of saving faith.

As we have been studying the book of James, we have been examining our Christian lives through the lens of various tests. Now up until this passage, a majority of this book has focused on our re-actions to situations. In verse 14 of chapter 2 the focus shifts from re-actions to actions; these actions being that of faith. As followers of Christ we are to be not only people of belief but of action. Being a disciple of Christ is not simply about believing in Christ and the Gospel, but allowing that belief and faith to fuel our actions.This is the difference between wearing the “Christian” jersey and actually going to practice and playing in the game. Unfortunately as the modern church we have given out jerseys for the cost of a “sinner’s prayer” and not expected anyone to actually play the game. This has resulted with thousands of Christians wearing around their Christian jersey yet very few playing on the court.

My heartache as a pastor is that much of our church today is filled with Christians who believe totally in the Gospel, in Christ, in His death and in His resurrection, yet will be surprised when their faith is found not to be genuine on the day of judgement. This is the serious issue that James lays out and appeals in these verses that we are focusing on today.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

- James 2:14

This first verse of this passage makes profound statement in the form of a question. It ask’s us if faith with out works (or actions) is worth anything, is good for anything or can save a man. From the beginning of this passage we are implicitly told that there is more than one type of faith. No only are we told that there is more than one type of faith but that there is a faith that saves and a faith that does not save, “Can that faith save him?”

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

- James 2:15

This is a prime example of a believer in Christ who’s life of faith in mainly in their words.

They might say
“I’ll be praying for you”
But never visit the person in their sickness

They may say
“God will provide for your needs”
But never go to the store and buy groceries for their family.

A Christian can be completely orthodox in all of their theology and belief but if their faith is not accompanied by action, it is dead. James is making the point that useful and saving faith consists of more than just belief and words.Far to often I see professing believers in Christ living a life that consists of little more than “God in peace, be warmed and filled”. James cuts to the heart and says, If your life of faith consists of nothing more than words, what good is your faith? It is not good. It is not useful. It’s dead. It’s like a corpse. Completely lifeless.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

- James 2:18

Here is where the rubber meets the road when talking about faith and works. In this verse we see a contrast between 2 people’s faith. The person with true faith says to the person who claims to have faith only, “You have faith and I have works, show me your faith without works. . . . Go ahead. Let’s see your faith.” The problem is that it is impossible to display your faith without works.The person with true faith goes on to tell this so called believer, “I’ll prove my faith to you by showing you my works”. The truth of the matter is that one cannot prove their faith apart from their work which means that those who have true saving faith will have works.

Show me your faith without works, go ahead.” Can’t…impossible, can’t be done. The word “show” means exhibit, demonstrate, put on display. So he says go ahead, show me your faith. How can you show faith without works? You can say, “Well, I believe…I believe.” Show it to me. Well, you can’t. It’s absolutely impossible to demonstrate saving faith without a product. How people can say there is such a thing as a faith that is real that has no fruit is absolutely ridiculous because how can they know that? James says show it to me. And if there is no righteous deed, if there is no fruit of righteousness, there is no way to demonstrate the validity of faith.

- John MacArthur

Here at this verse is the source of a lot of misunderstanding in Christianity when it comes to our justification and salvation. We will come back to this point at a verse later in this passage but let us note that this verse is saying that works are an evidence of faith and salvation and NOT the source.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

- James 2:19

This person with true and saving faith now makes a bit of a sarcastic statement to the one who claims only to believe. He essentially says, “You believe in one God? Congratulations. Demons believe that and even they have enough faith to tremble at that fact.” Do you realize that demons are believe in basic orthodox Christianity? If we look back to Matthew 8:29 where Jesus is driving out a demon and the demon replies,

And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?

- Matthew 8:29

The demons here in this scripture affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, that there will be a judgement time where demons will be thrown into everlasting torment and that there is an appointed time for that torment. All demons could sign the doctrinal statement of our church, every one of them. There is no such thing as a heretical demon. They believe everything orthodox, everything. So simply believing the intellectual facts about Jesus does not produce legitimate faith.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

- James 2:21-25

James finishes up the second chapter here giving us some real life examples of faith at work. The first example is the faith of Abraham believing God’s promise of his son and of the promised land and second of Rahab the prostitute receiving the Israelite messengers into her home in faith.This verse tells us that our works are not only the evidence of our faith but it also active in completing our faith. This would be like a clay pot being fired in a kiln. It’s a completing action. The closing verse gives us another great image of faith and works.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

- James 2:26

Just like a body without a spirit is simply a corpse, so it our faith dead without accompanying works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

- Ephesians 2:8-10

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