James 2:14 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?”
James 2:17 “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
James asks a very important question, “What is the profit of faith without works?” He then adds, “Can that faith save?” To help lead us to the right answer, he uses an illustration which reminds us that talk of food will not always satisfy the appetite of a hungry man. In the same way, a dead faith cannot produce life. Right away James recognizes there will be objections to his teaching; some will say, “You have faith, I have works.” This seems to be the objection of those who think there is more than one way to God. They might say, “I am glad you have found something that works for you, but I don’t need that. I am a good person, and when I die, I will go to heaven because of the good things I have done.” James is in no way saying our good deeds will get us into heaven, but that true faith is always accompanied with good works. The person who truly believes, will have actions that support his claims.
Throughout history, James has gotten a whole lot of grief for writing this passage. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that this book does not belong in the Bible. I think it is important that we see James is not presenting a different doctrine than the rest of Scripture, but is in fact, explaining more clearly, the doctrine of justification by faith. James is not alone in teaching that faith without works is dead.
JEREMIAH TAUGHT IT
Jeremiah 7:8 “Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.”
JOHN THE BAPTIST TAUGHT IT
Matthew 3:7-8 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance”
PAUL TAUGHT IT
Galatians 5:6 “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
Titus 1:16 “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.”
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
PETER TAUGHT IT
2 Peter 1:5 “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; . . .”
JOHN TAUGHT IT
1 John 2:4 “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
JESUS TAUGHT IT
Luke 13:3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Matthew 7:19-20 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
Matthew 7:21-23,26,27 “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
James goes on to explain his teaching by stating, faith cannot be seen without action, “I will show you my faith by my works.” He then uses one of the most powerful sermon illustrations ever given. He declares the demons, who believe in God, show by their actions, they are not followers of God. In contrast to the demons, James reminds us of the father of faith. Who showed the reality of his faith with His obedience to the word of God. His action of placing his son on the altar, showed in a striking way, that God was his chief love (Genesis 22:1-12).
Jesus declared, the first commandment is to love God with ALL. This is evidenced in our lives, not simply by words, but by actions. With one final illustration, James brings up Rahab the harlot. Her past life was marked with open sin, although no details are given as to what led her down that path. All we know is when presented with the opportunity, she chose to depart from her old way of life, and determined to join with the believers and follow God. What about us? What are the works that show an account of our faith? In Matthew 7, Jesus stated, we must do the will of the Father. The first work to add to our faith is simple obedience.
Read your Bible and do what it says. When you come to a text that convicts you, make some changes in your living. It is not the change that saves you, but the saved will certainly change.
Questions for James 2
1. In our society we often treat a well-dressed, impressive looking person better than someone who looks mangy and down at the heels. We would rather identify with the prosperous people than with the presumable failures. In verses 1-7 Pastor James rebukes acts of favoritism and prejudice. Here are 8 reasons why showing favoritism to the rich is wrong:
a. It is contrary to the teachings of the Lord.
b. It results from evil thoughts.
c. It insults people made in God’s image.
d. It’s a by-product of selfish motives.
e. It’s contrary to the Biblical identification of love.
f. It shows lack of mercy to the down trodden.
g. It’s sin.
Are you easily impressed by status, wealth, or fame? Are you partial to the “haves” while paying no attention the “have nots?”
2. God views all people as equals. Before Him we all stand on one level. By honoring someone just because he or she wears expensive clothes and drives a fancy vehicle we are making appearances more important than character. Does poverty make you uncomfortable? The Lord tells us a parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” Do you ever have the point of view that you are superior to the poor person? As Christians, we must live as the Lord requires. We are not to be playing with the lifestyles of the rich and famous but to love all people regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
3. The Lord Jesus taught us the golden rule in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” In verse 8, how do we fulfill the royal law in the scripture?
4. Verse 13 is a powerful verse. In essence, there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. We should not withhold mercy and forgiveness from others after having received it ourselves. Is there someone you are withholding forgiveness to? Turn to Matthew 6:14, 15 and Ephesians 4:31, 32.
5. Verses 14-26 can be summed up by “faith without works is dead.” James is telling us that true faith transforms our behavior as well as our mind. True faith always results in good deeds. Our simple faith brought us to salvation and our active obedience proves that our faith is genuine. Are you someone who professes to be a Christian but does not minister deeds of loving service?