Do you have faith? Most every denominational church will say yes. Is your faith according to God’s Word or your word? This is what James is doing in James 2:14-26. It is not enough to say we have faith. We need to test to determine if we have real faith validated by God’s Word. James asked, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him”?
James presents a person who claims to have faith. But does he really? This person has faith but he does not have any activity corresponding to that faith. James asks a very important question: can that faith save him? Can this kind of faith be saving faith? James will use four cases to answer this question. Can faith without any corresponding activity save?
Faith Without Works Is Dead (2:15-17)
The first case James uses is to illustrate a situation where a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food. I think it is worth pointing out that the scriptures describe this as a situation of true need. True destitution in the scriptures is not that we cannot make a car payment, pay the electric bill, or do not have a job. Carefully examine the scriptures and you will note that poverty and people in true need were those who lacked clothing and lacked food. This brother or sister is in true need. But rather than do something, one of us says to be warmed and filled. James asks the question, “What good is that?”
This is an example of empty, worthless faith. Verbal statements are not faith. Only speaking words is not faith. James makes the point that you can say whatever you like but that is not faith. This is certainly important for us to understand today. You can say that you love Jesus all you want, but your words are not faith. Real faith, James says, leads to action. Real faith does not merely say some words. In verse 17 James concludes his first case with the point that faith without any action is dead. Faith that does not lead to action is of no benefit. That kind of faith is not saving faith, but dead faith.
How many of us have this kind of false faith! We say all the right things to people, but we do not lift a finger to show our faith. We look like good, faithful Christians by the words that we say, but our lack of action reveals something completely different. What are we doing that shows we have saving faith? What can we point to in our lives that clearly reveals the faith that God demands? False faith offers no service to others. If we had the faith of God’s Word we would feed the hungry, give water to those who thirst, give them shelter from the cold, and would help where help is needed. This is the kind of faith James is speaking about, and we must have this kind of faith to be pleasing unto God.
Belief Alone Is Useless (2:18-20)
James establishes his second case to answer the question if faith without activity can save. One person says he has faith. Another person says he has works, but here is the challenge: show me your faith apart from your works. Show me faith with any activity. How can anyone know that you have faith if you do not act upon it or show it? I will show you faith by my actions. Faith is proved by a way of life. “I will show you my faith.” Faith is something that can be seen. If faith cannot be seen then it is not the saving faith God demands.
James proves this point with an observation about demons. You believe that there is a God. Guess what? The demons also believe there is a God and they tremble at His sight.
James points out how foolish it is to think that belief alone has some sort of saving value. James calls us foolish people if we think that faith without activity is useful. It is not useful to others and it is not useful to God. I think it is fair to say that there are millions of people who have useless faith. How many people believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but do nothing with that belief! How many people believe that there is one God but do nothing with that belief! The vast majority of this country claims to be Christian. They believe in God and believe in Jesus, but where is the action that shows that faith? It does not exist and that faith is dead and useless. That faith does not bring eternal life to the soul. It is dead faith and brings death to the believer. The same is true for ourselves. If all that your faith consists of is sitting in the church building, you have dead faith. You have useless faith. You do not have real faith if all that your belief does for you is gets you to the building once a week. This faith does not save.
Abraham Was Justified By Works (2:21-24)
The third case presented is the example of Abraham. Did Abraham have actions behind his faith? The answer is that he absolutely did. He showed his faith through the activity of offering up his son Isaac on the altar. Abraham is told to offer his only son on the altar to God. This he was willing to do without question or hesitation. As Abraham is about to kill his son to offer him on the altar the angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham to stop and not kill his son. Abraham’s faith was revealed through his actions. He was willing to offer Isaac, believing that God could raise his son from the dead. Therefore, he did not simply believe. His faith led him to act and obey.
Abraham is an example of faith that saves. Abraham’s faith is contrasted with the person who says he has faith apart from activity. Abraham was not saved apart from activity. Notice this point in verse 22. “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” Faith is completed by our works and revealed by what we do.
Not only this, but it is faith working by which the scripture was fulfilled, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham was acquitted because he believed God and that belief acted daily. Abraham was called a friend of God. Could there be a better description that God could give us? Would their be anything better than to hear from the Lord that we are his friend? Faith that works brings us to that point. Saving faith obeys what God commands, no matter how inconvenient or difficult or how erroneous it may seem. Abraham casts a strong light in our dark lives. We often think we have saving faith but we are unwilling to obey the commands that we find difficult, inconvenient, or do not like. That is not the faith of Abraham.
Thus, James concludes his third case that a person is justified by works and not by faith only. This is the only place in the scriptures where the words “faith” and “only” are joined together. This is why Jesus combined both faith and works when he commanded his apostles to preach the gospel unto all the world. “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be condemned” (Mk 16:15,16). Faith is a work of God (Jn 6:29) and so is baptism a work of God. When asked on the day of Pentecost, “Men and brethren what shall we DO? Peter answered by saying, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). “DO” is an action word that requires work to accomplish it. No one can be baptized in their mind or heart. It requires physical action_work!
Rahab Was Justified By Works
The final case James presents to show that faith without action does not save is the example of Rahab. She was also justified because her faith caused her to act. She hid the spies, in threat to her own well being, because it was the right thing to do. True faith does good to others, which ties back into James 2:15-17.
Therefore, just as when the spirit leaves the body, the body is dead, so also when works leaves faith, faith is dead. It is not saving faith. It is dead, useless faith.
Conclusion: What kind of faith do you have? A faith that works or a workless faith? Faith+Works=Salvation : Faith-Works=Death