Faith without Works is Dead
         (
James 2: 14—26)

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 

15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 

16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 

17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 

19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! 

20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 

22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 

23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 

24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 

25Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

 

There has been a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to the epistle of James.
The reformers stressed Faith alone, “Sola Fide”, salvation by faith alone apart from works. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear in his letters to the Romans and the Ephesians, in particular.

With statements such as:
Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Romans 3:20 Therefore no one will be justified in His sight by works of the Law. For the Law merely brings awareness of sin.
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Ephesians 2:8,9 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God,
 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.…


Because of these verses, the letter of James has caused problems for many people in particular the reformers, most of all Martin Luther.
Anything that seemed on the surface to suggest that one could be saved by works was strongly opposed.

This caused Martin Luther to comment on the epistle of James and said that James was an epistle of straw, which he considered an inferior epistle to the epistles of the Apostle Paul.

So, is this what James is actually saying here in these verses?

 

James 2: 14. "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

This verse poses questions to us and one such question is, exactly what is faith?

The Dictionary definition.
1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

2. strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual
conviction rather than proof.


In the sense that it is used in our text, the first definition is what is meant.
Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

The Greek word for faith is “Pistis” – Persuaded, convinced, relied upon.
So if Salvation is based on faith alone as Paul states, we can be assured that it has nothing whatsoever to do with works or deeds.
We can agree with both Paul and the reformers in the term “Sola Fide”, Faith alone. Which means not of works.
So if faith alone is the bases of salvation, what is James trying to say, when he says if one does not have works, can his faith save him?
The truth as I understand it is that, a man can say he has faith and a man can say he has works.
So it follows that a man can have works but not faith but his works cannot save him. For we are not save through works of the law.


Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Galatians 2:16 know that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. 


However the man who says he has faith but cannot prove his faith by his works, very likely does not have faith at all.
Works does not produce faith. Nor does faith proceed from works.
We are told in:

Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

So faith is born out of the Word of God.
To clarify, it is the work of the Holy Spirit Himself sovereignly dispensing grace, working in the heart through the word to bring forth life. So the written/spoken word is the means whereby the Holy Spirit causes regeneration and brings us to faith.

Once we are brought to true faith, then it is this faith that produces works.

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
 

So as James rightly states: “Faith without works is dead”
17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

 

How then, do we understand “works”? What do we mean by works?

In the eyes of the world there are many that do good works. Yet the scriptures tell us that there is none good, no not one.


Romans 3:10  As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

The works of men are works born of the flesh and even though they are good in men’s eyes. God sees them as filthy rags in compared to Godly works.
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness  are as filthy rags;

Whereas true works are works of righteousness, (God works)
So, as James says, Faith without works is dead.

But! Works without faith is impossible.


Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please Him.
 

If someone has faith, that faith will show itself in works. The proof of faith is in the fruit.
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.


How does faith show itself?
 

15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 

16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 


William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army said:
Quote: You cannot warm the hearts of people with God's love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet.

If we say that we have faith and neglect a brother or sister in need, then as James says our faith is vain.
True faith shows itself in good works. Works that are good in God’s eyes.
This is what caused James to say:

17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

He was not saying that a man can be saved through works but simply that if a man has faith, it will show itself, otherwise there is a question as to whether he has faith at all.


18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 
 

This is how we prove we have faith. Faith produces works.
Paul also said that we should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.


2 Cor 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

How can we do this?

Well! we can apply the teaching of James. Look for the fruit. Look for the works. Then we also can “show our faith by our works”.

19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! 

20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 
 

James is showing here the difference between someone that says they believe in God and someone who has true faith in God.
Many people profess to believe in God but does this prove that they have faith?
James makes a profound statement. Even demons believe—and tremble.
There is a fundamental difference between believing in God and trusting in God.
We know that the scriptures teach that before a man can come to God in Faith, he must believe that God is.

 

Heb 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 
 

James is pointing out the difference between mental ascent and a genuine saving faith.
Many people were claiming that, because they believed in the God of Moses and they had the right to say
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” Deuteronomy 6:4

Meaning that, they were right with God.

James shows that this is false, he does this by saying that it is no different than Satan and his demons. If all that is needed to be saved is belief in God, then Satan and the demons can be saved, too.
They know more than anyone that it is all true but they certainly are not saved and because of this they tremble.

As we have seen earlier, salvation comes from trust, reliance, faith in God through Christ, not just believing that He exists.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 

22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 

23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 
 

James now, gives the example of what it means to have true faith by using Abraham as an example.
Abraham trusted God, he knew that God had promised that from the seed of Isaac would come the promised Messiah. If God asked him to sacrifice his son, then surely God would also raise him from the dead.
Abraham put his faith in God by doing what God asked.
Abraham proved his faith by his works and so it was counted unto him as righteousness.

 

24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 
 

The proof of faith is works. So James could say that “by works faith was made perfect”.
We must be very clear here, we cannot take a verse out of its context. James was not saying that we could be saved through works but by perfect faith. Faith proven by works. Faith working together with works.

22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 

 

25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way

The second example is Rahab the harlot. She also proved her faith by her actions. By trusting the spies to deliver her and her family, by putting out the scarlet cord.

After Abraham, the father of the Jews, the apostle James uses Rahab, a woman and a sinner of the Gentiles, to show that in every nation and sex, true faith produces works, and faith is perfected by them; 

Rahab had heard of the God of the Israelites, how He had brought them out of exile, parting the Red sea and delivering them out the hands of their enemies. Because of these things, she came to the belief that the God of Israel was the one and only true God.
Rahab acted in the same way as Abraham with trust and faith and was rewarded with safety and was chosen by God to be part of the geneaology of Jesus Christ through her marriage to Salmon. Joshua chapter 2.


26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
 

Here James completes his case for a teaching that is so misunderstood. He is proving that genuine faith in God naturally leads the believer to participate in good works.
If we actually believe that God is truly God and that He has saved us through our faith in Christ, why would we not obey Him?Our deeds don't earn our salvation, but what we do proves whether or not we really have saving faith. 

This is interesting how James uses the words,
“as dead as a body without the spirit” (Greek –pneumatos- wind or breath ) It can also mean spirit as in the Holy Spirit.

Just as a body without breath is dead, so a man is spiritually dead without the Holy Spirit.

We read in Genesis, God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul.
In the same way that a body is dead without breath, so faith without works is also dead.

Hence, the spiritual implications are clear; works-less faith is not saving faith. 

Saving faith is a perfect faith.

The conclusion is that James is not in disagreement with Paul. Both of them are quite clear that salvation is by faith alone.
James is emphasising a  true faith being one that produces Godly works of righteousness.

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