Today we are looking at James 2:14-26 and the relationship between faith and works. Before we get to the text, I acknowledge that there is significant debate about this subject. Some say James contradicts the teachings of Paul, but Scripturally this cannot be so.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Paul writes that all Scripture is inspired and it equips for every good work. James does not contradict the theology of Paul.
In his James commentary, Dr. John MacArthur wrote the following, “They (Paul and James) are not standing face-to-face confronting one another, but are standing back-to-back fighting two common enemies. Paul opposes works-righteousness legalism, James opposes easy-believeism.”
In Galatians, Paul addresses a false belief that circumcision is necessary for salvation. James deals with the outworking of salvation. These men are not opposed to one another. In this portion of his letter, James addresses a critical issue, one that is pervasive in our day as well, the problem with professions of faith that have no fruit behind them.
James 2:14 NKJV “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?”
The New Living Translation says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”
James begins by asking a very pointed question followed by examples, but we must recognize the implication in this first verse. Anyone can say they have faith, but what proves the faith is genuine? That is where works come in, or as the New Living Translation says actions. Notice the person James speaks of is claiming faith, which is his point, claiming faith does not mean faith is present. The NLT says that kind of faith because the faith James describes is empty. The word faith in this verse means conviction. Actions are a result of convictions.
The first example of genuine faith is given in verses fifteen through seventeen. “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.”
If you see someone in need and can help them, genuine faith offers help. Is it right to say depart in peace, be warmed and filled, when you can provide warmth? The faith claimed is dead because it has no actions. Ephesians 2:10 says we are created for good works. We are saved by grace unto good works. True salvation produces a transformation, not just in our actions but in our beliefs. There are those today who will have action, yet their beliefs violate the Scripture, that faith is dead as well.
Faith without works is nothing more than an empty confession. Works without proper faith are condemned by Jesus in Matthew 7:13-27. How many Americans say they are Christians yet do not live according to the standard of Scripture? What about progressive Christians who deny the authority of Scripture? They say they believe, but it is a god they created in their image, not true faith.
The progressive “Christianity” of our day has the same false compassion James talks about in verses fifteen through seventeen. They have works, yet the works violate the teaching of Scripture. Their works support the partiality that James spoke against earlier in chapter two. Their activism tries to thwart God’s created order, of male and female and marriage between a man and a woman. They have works but their works are evil. Their works are evil because the faith they have is not in the Jesus of the Scripture. James addresses this in verses eighteen through twenty, “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?” The progressive movement has works, but they have the wrong faith.
James concludes his discussion on faith and works by talking about the father of our faith. Paul talks about the justification by faith in the fourth chapter of Romans, and James talks about the work that came from that faith.
James 2:21-26 NKJV “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.
25 Likewise, 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.”
Abraham believed God to the point he was willing to sacrifice his son. In Genesis twenty-two, we read the account of his faith. Abraham says he and the boy will go up and return. God said sacrifice your son, so why did Abraham say they would both return? They would both return because Abraham believed the promise that Issac was the seed. He was declared righteous because he believed in God. The proof of that belief was his willingness to do something God asked because he knew what God said about Issac. An angel stopped Abraham when he raised a knife then God provided a ram for a sacrifice. God provided a ram because the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world would come later. The willingness to sacrifice his son proved the faith that he possessed. Rahab hiding the spies proved her faith in God and was the source of her rescue when Jericho fell.
James shows us how faith and works go hand in hand. Grace alone saves and works are not burdensome. They are an outflow of love for Jesus and our fellow man. Our actions will demonstrate that love. The actions of others will also show us if they are of the faith. Anyone can claim to be a Christian but do their actions show it? Do they help those in need? Do they hold to the teaching of Scripture? If the answer is no, the faith they claim is in vain.
Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Our faith in Christ and the sufficiency and infallibility of the Scriptures guard us against false teachings that James talks about in chapter one. It also keeps us from false works, the lawless ones Jesus mentions in Matthew chapter seven. Make your faith strong and let your actions be pure, for that is our manner of life.