James 2:14-26 ESV
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 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? 17 So 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 apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 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? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
James is writing to a Jewish audience and correcting the idea of a pious, intellectual faith that really had no evidence it existed in the actions of the people proclaiming it. This has been a portion of scripture that people have wrestled with all the way back to Martin Luther.
It seems to be in direct contradiction with Paul when he wrote to the Ephesians, “4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:4-9)
1. What good is it?
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
James asks two questions to start this train of thought: “What good is faith with no works?” and “Can that faith save?” We have to remember that James has just wrapped up his thoughts on preferential treatment of people because of their position and instructed them to live by the royal law.
James also used the illustration of a man looking into a mirror and walking away forgetting what he looks like. He now caps those thoughts oﬀ with these two questions: “Can a faith that produces nothing really be a saving faith?” We should occasionally ask ourselves that question. “What good is it?” The internalization of scripture should change us. When we “look intently” in to the word, it changes us. God’s grace and mercy should change us.
A real relationship should change us. If you are dating, and nothing in your life has changed, it probably is not a very deep relationship. If you are married with kids, but none of your routines have ever changed, it might not be a real relationship. It would be absurd to tell someone you love them with all your heart but not adjust your lifestyle to accommodate them. That love is not proven out in only what you say but what you do as well.
2. This is what it’s not.
15 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? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
The irony in this statement is, “Go in peace” is actually a blessing, and James adds speciﬁcity to the blessing “Be warm and well fed.” It’s a pious statement. James is making the point that while this is a very religious statement and indicates that the person knows what to say, it is void of the faith to do anything about the situation.
The main problem is, the illustration shows that the person giving the blessing never considers a physical solution to the problem. This is in stark contrast to what James had described in chapter one as pure religion.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undeﬁled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their aﬄiction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Picture yourself at Wal-Mart running into a friend from church who has fallen on hard times. They describe to you their need, and the need is immediate. You have the means to help them but instead pray with them that God will provide. This is what James is describing. Faith that is not followed by actions is dead - useless to the giver and the one in need.
18 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. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
James now tackles the idea that you can’t just say you believe there is one God. He makes the point that even demons believe there is a God, and it scares them, but there is no evidence of change. Belief with no change is not faith. I may believe there is a God, but I can also believe in unicorns, and neither of them change my life.
3. This is what it is.
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justiﬁed by works when he oﬀered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justiﬁed by works and not by faith alone. 25 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 gives two examples of old testament ﬁgures that out of their faith in God did very diﬃcult things. Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, proved he had faith in God by obeying him to the point that was willing to kill his own son.
Gen 22:9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 3. Abraham had faith in God that then caused him to act on that faith. His action were proof that he had faith.
Joshua 2:4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of ﬂax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut. 8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
Rahab believed that God was real to the point she risked her own life to help the spies. It changed what she did!
4. You can’t have one without the other.
James is making the case that faith and works are inseparable. He is not saying you can earn your way into heaven by what you do; that would be contradictory to what Paul wrote. He is making the argument to those who thought they could be saved but not have any lasting change take place, the look-into-the-mirror-and-forget crowd, that their faith probably isn’t real and rescuing.
When faith is lived out, it is always lived out in deeds, not just words. Our communities have heard churches talking about what is right and wrong but haven’t seen it lived out consistently. “Can that faith save?” is the question James is asking. Paul actually believed the same thing without contradiction.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Faith saves us, and works prove it out. Don’t tell them you’re saved; show them.
1. What stood out to you most from this week’s message?
2. Paul said our faith through the power of God’s grace saves us - not our works. James said faith without works is dead. These statements appear to contradict each other, but they do not. When the Bible seems to contradict itself, what can we do to make sure we understand?
3. How has your relationship with Christ made you different on the inside?
4. How has your relationship with Christ changed the way you treat people?
5. How can we help others understand God wants them to come to him just they way they are - that they don’t have to be perfect for him to love them?
6. What happens to our testimony when we tell others we have a relationship with God but do not help them when we have the opportunity?
7. What do you plan to do differently because of this week’s message?