James 2: 14 through 26.
Faith Without Works Is Dead
My friends, what good is it to say you have faith when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? James 2:14 CEV
My son in law will occasionally say, I am a Christian, but try talking to him about His relationship with the Father, and he will tell you that his relationship is private. I suppose, on an intimate and personal level, I can understand that, but then there is that admonition from Jesus.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NLT)
What does that say about your private and personal relationship?
Perhaps a lot, but who am I to talk, as I was a shy introvert most of my life. It was only the power of the Holy Spirit that changed me and gave me a boldness that I simply do not understand at times. I find myself scratching my head, and asking who was that guy because that was never who I was?
The NLT version of the Bible reads like this:
“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?”
Let’s examine this idea of faith for a moment.
Is it only a demonstrative faith that brings about your salvation?
Well, that was not the case for the thief on the cross. Pay attention to the conversational interaction between Jesus and that particular thief.
Luke 23:32-43 NLT
(32) Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him……
(39) One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
This is the first thing we have heard out of the other two. If they are of the same mindset, then it should not go well for them, but watch what happens.
(40) But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?
The “other” criminal protested, by saying, don’t you fear God? Now, where did he get that understanding from?
The thief’s addendum, “even when you have been sentenced to die”, alludes to the idea that he has an understanding that there is a God to fear.
Assume a couple of scenarios:
1. They don’t know God. If that is the case, how would anyone perceive or recognize that there was a relationship between this man in the middle of them and God?
That is a great question, and the only thing that would change this equation is that the one doing the protesting is a Jew. (Another assumption we make, is that the Jews are so constrained by the laws of God that they would never do anything wrong; this is, an illogical assumption, for we are ALL broken by sins effects.) We might make an assumption that the thief saw the traditional garment worn by all Jews, the one with the blue tassels, but that would not have happened as Jesus was stripped of His garments, beaten to look like hamburger, and a purple robe was draped over him. The Roman soldiers did gamble over a piece of clothing he had been wearing. But this could have been thought of as a common undergarment.
2. We can make the assumption that the protesting thief had seen and heard some of what Jesus said and did, but then, what do we know about Jesus that might best respond to that assumption? He went about doing good and healing all who were oppresses of the devil, and that should be enough to change any life.
(41) We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”
At this point, what has this thief done that demonstrates faith?
He acknowledged that Jesus was God, and then makes the most remarkable assertion, “this man has done nothing wrong!”
Is it possible, that he said this by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, because in saying that, hasn’t this thief just openly declared that Jesus is God’s perfect son?
(42) Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
Here is another piece of acknowledgment, that would only come out of traditional Jewish training – that there is a kingdom that is expected and it is coming.
(43) And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In response to those three things, in which Jesus saw faith in the man, this man was guaranteed an eternal place with Jesus in paradise.
If I base my comprehension of what faith looks like upon the thief on the cross, then salvation is rather simple and non-dramatic, and yet, even if it is too simple, there are components within the man’s declarations that are earth-shaking; and, if you were honest, you would probably have to admit that you know very people few people with that kind of depth or understanding of God.
Now remember that James is writing to Jewish converts, so don’t let your Gentile mindset creep in here, as these people held tightly to traditions, the Holydays, and the law of God, just as James did.
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?”(NASB)
Works is the Greek word ergon, and means that which one undertakes to do.
Since we have only been given one job – to be His witnesses, telling people about Him, what is He expecting us to do?
Simply that, tell people about Him. For those that struggle with this whole concept of demonstrably showing Jesus to others, James offers these words.
James 2:15-16 NASB If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
Once again, the mindset of James, as he seems to keep it in the family.
If we ignore the Jewishness of James for a moment, what can we see here?
Helping people in need:
- “ If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,”
Where else do we find some substantiation for feeding and clothing the needy?
In Matthew 25; there, Jesus, as the final judge, brings all the dead before Him; separates them into two groups, the sheep and the goats; and then, extends His invitation to the sheep to enter “the kingdom prepared for you.” Well, of course, these are shocked because they did all the religious things, we the pious, expect to see. But what was Jesus looking for?
For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. (Matthew 25:35-36 MKJV)
They saw the hungry and those without clothing.
What if these ignored what they saw?
Then they would hear some ugly words, like what we see when He addresses the crowd referred to as the goats.
Then He also shall say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink; (Matthew 25:41-42 MKJV)
So what are we seeing so far?
Faith demands some action. For some it’s words; for others it is actions; perhaps doing both is good.
I love how the Contemporary English Version conveys this next verse.
James 2:17 CEV Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!
Many of you can see a pattern here, as some, it seems, are working and gaining God’s favor, while others have faith. The standard assertion: Isn’t faith a mandatory method of gaining entrance into the kingdom of God?
Well, that is certainly what I was told, but then I saw these passages in Matthew 25 and they made me start rethinking what I had been taught. Paul, in writing to Philemon, said,
And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 1:6 NLT)
So, there can be a generous action generated by faith. However, Paul also makes this statement:
We are Jews by birth and are not sinners like Gentiles. But we know that God accepts only those who have faith in Jesus Christ. No one can please God by simply obeying the Law. So we put our faith in Christ Jesus, and God accepted us because of our faith. (Galatians 2:15-16 CEV)
If I skimp on my reading and merely glance at the passage, I might only see, “God accepts only those who have faith in Jesus Christ.”
Now that is a true statement; but, it does not explain, for me anyway, Matthew 25 and the sheep; and, it seems a little short-sighted – let me explain. The passage continues to explain, “No one can please God simply obeying the Law.” Paul was writing to Jews just as James did, so he has to deal with some deep-seated teachings and traditions, one of which conveyed that keeping the law (and making a sacrifice) was the path to righteousness. Jesus, however, became our righteousness; having learned that, I put it into action and accepted Jesus as my salvation, and therefore, my righteousness.
I am so glad that the sentence continues to say,
“ So we put our faith in Christ Jesus, and God accepted us because of our faith.”
Paul, more than any of the others, would have been considered the expert among this lot, therefore we see what I, the Gentile, see as brutal, “We are Jews by birth and are not sinners like Gentiles.” I suppose this is where my grace kicks in because I know NONE of them to have an exclusive any more than I have with the Father – Thank you, Jesus, for that.
The Complete Jewish Bible reads:
Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead. (James 2:17 CJB)
I put actions to my faith and gained His righteousness, and therefore a promised home in His kingdom.
This next verse reminds me so much of the world right now.
James 2:18 CJB But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions!
Eugene Peterson makes this so clear.
I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. (James 2:18 MSG)
If you take away one thing from this passage it should be this:
“Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”
You can’t have one without the other. After a speech like this, you would think that much of this argument would be obvious; I guess not, for James has to throw in the concept of one God.
James 2:19 CJB You believe that “God is one”? Good for you! The demons believe it too—the thought makes them shudder with fear!
As you can see above, the Complete Jewish Bible comes across rather sarcastically, maybe the CJB reflects what many of us pick up on, that the Jews tend to be blunt. The Moffatt translation conveys this a bit differently.
You believe in one God? Well and good. So do the devils, and they shudder. (James 2:19 Moffatt NT)
Perhaps this too could be perceived as sarcastic, as what follows comes across harshly.
The demons believe it too—the thought makes them shudder with fear!
Stop for a minute and ask yourself, what did he just say?
- That there is only one God.
- The other thing that James gives acceptance to, is the fact that there are fallen angels/demons ever-present and battling about us in the spiritual realm.
James 2:20 NET. But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless?
Don’t be this person. May of 2020, the year of infamy and quite probably the Lord’s return, we remembered that the Thunderbird aerial demonstration team would possibly be flying nearby. Calling to the children to come outside quickly, one of them responds back with, “why!” To which, I responded, in your case, you can just stay in the house. Go back to whatever you were doing. Where is our sense of adventure?
While the Bible is filled with acts of faith combined with works, James only focuses on two.
James 2:21-24 NLT Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? (22) You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. (23) And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. (24) So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
In Genesis 15 God spoke to Abram in a vision. A vision happens when you are awake and it is very much like watching a movie about your life or someone else’s. In this vision, God spelled what He would do with and to Abram, and in Genesis 15:6, it tells us, that based upon what Abram saw, that:
“.. Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Genesis 15:6 NLT)
So God spoke words unto Abram’s life, and Abram believed it, accepted what God had to say, and therefore demonstrated faith. This belief was counted as righteousness.
Righteous, according to Webster’s dictionary = Just; accordant to the divine law. Applied to persons, it denotes one who is holy in heart.
What we saw in Abram’s life were faith and actions. James refers to Abram, now called Abraham, and his offering of Isaac on the altar, as being the thing that brought about God’s righteousness, but obviously it was much earlier than that, and the works that James speaks of, were not so evident that day when God showed him the vision.
Our other reference is Rahab.
James 2:25 NIV In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
I will tell you straight that I hate this because it demeans her when it calls her a harlot/prostitute, but when I look up the words, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, it is an unavoidable ugliness. In the church I grew up in, prostitutes were merely sinners destined for hell unless God changed them, and most of the old ladies in the church held little hope for such women.
The story of Rahab comes from the book of Joshua chapter 2, and has Israel in attack mode and headed toward Jericho. Spies were sent out by Israel and they entered the town. Within a very short period of time, they entered the abode of Rahab and tell her, under the penalty of death, who they were and what is coming. Watch what happens as she demonstrates faith and then the associated action.
Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. “When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. “Now, therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” (Joshua 2:8-13 NASB)
Because of what she knew and the fact that the Israelites were here in her home, she exhibited faith and then action by her bartering.
“Now, therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”
As you know, the walls fell and Israel attacked, but all those in Rahab’s home were spared. Considering that she was prostitute, do you think her family held her in high regard? Just that thought alone changes so many things about this woman, as she went to her, told them what was coming, and they followed her explicitly.
“The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.” (Joshua 6:17 NASB)
One other thing about this amazing woman. Matthew chapter one spells out the lineage of Jesus through Joseph.
Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. (Matthew 1:5 NASB)
And Jesse was the father of King David. And God, to show His righteous ways and cause, brings this woman into the line of Christ.
James ends this chapter with this:
James 2:26 NASB For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Put your faith into action. What’s the most predominant thing we can do? Pray and withstand this evil plot of the enemy.