James 2.14-26 | Faith and Works
Topic: New Testament Passage: James 2:14–2:26
November 8, 2009
Law and Lawlessness
We will continue our Retro-Faith series in the book of James, chapter 2. We call it Retro because I contend that many “Christians” have either OVER-complicated faith and become LEGALISTS or OVER-simplified faith and become completely LAWLESS. We either ascribe to the Jesus Co-op program, adding things to the cross of Jesus so that God loves us. OR, we ascribe to the Jesus fire insurance program where our faith never moves us beyond being card-carrying members. James challenges us to take a look in the mirror of Scripture and see the truth of what we look like—to see (regardless how we feel) if our faith is genuinely biblical—if it is in fact faith at all. And today, we come to the heart of the book, the most controversial paragraph in the entire epistle. James is desperate for his brothers to do more than SAY they believe. James is so blue collar practical. He doesn’t spend time discussing the theology of salvation, but a ton of time actions, deeds, or works. And if read wrong, we can easily become a moralist or legalist with a checklist.
This is not James’ desire. But because of his unapologetic focus on works, some believed that James “faith and works” SAVES contradicts the Apostle Paul’s theology that ‘faith alone” SAVES. In truth, they are writing about the same thing from different perspectives. Paul writes about what the Gospel of Jesus does TO US, and James writes what that same Gospel does THROUGH US. The difference between James and Paul is one of emphasis. Paul battles the spirit of self-righteousness as he teaches legalists that salvation is a gift received by faith in the work of Jesus. James, on the other hand, teaches against the self-indulgent and what genuine faith should actually produce in the life of the believer. Paul in facts writes against people trying to add to the sufficiency of the cross of Christ, while James speaks to those trying to take away from its transformational power.
And he makes us uncomfortable. (“If we find any evidence you are a Christian, we will kill you.” Is there enough evidence to convict us? This death threat was uttered from an Iranian judge spoken to an underground Believer in Iran as quoted in the latest Voice of the Martyrs publication (2009 Special Issue page 8).
James 2.14-26 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.
V. 14-17 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.
Can “THAT” Faith save him?
James epistle is full of shocking statements that, if read carefully, should shake us to the core. He has said: “Take joy in trials, Don’t be double-minded, Don’t Blame God for your faithlessness, Be Doers of the Law, If anyone thinks their religious…etc. . James begins this passage by asking the reader questions that they can only answer in the negative. When he asks, “what good”, the implication is that it is NO GOOD if someone SAYS he has faith and there are no works. And then James asks a shocking but honest question—Can that KIND of faith save him? In this passage, James uses the word “faith” eleven times. And he uses it every time to speak of “TRUE FAITH.” James is not suggesting that FAITH doesn’t save…but talking about a KIND of FAITH that the man without works “claims” to have. He will argue that, it is in fact, not faith at all.
What does James mean by faith?
What does James mean by faith? We know that he doesn’t mean simply confessing “Jesus is Lord.” James implies that this CONFESSION of FAITH is hollow, that there is no substance to it, that it is not real BECAUSE there are no works to AFFIRM it. James IS NOT arguing that works must be ADDED to faith, but that genuine biblical faith will inevitably be characterized by action.
What kind of works? Most of our minds want to go into works of charity, which is good. But how about begin with confession, repentance, submission, mercy, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control—ones that demonstrate FIRST a love for God and THEN a love for people.
What good is that kind of faith?
What begins with our own obedience, James says should lead us to charity toward others. A “faith of words” that doesn’t help meet the needs of those you see, especially in the church, isn’t good for anything. “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” OR “I’ll pray for you” OR “I don’t know if loving you is God’s Will for me”. It is not good to save anyone AND it is not good to bless anyone. James attacks faith that is acknowledged but not actually lived out. How is faith NOT lived out?
We accept that we’re loved but do not love.
We accept that we’re forgiven but do not forgive.
We accept that we are served but do not serve.
We accept that we’ve been shown grace but are not gracious.
We accept that we’ve been shown mercy, but are not merciful.
We accept that we’ve been given everything, but give away nothing.
This is the individual that comes to a gathering of believers, waits to greeted without greeting anyone, waits to be entertained, fed, and have their needs met without asking how to serve anyone elses’. Those of real faith do more than just say, “Be warmed”, do more than see the need and walk one. This does not mean they give to every homeless person they come across or meet every need, but it does speak to the fact of “real” faith being demonstrated beyond words. Words cost us nothing.
Faith without works is dead.
If “real” faith is affirmed by actions, then a “dead” faith is a faith without any acts of obedience. James would argue that a dead faith isn’t in fact faith at all. There is a temptation to separate faith and works, but James argues that true faith cannot exist separately from the works. The works themselves do not save, as Paul agrees, but we are saved for “works”. Ephesians 2.8-10 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. In truth, works as a response to the work of Jesus confirm that our faith is genuine. James is not trying to scare his readers into doubting their salvation but to understand that faith that is only intellectual is not faith at all.
V. 18-19 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?
Someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”
We are just differently gifted. Some will argue that we just express our faith differently. You have gifts of faith, unshakeable trust in God in trials, and I have the gift of mercy where I help people’s brokeness. While it is true that we all have our unique passions, unique giftings, unique personal missions that God has given us—this is not what James is addressing. He is not talking about some SPECIAL gift that God may have blessed us with, he is talking about the GENERAL gift of faith to ALL Christians and what it produces through ALL Christians. And we must not get distracted thinking it is a list of “THINGS” but not forget that there are “THINGS” we should be doing according to the Word of God to love.
Faith and Works Inseparable
James says TRY and show me your faith without deeds; and I WILL show you my faith by what I do. James is not talking about “proving” to men that you are saved. But he is asking us to PROVE it to OURSELVES. Even “faith alone” Paul agrees that words and religious ritual nothing if it doesn’t lead us to works of biblical love. Galatians 5.6 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Faith and Works of love (for God and people) are INSEPERABLE.
Even the demons have ‘that’ kind of faith
In verse 19, James makes another incredibly shocking statement to shake us up. He speaks to those same people who “say” they have faith but do not have any works that would demonstrate that to be true. That “There is only one God..or that God is one” was the core of Jewish faith. The Shema, Deuteronomy 6.4 was part of the daily prayers that Jews would say each day—a confession of faith. For the Christian it would be akin to saying, “Jesus is Savior of the World.” Demons believe this, but they are not saved. The faith of demons is genuine, but it is not pleasing to God. The faith of demons contains truth but it is not in submission to God’s authority. Ironically, even the faith of demons produces action, but it is “fearful shuddering” because they know God is King, but not as Savior. They do not love Him.
James is committed to distinguishing true and false religion and in essence, the demons have a religion that is false, but a religion nonetheless. False religion knows Christianity, but not Christ himself.
v. 20 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? WANT ME TO PROVE IT. James is blunt and in your face. “You don’t know what you are talking about” James says let me prove it YOU FOOL. You want evidence? We do not start with “feelings” of what faith is. We do not start with intellectual debates. We begin w/ examples in Scripture.
V. 21-23 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. James appeals to two examples of faith in Scripture, Abraham THE PATTERN FOR FAITH and Rahab, A PAGAN.
ABRAHAM – Genesis 22
Abraham is the Father of all Judaism. In many ways, he is THE example of faith, the very “FATHER of FAITH.” James first example is when Abraham was tested by God, asked to sacrifice his son on an altar. Abraham’s faith had been tested many times up to this point and this was the final one. He had been fatherless, his wife barren. In Genesis 12, when he was 75 and his wife Sarah was 65, God promised a Son would be born. Time passed and 10 years later, no son. In Genesis 15, God told Abraham that, “I AM YOUR GREAT REWARD”, and Abraham basically said, if that is true…where is my Son. God responded by affirming he would have a son, and Abraham believed God and, according to Genesis 15.6, God counted Abraham’s belief as righteousness—he was faithful.
14 years later, Sarah gives birth (25 years total). And, eventually after about another 25-30 years, Abraham heard from God again. He tells him to go sacrifice his son atop a mountain. And he proceeded to obey. He, his son, and his servants journeyed many days. In Genesis 22.5 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” –believing, that God could raise him from the dead. Abraham proceeds to build an altar, place wood for a fire, bind his son, and lay him on the altar. And as he lifted the knife God stopped him. And God says, “I know now you have faith.” (Did God really not know? This was not for Abraham, but for Issac, and for us.”)
James says Abe’s actions fulfilled Scripture, namely that “Abraham believed….” Faith has been born before in Genesis 15 but we see it made manifest in Genesis 22—completed just as James talked about our faith coming to completion in chapter 1—through trials. In other words, this ACTION fulfills, affirms, and proves, the truth that Abraham believed God.
V. 24 You See? 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
James says we are not justified by faith alone. Paul said in Romans 4.2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. When we say that many is not justified by faith alone, we mean that the believer ADDS nothing to the work of Jesus to gain God’s favor. GOOD WORKS are a consequence of salvation. Works DO NOT bring Salvation, but God’s’ gift of faith brings salvation and works. As one commentator said, “Faith and deeds are not identical but they cannot be separated. They are like the root and the plant, always joined together but different.”
V. 25 Rahab (Joshua 2.9-11) 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 final example is not a paragon of a faith but a PAGAN of PAGANS. It is a surprising example because she seems insignificant and unworthy when compared to heroic Abraham (the most righteous man in history). Rahab was a CANANNITE PROSTITUTE living in a rebellious city called Jerichothat refused to submit to God. IF you remember, after the Exodus the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years until the generation died off and Joshua was ready to lead them in conquering the Promised Land. Before they did, Joshua sent two spies into the city on a recon mission. And the men hid in the house of this Prostitute Rahab, who put her life at risk by hiding them and protecting them when the King inquired about the men. Joshua 2.9-11 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 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 devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
That certainly SOUNDS like faith, but we know it was genuine because she acted. Abraham’s active obedience shows us what faith looks like in our relationship with God, and Rahab’s active obedience shows what faith in God looks like with others.
Conclusion 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Remember, James writes to mainly a Jewish people to take pride in their theology and their lineage. James is writing to shake up the false confidence and comfort people might take in confession. Paul didn’t want people to feel guilty because they need to DO SOMETHING for God to love them. James writes to those who are comfortable saying: “I’m a Christian…I was raised in a Christian home…I have been baptized…I prayed a prayer….” And yet do nothing. The faith that James fights for is a faith that:
Faith like Abraham, holds nothing back from God because he loves Him more than anything.
Faith like Abraham that obeys immediately, without complaint, and without arguing
Faith like Abraham, who does not fear, but trusts God even when it was difficult
Faith like Rahab, that loves others actively, takes people into her own care those who were needy and helpless regardless of the personal cost to her.
Faith like Rahab that places all life under devotion to God, her house, her resources, her ingenuity, and her personal safety.
Faith like Rahab that takes risks and loves in such a way that it costs something
Remember the question, if Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you. James urges self-reflection, a hard examination, a long look in the mirror: Do you prove your faith is real by deeds of sacrificial love. Perhaps you don’t know Jesus. Perhaps you do. It’s never too late to start, to repent of seeking thinking of your own comfort and pleasures as more important than, not everyone but perhaps anyone else’s. Confess that and live differently.