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.
Obviously, when you read through this portion of James’ letter, one could understandably misunderstand what he is saying. No doubt, this may be one of the passages, which cause “works based” religions to flourish.
It has been pointed out numerous times before, by many scholars, but since Coffee with God has brought us to these verses today, it will be reiterated once again.
James is not contradicting writers like the Apostle Paul. Remember what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:
Ephesians 2:8-9 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.
Many times, we stop at verse nine, but even Paul goes on to say in verse ten: 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is unquestionable that faith saves us, but we have been saved “for” good works, or “to” good works. God loves us, and when we become His children, we are commanded to, in-turn, show His love to others.
1 John 3:17-18 tells us:
17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Well, we could go on and on with the idea that our faith is so closely related to our good deeds, which are manifested through our love and compassion, but let’s get back to the passage at hand.
In my opinion, James is really revisiting something he said in chapter one. Remember, he said, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
In chapter two, James seems to be saying, “anyone can say they believe or have faith, but the love (or good works) they demonstrate reveal true faith.”
Really, it seems pretty clear that James is simply telling his readers that if you truly have saving faith, it will be apparent by your works. In other words, you will act like a person with true faith.
You can say you believe in God. You can say you believe that God is holy, perfect, righteous, and sovereign, but if you don’t live in obedience to Him, you’re not really showing that you truly believe God is actually all those things.
God is also love, and when Jesus walked on the face of this earth in the form of a man, He revealed more about God than had ever been shown before.
Our good deeds, found in the love we show others, reveals a true faith. Oh, I completely understand that a person with no faith in God is capable of doing good deeds, but those deeds may or may not be present in the faithless.
A true believer, a doer of the word, believes, has faith and their true status as a child of God will be revealed to the world through their works.
Why try to put it better than James himself:
26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. –James 2:26