Faith and works go together like brownies and ice cream, but is one any good without the other? James launches us into this passage with two important questions:
- What use is it if someone says he has faith but has no works?
- Can that faith save him?
Paul clearly says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that it's by grace we're saved, through faith, not works—so where and how does all this fit together?
Real faith is more than accepting head knowledge and spouting words.James is about to show us the difference between real faith and false faith, and what he says fits together beautifully with Paul's teaching on faith and works, contrary to what Martin Luther thought. Luther took exception to the book of James being canonized (included in the Bible) because he could not see how James' view of works fit with being saved by grace alone. Thankfully, as we dig in, we see that both men, Paul and James, mean the same thing even though they use different terms to explain things.
The first example James gives us is building on what he just spoke about at the beginning of the chapter—how the poor are treated. A person with false faith will offer nice sounding words when authentic action is needed. The Message version of this passage put it so well... “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
James tells us right out that faith without works is dead faith (vs 18). Real faith will step forward and do more than offer flimsy words. Their faith will show up as good works, works that flow out of their faith and love for God. It's the deeds that show the difference between dead faith and real faith. Just like a body can be dead or alive and still be called a body, so faith can be dead or alive and still be called faith.
Real faith is more than just submitting to God's power.Even the demons have faith in God! They acknowledge His deity and the Sonship of Jesus. They know He is real and they even obey Him, but they are not saved! They refused to submit their wills and live for Christ.
The man with dead faith was touched only in his intellect, but the demons are touched also in their emotions. They believe and tremble. … A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and be lost forever. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life. ~Warren Wiersbe
James uses a play on words to make his point memorable...
Faith without works doesn't work.
Real faith results in a changed life.James gives us examples from two very different people: Abraham and Rahab. Two more different people couldn't have been picked. Abraham was the father of the the nation of Israel, a righteous man, and known as the friend of God. Rahab was a gentile woman living in Jericho. A prostitute and far from righteous, an enemy of God.
Since true saving faith leads to action, let's take a look at the action that James points out...
Abraham was justified before God by faith, and by works he was justified before men and his righteousness was demonstrated. His faith was demonstrated in his everyday life.
Rahab heard, accepted, believed and she did something about it. Rahab surrendered herself to God. The result of that surrender is seen in what she did for the spies and the whole nation of Israel. The truth changed her life and her changed life translated into salvation for her family as they saw and also believed. Her action flowed out of her authentic faith.
That's what James is talking about. Action—works and deeds—will flow naturally out of a life changed by faith in the One true God.
...faith that does not impel the believer to good deeds is no living faith at all. ...when our hearts are changed, so then are our desires and actions. ~David P. Nystrom
Real faith involves a changed life which is something that can be easily spotted.That leads us to some hard questions about our own faith.
- Is my faith saving faith?
- Has my faith changed my life?
- Would my faith fall into the dead faith category or is it like the faith of the demons—acknowledging and submitting to God's deity but not surrendered to God?
- Or, is my life bearing the genuine fruit of authentic faith? Faith that is active.
- Fit Galatians 6:10 and Matthew 25:40 into faith and works.
- Study Luke 3:7-14 and Matthew 7:15-23. What do these passages have to say about works and faith?
- For Abraham's story, read Genesis 15 and 22. Rahab's story is found in Joshua 2 and 6 and Hebrews 11:31.
- What does Paul say about this deal between faith and works in Ephesians 2:8-10 and how does it fit?
- How do James 2:19 and Deuteronomy 6:4 tie together?
- What do Abraham and Rahab have in common?
For next week:
Read James 3:1-12 several times.