While there have been abrupt points made by James so far, we’re really getting to the meat of why people question if James should be in the Bible in this next passage. Throughout the book, but especially in 2:14-26 James states that faith without works is dead. This sounds as if it’s in stark contrast to many of Paul’s writing which says it is by faith alone that we are saved. Are these epistles in opposition with each other? No. As we dive into this next passage, we will hopefully by the grace and wisdom of God be able to understand what is meant by James when he calls us to a living and active faith.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” without giving them thr things they needed fir the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James poses the question if faith without follow through is any good. In Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James, the authors, Bloomberg and Kamell, state that faith here “means full-orbed trust in Christ.” We could say we trust in Christ, but of when that faith is put to the test, we may find that we were nominal Christians only.
James gives the example that would shock many pagans in it’s day and cause uproar of the unchurched today. A person whom we can assume is fairly well off wishes another person who is naked and hungry to be filled at warm. The first person is likely assuming God to cover the other’s needs, yet they aren’t allowing God to work through them. Truly God does give every good gift. In that we must also remember that God calls believers to good works. Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved by faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift from God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We are saved by faith alone, and a result of that salvation is God putting good works in us. The two must go together, not as salvation by works, but as works being evidence for salvation.
Words without action did not help the poor person. Similarly, faith without action isn’t good evidence for true salvation. We see from Ephesians 2:8-10 that James is actually not contradicting Paul when Paul repeatedly says we are saved by faith alone and not by works. Paul means circumcision and refraining from certain food which the Christians of the time became very legalistic about. Rather, James means that if we’re truly redeemed and regenerate in Christ, He will be putting His good works in us. True Christians will not only verbally claim faith, but they will also live it out.
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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!
The hypothetical argument James proposes really drives home the point James is trying to make: instead of faith and works being separate aspects of christianity, they are both required as evidence for true salvation. How can you show faith if you don’t act on it? But as read in Ephesians 2:8-10, we can know that someone is saved by grace through faith because God puts good works in them. Works are the out pour of our salvation.
James gets a little sarcastic in verse 19, but the point he makes is clear. Claiming faith in the existence of God is the bare minimum. Even demons do that! Demons recognize that there is a Triune God who reigns over all. And they shudder in fear over that fact! Yet many people are atheist or agnostic doubting the existence of God. And even more who claim to believe in Him don’t even show Him reverential fear! So it’s not enough to consent to the idea that God exists. That’s not the faith that saves us. If it were, we would be sharing heaven with demons! Rather, it is faith in God that is a “full-orbed trust” that allows God to come into our spirits to produce good works through us.
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the alter? You see that father was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled thay says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” –and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works not by faith alone. 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
James goes on to give futher examples of how faith is completed in works. He starts with a pretty abrupt statement. His purpose isn’t to degrade his listeners but rather to wake them up from a fake faith. He doesn’t want his listeners to be disillusioned into thinking they’re saved when they may not be.
He uses the example of Abraham being willing to sacrifice the thing most precious to him, his son, if God so demanded it. This wasn’t the to be clear, again, James isn’t contradicting Paul in that faith alone justifies us to God. This sacrifice scene that his Jewish listeners would be well familiar with wasn’t at the beginning point of Abraham’s faith. He believed in the YHWH (the Hebrew name for God) long before this testing of faith. Rather, his faith was shown to be mature or complete by his works. So what James means by the word “justify” here seems to indicate more the works which demonstrate that a person has been justify rather than the Pauline version which is the way we’ve been made righteous before God. The things Abraham did wasn’t what saved him, but were the fruit or the completing of his salvation. His righteousness was made know by not just a verbal affirmation but by living out his faith.
It’s the same situation with Rahab. Everyone in Jericho had heard of the mighty things God did for the Israelites as the left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness. But it was Rahab who believed and acted on it. At the risk of her own life, she hid the Israelite spys and helped them escape her city prior to its destruction. It wasn’t enough for her to admit like the other people in Jericho that the Israelite God is powerful. Remember, even demons do that. She truly had faith in Him and acted on this faith.
There isn’t a dichotomy between faith and works (in the sense James means). You cannot have one without the other. God made us as wholistic beings where our bodies and spirit together make up us as a person. To be without either is unnatural to how God made us. Similarly, faith without God putting His good works in us is not true faith at all. Our salvation doesn’t come by works, but it comes to full maturity in our works. If one does not have a faith that is alive and active and in line with God’s heart, we should question if that faith is anything more than lip service. If we find ourselves in these shoes, we should be quick to repent and ask God to equip up for the good works he has planned for us.