Series on James, ii works, B Faith and Works, Text: 2:14-26, Title: A Living Faith - NEW


This passage of Scripture has received a great deal of theological attention because James says a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone, but Paul says we are saved by grace through faith and by the works of the law none can be saved. Unfortunately this debate is largely unnecessary and diverts our attention from the main point. Paul is talking about the object of faith. he says you must not put your faith in your works but only in Christ Jesus. James is talking about the operation of faith and he says it isn't real faith unless it involves commitment. Both truths are quite necessary and in no way contradict one another. If you are on an island with an erupting volcano in the middle of an ocean with an oarless rowboat as the only way off, Paul says its silly to put your faith in your physical strength or your ability to row. He says put your faith in the boat alone in which you can float across the water. James does not disagree at all. he just adds that unless you get into the boat and float you will perish. Enough said. We will not concern ourselves further with the alleged disagreement. It simply does not exist. We will concern ourselves with James’ main point which is that we need to be assured that we have a living faith. We will look at three things: first, the importance of a living faith, and secondly the illustrations of a living faith, and these demonstrate the indispensability of a living faith.

I The Importance of a Living Faith

In verses 14-19 James is amassing a series of objections to a dead faith, What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. For example in verse 14 he says,

A A Dead Faith Preserves Nothing

Where there is death  there is nothing but decay. Christians are kept by the power of God unto the day of salvation, but the power of God brings life. The power of God raises people from the dead. Once we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Like Lazarus we heard the voice of Jesus in the tomb and he said come forth. Now we are alive in Christ. Before we were saved we could do nothing pleasing to God. After we are saved we can please God by what we do. The difference is like night and day. We do not sleep as men sleep in the night but we work in the day, for the night comes when no man can work. It is not possible for a dead faith to save us because God is not the God of the dead but of the living.

B A Dead Faith Produces Nothing

Verses 15-17 tell us that it ignores the plight of those around us whether their need be spiritual or physical. Dead faith is no good because it does not meet anyone's needs. It not only cannot save us and meet our need. It cannot help anyone else either. faith must be accompanied by action.

C A Dead Faith Promises Nothing

Verse 18 reminds us that dead faith makes excuses. This verse is hypothetical according to the best interpretations, and is cast in the form of an excuse. it says what if one man says to another I have faith; you have deeds. the assumption is that people have differing gifts and abilities. The one man has the ability to believe while the other man has the gift of helps or mercy. It is interesting that Paul in his catalog of gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians 12 mentions the gift of faith and in Romans 12 the gifts of serving, giving, and showing mercy. So both of these are gifts of the Holy Spirit. James' point is that you cannot use this as an excuse. Yes some people have exceptional gifts of the spirit in these and other areas, but everyone must have saving faith in Christ and in every case that saving faith must manifest itself in good deeds. James answers therefore “show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

D A Dead Faith Proves Nothing

Verse 19 says, essentially, isn't this obvious! Even the devils believe and tremble, but they are not saved. Theirs is a sterile intellectual faith not worthy of the name. There is no real commitment, no hope, no love and no one on one relationship between them and God. In the first part of verse 19 James. a Jewish Christian himself, is reflecting on the "shema" which would be second nature to his readers who were also Jewish. Hear o Israel the Lord our God is one. This was memorized, oft repeated, and carried on their persons in the leather phylacteries  the Old Testament Jews wore. He says you do well to believe this. Actually the impression of belief would be given through the repetition of this Scripture from Deuteronomy, but saying it did not mean there was genuine faith. Faith is not in words only, but in deeds of mercy.

II Illustrations of Living Faith

We have seen what a living faith is not, and I trust therefore the importance of having a living faith. It is not impersonal, it is not purely intellectual, and it is not the special gift of some. A living faith is necessary for all Christians. Now the two illustrations James gives are Abraham and Rahab in verses 20-26,  You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 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? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. Abraham illustrates this truth because he is the preeminent example of saving faith in the Bible. He believed God's Word and was willing to offer his only son of promise, Isaac, upon the altar of sacrifice. He left everything to follow the Lord. Why was Rahab chosen. Perhaps the Holy Spirit put her in there because throughout Scripture she is identified as Rahab the harlot. That certainly rings the death knell to salvation by works. Yet Rahab also believed the Word of God and helped the spies of Israel investigating the promised land. Now two things are necessary as we seek wisdom from these illustrations. First one must believe the Word of God. When Jesus was asked how may we work the works of God, he said Believe on the one whom God has sent. First believe God's word, for us that is the gospel that Christ died for our sins was buried and rose again. He is the only savior. But then you must act in the light of the word you believe. We must repent and follow the gospel. For Abraham it was placing his son on the altar and for Rahab it was helping the hosts of Israel. Their actions had no merit for their salvation. They just proved they really believed. Over and over again we are told to believe in Christ or on Christ in the New Testament. In theses instances, the preposition with the accusative case signifies motion which means a living faith is not static. It moves us toward the object of faith in genuine commitment.


One of my favorite illustrations is the tight rope walker crossing Niagara Falls. As he is about to start his perilous journey across, he asks for a volunteer from the audience. He will take a wheelbarrow and he wants somebody to ride in it. He asks the people how many of them believe he can do this, Many hands go up. But when he asks for a volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow, nobody comes forward. They believed. but they didn’t. They were not willing to make the commitment. Faith in Christ is getting into the wheelbarrow. The same theme is found in the story of a father in the basement telling his little boy to jump. The boy says, “I can't see you.” The father says, “I can see you, jump and don't be afraid.” The boy jumped and was caught in his father's arms. Living faith always commits and therefore always acts. It trusts in none but God, and it moves at his command.