| Click Now to Order
A Faith that Works
In verse 14 of James chapter 2, James asks a question that you'd likely
answer one way without thought and another way after careful reflection,
he asks: "What
use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works?
Can that faith save him?"
At first glance, it appears
that James is teaching that faith alone doesn't save. Paul had the opposite
view. In Romans 3:28, he wrote, "For
we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law."
In verse 21 of this chapter,
James illustrates salvation by works by referring to Abraham, he writes, "Was
not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his
son on the altar?" And
in Romans 4:2-4, Paul refers to Abraham too, but he says that Abraham was
justified by faith, not works. He wrote,
"If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast
about--but not before God.  What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed
God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'  Now when a man works,
his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation."
(Romans 4:2-4 NIV)
Paul is consistent with his
teaching. In Ephesians 2:8-9, he wrote: "For
by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, that no one should
Are these two teachings in
contradiction? Is James giving a formula of faith + works = salvation?
Does he contradict Paul's clear teaching of faith alone & grace alone
for Salvation? Some have concluded that is exactly what James is doing.
Martin Luther, in the introduction to a New Testament translation he published
in 1522 called the book "a right strawy Epistle." He despised the book,
and wanted to use it to light his stove.
Let's see if we can unravel
this controversy. First, I want you to notice that James doesn't say "if
a man has faith," he says, "if
a man SAYS he has faith
. . ." There is a difference. It is one thing to have a vital, life-changing
relationship with God and another thing to agree to a set of beliefs, or
worse yet, simply to say you agree to a set of beliefs. It is one thing
to talk about faith and another thing to put it into practice. Talk is
James is writing about a
false claim to faith, he isn't talking about real faith here. And Paul
isn't talking about a workless faith, he is talking about a real faith.
Verse 10, very next verse after Ephesians 2:8-9 shows that. He wrote, "For
we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God
prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
(Ephes. 2:10 NASB)
Paul makes it very clear
here, saving faith will be accompanied by godly works. In fact, that is
the reason we were saved in the first place, to perform the good works
God prepared for us to do.
It isn't that Paul and James
disagree here, it is that they are using different words to talk about
the same thing. Paul is criticizing legalism-a faithless work and James
is criticizing creedalism-a workless faith. Both are anemic and neither
can transform a life into a vessel God chooses to use for His glory.
James illustrates the uselessness
of creedalism with a question that appeals to the common sense within most
people. He asked, "If
a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 
and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and
yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is
that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself."
We had an expression back
home that is fitting here, "that don't feed the bulldog." It is works,
not words that meet needs.
James continues in verse
"But someone may well say, 'You have faith, and I have works; show me your
faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.' 
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and
even believing something isn't enough, it takes action. In verse 19, James
is repeating the core doctrine of the people's faith-it was taught to Jewish
children by their fathers, "Hear,
O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Deut.
6:4 NIV) James says, worthless faith, even if the faith is in the right
thing is dead-it is the same kind of faith demons have. They know God is
one, and they shudder in the thought, but their belief hasn't changed them
one bit. They are still demons.
James teaches that faith
without works is useless in verse 20 "But
are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works
is useless?" and illustrates
his point from the life of a godly patriarch and a godless prostitute.
First he talks about Abraham. "Was
not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his
son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and
as a result of the works, faith was perfected;  and the Scripture was
fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to
him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God.  You see
that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone."
Abraham had waited for years
for God to open his wife's womb and give him Isaac. In Genesis 22:2 God
spoke to Abraham, "Take
your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of
Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains
I will tell you about." And
in verse 3, Abraham obeyed. "Early
the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him
two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for
the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about."
Immediately, Abraham obeyed.
His faith didn't just consist of repeating a creed,
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."
(Deut. 6:4 NIV) His faith catapulted him into action, to do what the one
God of Israel told him to do, even if it didn't make any sense to him.
In the same way, a godless
woman found favor with God. James wrote, "And
in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when
she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?"
Rahab didn't have a creed,
but she did believe what the spies from the children of Israel told her
when they came to her house. Joshua 2:1-4 says, "Then
Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. 'Go, look over
the land,' he said, 'especially Jericho.' So they went and entered the
house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.  The king of Jericho
was told, 'Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out
the land.'  So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: 'Bring
out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come
to spy out the whole land.'  But the woman had taken the two men and
hidden them. She said, 'Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where
they had come from.'"
She protected the spies,
and because of her protection, her life was spared when Jericho fell. Why
did she hide the spies and enable them to capture her people? Because she
believed them and in their God. Joshua 2:11 reports that Rahab said, "
When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because
of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below."
She did not mearly say these words, she risked her life to save God's soldiers
that came to her home in response to her words of faith.
The writer of Hebrews included
her in the hall of the faithful, he wrote, "By
faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed
with those who were disobedient."
(Hebrews 11:31 NIV)
James closes his thoughts
by writing in verse 26 , "For
just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works
Life demands more than words,
it requires action. Not action that is void of faith, but action born out
What kind of faith do you
have? A lifeless, stale, dead faith that simply parrots what someone else
has said. Or do you have a faith born not of words but of deeds? A faith
that boils in your soul and propels you into action. A living faith that
has changed your life, and is transforming you into the kind of person
that helps others change their lives.