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Old and New Testament
James 2:14 What
use is it, my
faith but he
Amplified: What is the use (profit), my brethren, for
anyone to profess to have faith if he has no [good] works [to show for
it]? Can [such] faith save [his soul]?
Bible - Lockman)
KJV: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath
faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?
NLT: Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you
have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith
can't save anyone. (NLT
- Tyndale House)
Phillips: Now what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he
"has faith" if his actions do not correspond with it? Could that sort
of faith save anyone's soul? (Phillips:
Wuest: What profit is there, my brethren, if a person is
saying, I am in possession of faith, and he is not in possession of
works? The aforementioned faith is not able to save him, is it? (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: What is the profit, my brethren, if
faith, any one may speak of having, and works he may not have? is that
faith able to save him?
Before you read (and are biased) by
the following notes, let me strongly encourage you to read James
2:14-26 through on your own asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate
your study. Read it through several times, the first time to simply
get a general sense of the subject/theme. Then read it again, this
time circling the key words (usually works repeated, although not
always). What are the key words in this passage. I would suggest you
will find at least 3 key words (or synonyms), two are repeated many
times and the third is not found as frequently but is a strategically
important word (and for that reason it is a key word). From this key
words can you discern the "theme" of this section? What is James'
repeated emphasis? What is he trying to explain to his readers? More
specifically is James trying to tell his readers how to become saved?
Now that you have pondered this passage on your own, you are ready to
read the following notes in a "critical" (discerning) manner.
A RIGHT STRAWY EPISTLE
James 2:14-26 is the main
reason Martin Luther although not questioning its canonicity, did find
the epistle of James to be “a right strawy epistle” and for
this reason relegated it to an appendix of his Bible! Luther
questioned the usefulness of James because it said so little about
justification by faith, but instead emphasized works as it dealt more
with the practical aspects of Christian conduct and described how
faith works itself out in everyday life. Luther’s negative evaluation
appears to be brought to a crescendo in his debate in Leipzig in 1519
where his Roman Catholic opponent, Johann Maier of Eck, used James
2:17 (“Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”) to argue
against Luther’s position of salvation by faith alone apart from
works. It is unfortunate that Luther was sucked into Maier’s proof
texting method of reasoning. As we study this controversial passage
the good inductive student will begin to see the inestimable value of
considering the context (immediate paragraphs, the other 5 chapters
and finally the teaching of the remainder of the NT). "Yanking" a
single text out of it's context to yield a proof text is the common
modus operandi of skeptics, false and/or deceived teachers and
cultists. As is often said, these godless men major on the minors. And
thus it behooves all believers to be thoroughbred "Bereans" (see note
so that they are not duped by such spiritual sleight of hand. If a
spiritual giant such as Martin Luther could fall prey to such
techniques, then certainly we must all be aware of our vulnerability.
It follows that even as you read the notes on this difficult section
of Scripture, the discerning reader is encouraged to filter what is
written through the grid of the whole counsel of God's Word under the
leadership of the Teacher, the Holy Spirit. John reminds us that as
have an anointing from the Holy
One, and you all know... And as for you, the anointing which you
received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to
teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is
true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in
Him. (1 John 2:20, 27)
So John was reminding his
readers that they had an anointing which in context refers to the Holy
Spirit, Who would be their ultimate and final guide in discerning
between truth and error. John is not saying we are to abandon all
human teachers, for the whole counsel of God's Word, instructs us on
the need for Spirit filled men with the gift of teaching (e.g., see
the practice of the early church in Acts 2:42, 13:1, cp Ep 4:11, 12,
13, 14- notes
As background remember the
audience to whom James addresses his letter...
James, a bond-servant of God and of
the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are
dispersed abroad, greetings. (James 1:1)
The phrases "twelve tribes"
tribes" - the
Jews) and "dispersed abroad" (cp "the
dispersion" - those away
from Jerusalem and scattered around the Roman empire) indicate that
this epistle was addressed primarily to a Jewish audience, the very
ones who constituted the first Christian church (a truth Gentile
believers today often forget).
Furthermore, James wrote to
readers who were experiencing trials as indicated by his opening
it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing
that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance
have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking
in nothing. (James 1:2-4) (Comment: This opening
statement regarding faith implies that the intended audience was
believing Jews, Jewish Christians. Dearly beloved of God, are you
going through a trial [singular or plural] as you read these words?
Then take heart, James is a book you will want to study diligently to
know what God says about how believers can weather trials, which are
inevitable. God wants to equip you to walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, whatever that shadowy trial might be, not by yourself
and not as simply a survivor, but as more than a conqueror in Christ
Jesus. The truth in James will equip you for this journey!)
Regarding the status of his
readers as to whether they were saved or unsaved, James went on to
describe the audience as those Jews who had been born again
(see esp Jn 3:3, 4, 5f)
writing in James 1...
In the exercise of His will He
brought us forth by the word of truth (What would be another name?
Surely this is a synonym in context for the gospel - Ro 1:16-note),
so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.
As an aside as Morris
It is a fascinating testimony to
God's grace that James, who had been an unbelieving brother of Jesus,
was chosen to write the first inspired book to believing Jews (Ed:
circa AD 45-49, 49 being the date of the Jerusalem Council, Acts
15:1ff), and Paul, the chief persecutor of the early church, was
chosen to write the first epistle to believing Gentiles. (Comment:
Amazing grace that saves and uses wretches like all of us were in
Adam! Amen? Amen!)
And so here in James 2 feels
compelled by the Holy Spirit to deal with a crucial topic, the
relationship of faith to works. How does faith work?
Earlier James had alluded to the
delusion of hearing without doing challenging his readers (and all of
prove yourselves doers of the word,
and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (see note
WHAT USE IS IT MY BRETHREN
IF SOMEONE SAYS HE HAS FAITH BUT HE HAS NO WORKS? CAN THAT FAITH SAVE
HIM?: Ti to ophelos, adelphoi mou, ean pistin lege (3SPAS) tis
echein, (PAN) erga de me eche? (3SPAS) me dunatai (3SPPI) e pistis
sosai (AAN) auton?: (James 2:16; Jeremiah 7:8; Romans 2:25;
1 Corinthians 13:3; 1 Timothy 4:8; Hebrews 13:9 ) (18,26; 1:22-25;
Matthew 5:20; 7:21-23,26,27; Luke 6:49; Acts 8:13,21; 15:9;
1 Corinthians 13:2; 16:22; Galatians 5:6,13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3;
1 Timothy 1:5; Titus 1:16; 3:8; Hebrews 11:7,8,17; 2 Peter 1:5; 1 John
5:4,5) (1 Corinthians 15:2; Ephesians 2:8-10)
Notice how James uses the
technique of asking questions in six of the 13 verses.
James 2:14-26 speaks to
the major issue that spawned the Reformation, the reformers teaching
that man is justified by faith alone whereas the established
church taught man is justified by faith plus works.
Here are some key observations
in James 2:14-26. Observe that the key words in James
2:14-26 is faith (or believe) used some 15 times (including
one pronoun, "itself" 2:17) and works, which is used some 12 times.
Most of the uses of faith and works are related to each other. Only
once does James mention salvation per se. Although James does
use justified (dikaioo)
3 times, note that there are no other uses of
in this epistle (used in James 2:21, 24, 25) in contrast to Paul's
writings in which he uses
dikaioo 27 times. Even from these
simple observations, it follows that if we want to understand what the
NT teaches on justification we need to study Paul's uses rather
than James 3 uses in this one section. In addition, as we will discuss
later that James uses the verb
with a distinct and different meaning from most of Paul's uses. In
summary, just observing the key words in James 2:14-26 one can
conclude that his major theme in this controversial section is
faith, not salvation.
Describes dead faith (including "demonic" faith)
Describes dynamic, living, useful faith giving three illustrations
James' objective is to answer
the question "What is genuine, saving faith?". This
question makes James 2:14-26 one of the most vitally important
sections of Scripture because the truth James explains deals directly
with a person's eternal destiny. The most frightening deception in
this life is to think that "I possess saving faith" when it
fact in God's eyes it is not genuine saving faith.
Hiebert explains that...
The rhetorical questions of verse
14 state the theme of this third test of faith. James insists that a
living faith will authenticate itself in the
production of works. There is no antagonism between faith and
works. They are not totally distinct concepts but rather two
inseparable elements in salvation. James insists that "works are
not an 'added extra' to faith, but are an essential expression of it."'
In this passage James is echoing the teaching of Jesus in Matthew
7:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27. (Commentary
Jesus spoke some of the most
frightening words ever uttered at the end of His Sermon on the Mount
to those who surely thought they were saved (e.g., they called Him
"Lord, Lord") declaring...
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord,
Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of
My Father who is in heaven. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord,
Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out
demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will
declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE
LAWLESSNESS. (See notes
To reiterate, James is concerned
that his readers understand the nature of genuine, saving faith so
that they do not have to hear those fateful words from the Judge of
"I never knew
Depart from Me!"
As D Edmond Hiebert
A saving faith is a
working faith, proving its vitality by its production of
works... The Epistle of James has much to say about faith. The
(see word study)
occurs sixteen times and the verb
(see word study)
three times. But a
glance at the contents of the epistle makes it obvious that James is
not concerned with developing a theological exposition of the nature
of Christian faith. He holds that a saving faith accepts Jesus Christ
as the all-sufficient Savior (James 1:1; 2:1), but otherwise he says
but little about the theological content of such a faith. His purpose
is practical rather than doctrinal.
The purpose of James is to goad his readers to recognize and accept
their need for a living, active faith and to challenge them to test
their own faith by the basic criterion that “faith without works is
useless” (James 2:20). James insists that a saving faith is a
living faith, proving its genuineness by what it does. But it is a
misconception to assume that his purpose is simply to stress the
importance of good works. James is not advocating works apart from
faith, but he is vitally concerned to show that a living faith must
demonstrate its dynamic character by its deeds.
The, contents of the epistle, further, make it clear that James is not
content simply to establish the abstract truth that a saving faith is
a dynamic, productive faith. His purpose is practical, to present a
series of tests whereby his readers can determine the genuineness of
their own faith. “The testing of your faith” (James 1:3) seems
to be the key which James left hanging at the front door, intended to
unlock the contents of the book. This writer proposes that tests of a
living faith is indeed the unifying theme of the epistle and that it
provides ready access to its contents...
In James 1:2-18 James states and
discusses his theme. This paragraph is basic to a proper understanding
of the thrust of the epistle. For James “faith,” the subject of
his opening sentence (James 1:2-), is central to the Christian life
and its true energizing principle. It is essential, therefore, that
its genuineness be tested. “The testing of your faith” (James
1:3) marks the basic thrust of the message. The Greek noun
peirasmos (word study)
has a double meaning, “testing” and “temptation.” Since in
human experience the two aspects are often related, James discusses
both in this opening section. In James 1:2-12 he deals with the tests
and trials of believers, while in James 1:13, 14, 15, 16 he discusses the
nature of temptation and then shows that it cannot come from God in
view of His beneficent activities in human experience (James 1:17-18
In order to profit from the testings of their faith, believers must
rightly evaluate their testings (James 1:2, 3, 4). Prayer makes available
to them the needed wisdom to profit from their testings (James 1:5);
but such prayer must be unmixed with doubt and hesitancy (James
1:6-8). The testing of their faith equalizes believers (James 1:9, 10, 11),
and successful endurance assures future reward (James 1:12). (The
Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James Bibliotheca Sacra 135:539 Jul
1978) (Bolding added for
James is not raising a
question about whether one is saved by faith alone (this is
Paul's emphasis), but he is dealing with the question of what is
genuine or true saving faith?
What use is it? -
Literally James asks "What the profit"? Clearly he is challenging his
readers to think about what would be the gain (as it relates to
salvation which becomes clear in the second question) from the
situation he then presents - faith that has no works.
(ophelos from ophello = to heap up, to increase, to
accumulate or benefit) means an advantage or some benefit derived.
Talk is cheap. The advantage or profit in talking about helping is
only realized when we follow through with action.
My brethren - In context
this suggest James' tenderness and concern for in dealing with this
vital matter. James of course hopes that they will not be like the
If a man (tis) -
This is the impersonal pronoun and could be translated "If
anyone...". James is not singling anyone out specifically, but is
concerned with any individual who might profess the kind of faith
Faith - In the Greek text
this is placed forward for emphasis. James wants them to certain to
understand that faith is the issue. So literally it reads somewhat
awkward in English "If faith anyone may speak of having." Faith
is James' focal point, his point of concern. His Greek readers fully
understood his emphasis.
As someone has said...
Faith is like calories; you can’t
see them but you can see the results!
It is easy to hold your hand up
in an evangelistic service and say "I believe in Jesus", but James is
challenging this profession to be validated by appropriate behavior,
obedience, a changed life, good works.
The apostle John also addressed
false or superficial faith in his writings.
For example in John 2 we
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the
Passover, during the feast, many believed (pisteuo)
in His name (this would seem to speak of salvation but read on),
beholding His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was
not (ou = absolute negation) entrusting (same verb for
= pictures this as occurring over and over) Himself to them, for He
knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness
concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25)
Comment: Most commentators
agree these "believers" in John 2:23-25 were not saved as shown
by a few random commentaries below...
J. Vernon McGee...
A great many folk read that and
say, “My, isn’t it wonderful that people were believing on Him.” But
it wasn’t wonderful, friend, because theirs was not saving faith at
all. They merely nodded in assent when they saw the miracles that He
did. So notice what follows.
D A Carson...
The people ‘believed in his name’:
the expression is episteusan eis to onoma autou, even though
their faith is spurious....To exercise faith on the grounds of having
witnessed miraculous signs is precarious (John 4:48; cf. Mark
8:11, 12, 13). Although miracles cannot command faith (John 10:32), it is
better to believe on the ground of miracles than not at all (cf. John 10:38). Sadly, their faith was spurious, and Jesus knew it. Unlike
other religious leaders, he cannot be duped by flattery, enticed by
praise or caught off-guard in innocence. His knowledge of men’s hearts
is profound, and accounts in part for the diversity of his approaches
to individuals in the Gospels. He therefore did not entrust himself to
these spurious converts. (The Greek repeats the verb, but with a
slightly different meaning: we might paraphrase, ‘the people trusted
in his name, but he did not entrust himself to them.’) (Carson, D. A.
The Gospel According to John. W. B. Eerdmans)
KJV Bible Commentary...
Jesus remained in Jerusalem for the
Passover, and many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles.
The word used to express belief (Greek pisteuo) is used in the next
verse. But Jesus did not commit himself. Christ did not entrust
Himself to them because they were not true believers. He concluded
this because he knew all men. These were nominal believers whose only
interest was the miracles. He did not need their testimony for he knew
what was in man. These people had not accepted Him with saving faith,
but rather they accepted Him as a powerful miracle worker. (Dobson,
E G, Charles Feinberg, E Hindson, Woodrow Kroll, H L. Wilmington: KJV
Bible Commentary: Nelson
They believed him to be the
promised Messiah, but did not believe in him to the salvation
of their souls: for we find, from the following verse, that their
hearts were not at all changed, because our blessed Lord could not
trust himself to them.
The words believed in John 2:23
and commit in John 2:24 are the same Greek word. These
people believed in Jesus, but He did not believe in them! They were
“unsaved believers”! It was one thing to respond to a miracle but
quite something else to commit oneself to Jesus Christ and continue in
His Word (John 8:30, 31). John was not discrediting the importance of
our Lord’s signs, because he wrote his book to record these signs and
to encourage his readers to trust Jesus Christ and receive eternal
life (John 20:30, 31). However, throughout the book, John makes it
clear that it takes more than believing in miracles for a person to be
saved. Seeing the signs and believing in them would be a great
beginning; in fact, even the disciples started that way and had to
grow in their faith (compare John 2:11 and v. 22). (Wiersbe,
W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor
In John 3 the apostle
links genuine saving faith with obedience (actually lack thereof)
He who believes (present
tense = as the
habit of their life) in the Son has eternal life; but he who does
not (ou = absolute negation) obey (present
tense = as
discerned by the general direction of their life) the Son shall not
see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
In John 8 we see another
example of superficial faith John recording that...
As He spoke these things (eg, He
warned them "I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your
sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins."),
many came to believe in Him.
Then Jesus proceeds to
describe the evidence called for to show that one's belief is not just
intellectual but has resulted in a genuine changed heart...
Jesus therefore was saying to those
Jews who had believed Him (Notice that He did not question that
they had expressed a belief in Him), "If you abide (present
tense = as the
habit of their life) in My word, then you are truly disciples of
Mine..." (John 8:31)
So Jesus like James
specifies "abiding" in His Word (which will determine what one
believes and consequently how one behaves) is the proof that their
belief was genuine, saving belief. So if belief determines behavior,
it behooves us as good Bereans to examine the behavior of these
"believing" Jews for fruit that either substantiates or refutes the
authenticity of the root (true, saving faith). In fact what we
discover is rotten fruit according to our Lord (remember He knew all
men from John 2:23-25) who declared...
I know that you are Abraham's
offspring (physically the Jews came from Abraham's lineage); yet
(stark contrast) you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in
you (cp with John 8:31 where He had just stated "if you abide in My
word..."). (John 8:37)
It is quite instructive to read
John 8:30-59 and observe the final act of "belief", John
they (the same audience who had
"believed" in HIm!) picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid
Himself, and went out of the temple. (John 8:59)
Below are a number of
commentaries on John 8:30-59 that address the issue of genuine belief.
J Vernon McGee comments
Faith alone saves, but the faith
that saves is not alone. It will produce something. After a person
believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, he will want to “continue in His
Word.” The proof of faith is continuing with the Savior. As the pastor
of a church, I learned to watch out for the person who is active in
the church but is not interested in the study of the Word of God. Such
a one is dangerous to a church. (McGee,
J V: Thru the Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson
Barton writes that...
As the following verses (John
8:30-59) demonstrate, some of these new believers did not remain his
followers for long. (Barton,
B, et al: The NIV Life Application Commentary Series: Tyndale
Borchert, explains that
As Jesus was not convinced by the
believing of the Jews in Jas 2:23, 24, 25, he was not misled by the believing
noted in 8:30. Instead, he called forth from those who believed the
quality of consistency epitomized in the Johannine term “abide,”
“continue,” or “remain” (menein, “hold to”). The believer who is
committed to abide in Jesus and his word is in this Gospel to be
designated as an authentic (alēthēs) disciple (cf. John 6:64,
65, 66; contrast
Jn 5:38). (Borchert, G. L. Vol. 25A: John 1-11 The New American
Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers)
Dr Charles Ryrie comments
that the belief of the Jews (John 8:30) was...
Likely only a profession because of
what they said in verse 33 (Ed: Not to mention what they sought to do
in Jn 8:59!). (The
Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Translation: 1995. Moody
NIV Study Bible comments
that the belief of these Jews...
Here seems to be imperfect and
transitory. Their words show that these people were not true believers
(see John 8:33, 37).
In the Bible Knowledge
Commentary Edwin Blum commenting on John 8:31-32
It was possible to “believe” in the
message of repentance and the coming kingdom without being born again.
Continuing in the truth is the sign of true followers and learners
(disciples). If they really grasped His message, they would find
salvation truth. Knowing this salvation truth would liberate them from
their bondage in sin. (Walvoord,
J. F., Zuck, R. B., et al: The Bible Knowledge Commentary. 1985.
In summary, just from the
isolated passages in John, we can see that Jesus taught the same truth
vital relationship between faith and works which James is teaching in
Says - Some translate
this with the nuance "claims" (NET Bible, NIV) or "professes"
(Weymouth). Note that since faith is invisible, this person's
possession of faith is dependent upon his verbal testimony alone.
Wuest has an interesting
What profit is there, my brethren,
if a person is saying, I am in possession of faith, and he is not in
possession of works?
Has (echo) is in
indicating that this man's life is marked by the continuing absence of
"deeds". Here is where we need to be careful not to twist what James
is saying (or not saying). He is not saying that one must add deeds to
his faith in order to be saved but rather that the deeds spring out of
a saved person's life.
bluntly comments that...
The people who least live their
creeds are not seldom the people who shout the loudest about them. The
paralysis which affects the arms does not, in these cases, interfere
with the tongue. (James 2:14-23: Faith Without
is synonymous with trust or belief and is the conviction of the truth
of anything, but in Scripture usually speaks of belief respecting
man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the
included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with
Swindoll observes that...
James used the word “faith”
in two senses. In one sense it meant that kind of mental assent that
even the demons possess (James 2:19). Such faith or belief, he
said, is not sufficient to save. It must be a faith instead
that is living and gives evidence of life in works. “Works”
to him were the outworking of saving faith.
On the other hand, by “faith”
Paul meant a genuine belief that issues in action. He spoke of a faith
that works through love (Gal. 5:6). When he opposed “works” and
“faith,” he meant works of a legal nature by which people
supposed that they could gain merit before God. Thus, when we consider
the meaning of these words in their contexts, both Paul and James
believed the same thing. Each was emphasizing a certain facet of the
truth. Paul believed that individuals are saved only by faith, a faith
that is alive and working. James also believed that people are saved
by faith, a faith that is more than mental assent, one that works.
(Swindoll, C. R., & Zuck, R. B.. Understanding Christian theology.
Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers) (Bolding added)
Maclaren writes that
Faith is the hand that
grasps. It is the means of communication, it is the channel through
which the grace which is the life, or, rather, I should say, the life
which is the grace, comes to us. It is the open door by which the
angel of God comes in with his gifts. It is like the petals of the
flowers, opening when the sunshine kisses them, and, by opening,
laying bare the depths of their calyxes to be illuminated and
coloured, and made to grow by the sunshine which itself has opened
them, and without the presence of which, within the cup, there would
have been neither life nor beauty. So faith is the basis of
everything; the first shoot from which all the others ascend...Faith
works. It is the foundation of all true work; even in the lowest
sense of the word we might almost say that. But in the Christian
scheme it is eminently the underlying requisite for all work which God
does not consider as busy idleness...
Your work of faith. There is
the whole of the thorny subject of the relation of faith and works
packed into a nutshell. It is exactly what James said and it is
exactly what a better than James said. When the Jews came to Him with
their externalism, and thought that God was to be pleased by a whole
rabble of separate good actions, and so said, ‘What shall we do that
we might work the works of God?' Jesus said, ‘Never mind about Works.
This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent,'
and out of that will come all the rest. That is the mother tincture;
everything will flow from that. So Paul says, ‘Your work of faith.'
Does your faith work? Perhaps I should ask other people rather than
you. Do men see that your faith works; that its output is different
from the output of men who are not possessors of a ‘like precious
faith'? Ask yourselves the question, and God help you to answer it.
(Read full sermon on
1 Thessalonians 1:3)
conveys the basic meaning of that which has the inherent ability to do
something or accomplish some end. Thus dunamai means to be able
to, to be capable of, to be strong enough to do or to have power to do
something. The derivative word
dunamai) refers to intrinsic power or inherent ability, the
power or ability to carry out some function, the potential for
functioning in some way, the power residing in a thing by virtue of
stated the Greek expects a negative reply - That faith does not have
the inherent ability to bring about salvation! Hiebert notes
that "The negative me
at the head of the question implies that the answer must be a
has the basic meaning of
rescuing one from great peril. Additional nuances include to protect,
keep alive, preserve life, deliver, heal, be made whole.
The Philippian jailer summed up spiritual salvation asking Paul and
"Sirs, what must I do to be
saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall
be saved, you and your household." (Acts
And so James introduces his
analysis of genuine versus non-genuine faith with a
rhetorical (rhetoric = the art of effective or persuasive speaking or
writing) question (a statement that resembles a question but does not
require a response) -
What use is it, my brethren, if
someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save
The Greek construction is such
that it demands a negative answer and thus the second question could
That faith cannot save him, can it?
John Blanchard put it
well when he said that...
The evidence of saving faith is not how much you believe but how well
R. B. Kuiper said that...
Nowhere does the Bible tell us that
salvation is by a faith that does not work.
As an aside notice that the
KJV (and NKJV) has a potentially misleading translation of the
last phrase rendering it "Can faith save him?" (KJV
ignores the definite article in the Greek). That is not
what James asked. He is not questioning whether we are saved by faith!
He is raising the question concerning the quality of that faith.
James does not open this section
by saying that faith alone does not save but addresses the quality of
the faith that results in salvation.
Billy Graham echoed
James' concern when he said...
Faith that saves has one
distinguishing quality; saving faith is a faith that produces
obedience, it is a faith that brings about a way of life.
J I Packer wrote that...
What saves is faith alone, but the
faith that saves is never alone.
Says he has faith - In
essence this man professes to have faith (where profess
is used in the sense of declaring in word only). As we often say today
"He made a profession of faith." But the question arises as to how do
we know his profession of faith represents genuine faith or
faith that has wrought a new birth? At the risk of being redundant,
that is the question that James seeks to address.
Hiebert notes that
The aorist infinitive of sozo
(translated "to save") primarily looks to the future culmination of
the believer's salvation. The reference is to acquittal in the coming
Judgment Day. "The criterion then will not be profession but
Zodhiates remarks that
This verse is a pronouncement of the practicality of the Christian
faith. Christianity is not getting a few notions into our heads, but
it is a change of the seat of all our affections and dispositions, a
change of the heart. True, we begin with the head, but we travel to
the heart, and from the heart we travel to the hand. (The Labor of
J Vernon McGee writes
James is not talking about the
works of the Law. He simply says that the faith which saves you will
produce works, works of faith. The faith that James is talking about
here is professing faith, that which is phony and counterfeit. Paul
refers to the same idea when he says in 1Corinthians 15:2, “...unless
ye have believed in vain.” Paul also wrote, “Examine yourselves,
whether ye be in the faith..." (2Co 13:5). One of the greatest
dangers for us preachers of the gospel is that we like to see people
converted, and we are willing to accept a brazen and flippant yes from
some individual who says, “Yes, I’ll trust Jesus.” However, it might
be just an impertinent, impudent, and insolent nod of the head; it is
so easy today to be as phony as a three-dollar bill. (Listen to Dr
McGee's Mp3's on
James 2:14 ;
James 2:14 - continued)
After James' introductory
question he immediately illustrates his point in a way that all can
comprehend, stating in the next two verses that talk is fine, but it's
just talk unless it is backed up by appropriate deeds. In the context
of faith, the idea is that one can profess faith, but this
profession is shown to be a true possession (saving faith)
by one's good deeds. James does not say the good deeds save a person
but his implication even in this introduction is that these deeds
demonstrate the authenticity of one's profession.
As you ponder James' sobering
analysis of saving versus non-saving faith, remember
that God is not a God of confusion (1Cor 14:33). Remember also that
God does not contradict Himself, so that although some of this section
at first appears contradictory to other NT teaching (especially by
Paul), this seeming contradiction reflects our failure to understand,
not God's failure to be orderly and non-contradictory! The Bible is a
unified whole and it behooves us to seek to understand all that
Scripture teaches on a specific doctrine such as salvation
lest we misinterpret passages that seem less clear (this is the goal
of "systematic theology"). A good rule of thumb in interpreting
Scripture is always to seek to understand the more difficult or
"obtuse" passages in the light of the more obvious and easily
Remembering that James is
speaking primarily to first century Jews who had come out of Judaism,
it is not surprising that James would see to clarify the role of works
in one's salvation. Before these Jews had been become believers in the
Messiah, they had emphasized the importance of good deeds. Now in the
New Covenant which is entered by grace, they might have been a
tendency to assume that works were not part of this new relationship
As Steven Cole wisely
reminds us regarding the apparent contradiction of the teaching of
Paul and James...
we must seek to understand the
particular problem that each author was addressing. Paul wrote
Galatians to deal with the error of adding some outward work, such as
circumcision, to faith alone for salvation. James wrote this text to
confront the problem of those who profess to believe in Christ, but do
not have any fruit to show for it. If we lose sight of this, we will
C. E. B. Cranfield (cited by John
MacArthur, Faith Works [Word], p. 148) correctly observes, “The burden
of this section is not (as is often supposed) that we are saved
through faith plus works, but that we are saved through genuine, as
opposed to counterfeit, faith.” Satan is the master deceiver. Since
salvation is through faith, it is not surprising that he works
overtime to lead people astray on the matter of saving faith. If Satan
can get someone to think that he will get into heaven because of his
many good deeds, apart from faith in Christ, he is perfectly content
to watch that person devote his entire life to good deeds. Or, if a
person who was born and raised in the church thinks, “I’m going to
heaven because I believe in Jesus as my Savior”—but, his faith is
merely intellectual and it doesn’t affect his daily life—Satan is
happy with such false “faith.” (Saving
Faith: Genuine or False?)
Alexander Ross commenting
on the apparent conflict between James and Paul writes that...
They are not antagonists facing
each other with crossed swords; they stand back to back, confronting
different foes of the Gospel. (The New International Commentary on the
Paul addresses the false
teaching that insisted works must be added to faith in order for one
to be justified (declared righteous), whereas James is insisting on
the need for good works in the one who has been justified by faith.
Paul taught that no one can be justified by his efforts but only by
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, (why?) that no one should boast. (see
James taught that one who
professes to be a new creation (cp Jas 1:18) must demonstrate
his or her new life by their good (God) works. And when one
compares the next verse in Ephesians 2, it is clear that Paul
completely agreed with James...
For we are His workmanship, created
in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them. (see note
Paul was not opposed to good
works but spoke specifically against the idea that faith was
insufficient for salvation. As John MacArthur correctly concludes...
Both James and Paul view good works
as the proof of faith—not the path to salvation. (see
Faith According To The Apostle
James - Journal of Evangelical Theological Society Volume 33:1 - Mar
Hiebert offers a summary
of James based upon the centrality of faith...
Faith Tested by Its Response to the
Word of God (James 1:19-27)
Faith Tested by Its Reaction to
Partiality (James 2:1-13)
Faith Tested by Its Production of
Works (James 2:14-26)
Faith Tested by Its Production of
Self-Control (James 3:1-18)
Faith Tested by Its Reactions to
Worldliness (James 4:1-5:12)
Faith Tested by Its Resort to
Prayer (James 5:13-18)
This survey of James suggests that
the key which is found hanging at the front door (James 1:3) is indeed
the proper key to unlock the structure of the epistle. The use of the
key, tests of a living faith, has readily unlocked the door and given
ready access to its various chambers. Not only does it give ready
access to all parts of the house but it also brings into conscious
display the fact of the underlying unity of the whole. Its use gives
unity and coherence to the entire epistle. It displays the full
harmony of this epistle with the rest of the New Testament. James,
like Paul, fully believed in “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).
This understanding of the Epistle of James heightens its practical and
timely message. The author’s stern insistence on Christian practice
consistent with Christian profession, his open contempt for all sham,
and his stinging rebukes of worldliness in its varied forms are notes
that are urgently needed in Christendom today. As long as there are
professed Christians who are prone to separate profession and
practice, the message of this epistle will continue to be relevant. (The
Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James Bibliotheca Sacra 135:539 Jul
SUMMARY OF THE
OF JAMES 2:14-20
What are the major
interpretations of James 2:14-20?
1) FAITH + WORKS: James is advocating that works
must be added to faith for faith to be efficacious in saving a sinner,
a view held by one of the largest denominations in the world. This is
the very error Paul argued vehemently against in both Romans and
Galatians where he dealt particularly with the "works of the law".
2) FAITH VERSUS WORKS: James is contradicting Paul's
teaching that salvation is by faith alone apart from works. We can
discard this possibility immediately because the Word of God never
3) FAITH THAT WORKS: James is not arguing that faith
alone saves but that the faith which is genuine and which truly saves
is not alone but is intimately connected to works. This website
strongly favors this third interpretation as explained in the
Paul writes that
believers saved by grace through faith are now God's...
workmanship, created in
Christ Jesus for good works (deeds), which God prepared
beforehand (when?), that we should walk in them. (see note
Beloved, as we seek to walk in and
bring forth those good deeds which were prepared beforehand, we
must be careful to notice that the phrase good deeds differs
from your deeds. Remove one letter from good and we have
the desired result -- God Deeds! One of the primary sources for
instruction on good deeds is the Pauline epistles. In Paul's
writings we observe that he is calling for good (agathos
= good in its character or constitution, beneficial in
its effect) deeds, and the only "good" deeds are
those borne by believers (like "branches") who are abiding in Christ
("the Vine"). Good deeds reflect Christ's life in us and
flowing through us, these deeds being initiated and energized by His
Spirit and bringing glory to His Father (see note
Paul reminds us of this necessary supernatural dynamic in Philippians
it is God Who is at work in
you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (see
Jesus stated the same basic principle of good deeds when He
I am the vine, you are the
branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for
apart from Me you can do nothing (absolutely, totally
nothing!)...By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit
(good deeds = good fruit) and so prove to be My disciples...You did
not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go
and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain...." (John
Paul reminded the
Corinthian church of the parallel supernatural principle regarding
good deeds explaining that
God is able to make all grace
abound to you, so that (why does God do it?) always having all
sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good
acknowledged that the key to his good deeds was the grace of
God writing that His
grace toward me did not prove vain;
but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but
the grace of God with me. (1Cor
15:10). (Comment: Notice that although Paul
labored, his power to do so was provided by the indwelling, enabling
grace of God. Once again as so often in Scripture we see the
juxtaposition of man's responsibility and God's sovereign provision.
Amazing Grace indeed!)
One day in the
future the Lord Jesus will even
disclose the motives of men's
hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1Cor
In sum, the good
deeds that James is calling for to validate one's faith as genuine are
deeds which are Spirit initiated and empowered and which bring glory
to God our Father. No matter how hostile the society around us may be,
we are to be good to the people in it whose lives intersect with ours.
Paul reminded the Galatian believers that “While we have opportunity,
[we are to] do good (agathos) to all men, and
especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). Believers are to be known for what might be
described as consistent aggressive goodness, done not
simply out of a sense of obligation or duty but motivated by an
unselfish love for our Lord and for other people,
for (we) have been called for this
purpose, since Christ also suffered for (us), leaving (us) an
example...to follow in His steps.. (see notes
1 Peter 2:21)
See also the related discussion of
Good Deeds . (see sermon
by Spurgeon on
Faith At Work - Christians sometimes sing
the following words:
This world is not my home,
I'm just a-passing through.
Does that mean that we who are headed for heaven
aren't to have a concern for the present world? No. We can't pray as
Jesus instructed us, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"
(Mt. 6:10), and be indifferent to the needs and evils of our planet.
On the contrary, we ought to be eager to carry out Paul's counsel, "As
we have opportunity, let us do good to all" (Gal. 6:10).
British historian Paul Johnson points out that our spiritual forebears
in 19th-century England battled against slavery, poverty, vice, and
illiteracy because of their devotion to God. He wrote,
"Generous-minded Victorians, who took big risks by publicly expressing
their concern for the poor, did not pretend that they knew everything
about the problem or propose specific solutions." The dynamic of their
concern, Johnson asserts, was their solid belief in God.
We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), but our faith is to
produce "good works" (Ep 2:10). Let's follow the example of those
Victorian Christians. And may we be like Christ, "who went about doing
good" (Acts 10:38). — Vernon C. Grounds (Our
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
So let our lips and lives express
The holy gospel we profess;
So let our works and virtues shine,
To prove the doctrine all divine. --Watts
A living faith is a working faith.
A Heart For The Homeless - Members of the First Presbyterian
Church in Snohomish, Washington, had a large supply of leftovers from
the celebration of their 125th anniversary. They decided to give the
food to the women and children in a nearby homeless shelter. As a
chilling rain poured down outside, volunteers unloaded containers, one
of which included a large cake. Someone remarked, “I hope today is
somebody’s birthday.” A homeless woman replied, “Every day inside is a
Jesus knew the experience of homelessness. He said, “Foxes have holes
and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay
His head” (Matthew 8:20). Yet no one had more compassion for the poor.
James emphasized the need for believers to help each other materially.
He wrote, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily
food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and
filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the
body, what does it profit?” (Jas 2:15, 16).
We must help the spiritually destitute find a heavenly home by sharing
the gospel with them, but we must never neglect those who are poor in
this world’s goods. A heart for God will also be a heart for the
homeless. — Vernon C. Grounds (Our
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
More like the Master I would live and grow,
More of His love to others I would show;
More self-denial, like His in Galilee,
More like the Master I long to ever be. —Gabriel
Compassion is love in action.
A Loan To The Lord - A father gave his little boy 50 cents
and told him he could use it any way he wanted. Later when Dad asked
about it, the boy told him that he had lent it to someone.
"Who did you lend it to?" he asked. The boy answered, "I gave it to a
poor man on the street because he looked hungry."
"Oh, that was foolish. You’ll never get it back," replied the father.
"But Daddy, the Bible says that people who give to the poor lend to
The father was so pleased with the son’s reply that he gave the boy
another 50 cents. "See," said the son. "I told you I would get it
back—only I didn’t think it would be so soon!"
Has the Lord ever asked you for a loan? Have you ever recognized in
the needs of others a direct request from heaven for some of what you
have? The Bible warns against the sin of passing by the needy with
pious words while keeping a tight grip on our wallets (James 2:14, 15,
And Galatians 6:10 says that we are to "do good to all."
We aren’t promised that we’ll get rewarded immediately. But in Jesus’
teaching to His followers about His return, He says we will be
rewarded for giving of ourselves to others in His name (Matthew
25:34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46). — Henry G. Bosch (Our
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
Give as you would to the Master
If you met His searching look;
Give as you would of your substance
If His hand your offering took! —Anon.
You may give without loving
but you can’t love without giving.
A Time For Action - The woman chuckled as she told me about
the time she woke her husband to tell him she was in labor and needed
to go to the hospital. He jumped out of bed, dropped to his knees, and
said, "Honey, let's pray." She told him that it was not the time to
kneel and pray. It was time to get dressed and head for the hospital.
It was time for action!
I think this was the type of message God gave Moses when He said of
the Israelites, "Why do you cry to Me?" (Exodus 14:15). Not long
before that, Pharaoh had permitted the Israelites to leave Egypt, but
then he changed his mind (Ex 14:5, 6). Wanting to bring them back, he and
his army chased after them (Ex 14:7, 8, 9). The Israelites were terrified
when they saw the Egyptians approaching. They were trapped at the
shore of the Red Sea, with nowhere to go! But Moses assured Israel
that God would deliver them. Now was a time for action—not crying to
Him. It was time to "go on dry ground through the midst of the sea"
There's a proper time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1), including a
time to pray and a time to act. When we see someone who lacks food and
clothes, it's right to provide what they need (James 2:15, 16).
Sometimes we need to trust God and take immediate action.— Herbert
Vander Lugt (Our
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
Lord, when I sense Your call to serve,
Help me to follow through;
I must not just stand by and pray
When there is work to do. —Fasick
If God has already told you what to do,
you don't need to ask Him again.
Miscellanies on Faith-- Jonathan Edwards
The Spirit Working Faith -- A. W. Pink
True Faith -- A. W. Pink
Fact! Faith! Feeling! - F B Meyer
The Nature of Faith -- Thomas
A Godly Man's Faith -- Thomas Watson
Three Men in Fetters -- Jim Ehrhard from
Faith’s Way of Approach -- Charles
Genesis 17:1,2 - Life, Walk, and Triumph of
Faith - C H Spurgeon
Job 13:15 Faith Tried and Triumphing - C H
Job 23:6 The Question of Fear and the Answer of
Faith - C H Spurgeon
Psalm 57:1, 55:22, Isa 50:10 Three Texts but One
Subject - Faith - C H Spurgeon
Isaiah 44:5 Converts and their Confession of
Faith - C H Spurgeon
Habakkuk 2:4 Faith: Life
Matthew 15:21-28 Faith Victorious - C H Spurgeon
Matthew 15:28 Perseverance of Faith - C H
Mark 1:15 Faith and Repentance Inseparable - C H
Mark 4:40 Why Is Faith So Feeble? - C H Spurgeon
Mark 9:23 Faith Omnipotent - C H Spurgeon
Mark 9:24 Faith’s Dawn and Its Clouds - C H
Mark 9:24 Feeble Faith Appealing to a Strong
Saviour - C H Spurgeon
Mark 14:31 The History of Little Faith - C H
Luke 7:50 Saving Faith - C H Spurgeon
Luke 17:5 Mark 9:24 Feeble Faith Appealing to a
Strong Saviour - C H Spurgeon
John 1:11-13 Faith and its Attendant Privileges
- C H Spurgeon
John 4:48 Characteristics of Faith - C H
Acts 15:9 Faith Purifying the Heart - C H
Romans 10:17 How Can I Obtain Faith? - C H
Romans 10:17 Faith’s Way of Approach (MS Word) -
C H Spurgeon
2 Corinthians 5:7 Faith Versus Sight - C H
Galatians 3:2 The Hearing of Faith - C H
Galatians 3:11 Life by Faith - C H Spurgeon
Ephesians 2:8 Faith: What Is It? How Can It Be
Obtained?- C H Spurgeon
Ephesians 6:16 The Shield of Faith - C H
Colossians 2:6 Life and Walk of Faith - C H
2 Timothy 1:12 Faith Illustrated - C H Spurgeon
2 Thessalonians 1:3 A Lecture for Little Faith
- C H Spurgeon
2 Thessalonians 1:3 The Necessity of Growing
Faith - C H Spurgeon
Hebrews 11:6 Faith - C H Spurgeon
Hebrews 11:6 Faith Essential to Pleasing God - C
Hebrews 11:8 The Obedience of Faith - C H
James 2:17 Fruitless Faith - C H Spurgeon
1 Peter 2:6 Faith’s Sure Foundation - C H
2 Peter 1:1-4 Faith and Life - C H Spurgeon
1 John 5:1 Faith and Life - C H Spurgeon
1 John 5:4,5 Victorious Faith - C H Spurgeon
1 John 5:4The Victory of Faith - C H Spurgeon
1 John 5:9,10 Faith and the Witness Upon Which
it is Founded - C H Spurgeon
This preceding list includes most but not all of
Spurgeon's sermons in which the word "faith" is in the sermon title.
Related studies on
Obedience of faith.
See also study on
for a links to all 243 uses of pistis
in the NAS, which is translated as faith, 238; faithfulness, 3;
pledge, 1; proof, 1.
IF A BROTHER OR SISTER IS
WITHOUT CLOTHING AND IN NEED OF DAILY FOOD: ean adelphos e adelphe
gumnoi huparchosin (3PPAS) kai leipomenoi (PPPMPN) tes ephemerou
trophes: (Jas 2:5; Job 31:16-21; Isaiah 58:7,10; Ezekiel
18:7; Matthew 25:35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40; Mark 14:7; Luke 3:11; Acts
9:29; Hebrews 11:37)
Good deeds (see
study of good deeds) are not the root of salvation, but they are
the fruit of genuine salvation (cf Mt 3:8, Ephesians 2:10
Although Martin Luther
found James to be a "right strawy epistle", he made a statements
similar to James regarding faith and works noting that...
Faith is a living, restless
thing. It cannot be inoperative.
The true, living faith,
which the Holy Spirit instills into the heart, simply cannot be idle.
The lives of true believers should
demonstrate the reality of their spiritual regeneration and
supernatural transformation received by grace through faith in Jesus
have been redeemed...from every lawless deed and now are the
rightful possessions of Christ, are to be zealous (afire,
ardent, fervent, eager, enthusiastic) for good deeds. (Titus
Brother or sister - Implies
they are of the household of faith or fellow believers which is in
accord with other uses in the NT, for example in 1 Corinthians...
Yet if the unbelieving one leaves,
let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such
cases, but God has called us to peace. (1Cor 7:15)
So irregardless of their sex, if
they are in need, they should be assisted, for there is no inequality
This calls to mind Paul's charge in
So then, while we have opportunity,
let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the
household of the faith. (Gal 6:10)
Vincent has somewhat of a
technical note on the verb "is" (huparcho) writing that...
The distinction between this word
and the simple einai, to be, is very subtle. The verb huparcho,
originally means to make a beginning; hence, to begin or to come into
being; and, though used substantially as a synonym of einai
(eimi = to be) of a thing actually existing and at hand, it has a
backward look to an antecedent condition which has been protracted
into the present. Thus we might paraphrase here, “If a brother or
sister, having been in a destitute condition, be found by you in that
condition.” Εinai, on the other hand, would simply state
the present fact of destitution. (Vincent, M. R. Word Studies
in the New Testament 1:743)
Hiebert explains this point
The verb rendered "is"
(huparcho) seems to add a subtle touch to the picture. The common verb
eimi ("to be") would simply have stated the present fact; this
verb (huparcho), which basically means "to make a beginning," has a
backward look; it suggests that the need discovered was a past
condition extending into the present.
Without clothing (1131)
(gumnos/gymnos) literally means naked, unclad, without
clothing. In context it probably doesn't mean totally naked but poorly
dressed or partially dressed or as the RSV renders it "is ill clad" or
as the New English Bible renders it "is in rags".
In need (3007)
(leipo) means to leave behind (transitive) or lack, fall short
of (intransitive). Here in James leipo means to be deficient in
something that ought to be present.
Of daily food - So not
only are the poorly clothed but this sad state is compounded by their
being poorly fed. The phrase does not speak so much to that which is
needed day by day, but to the fact that this person did not have
enough food for even a single day. James is barring no verbal holds so
to speak to create a picture of extreme destitution, not only cold but
Thomas Watson (Puritan
Grace does not lie as a sleepy
habit in the soul, but will put forth itself in vigorous and glorious
actings. Grace can no more be concealed, than fire. Grace does not lie
in the heart as a stone in the earth—but as seed in the earth. It will
spring up into good works! "Our people must also learn to devote
themselves to good works." Titus 3:14-note
The lamp of faith must be filled
with the oil of charity. Faith alone justifies—but justifying faith is
never alone. You may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from
fire—as works from faith. Good works, though they are not the
causes of salvation—yet they are evidences of salvation. Though they
are not the foundation—yet they are the superstructure. Faith
must not be built upon works—but works must be built upon faith.
"You are married to Christ—that we
should bring forth fruit unto God." Romans 7:4-note
Faith is the grace which marries
Christ, and good works are the children which faith bears. Works are
distinct from faith—as the sap in the vine is different from the
clusters of fruit which grow upon it. Works are the touchstone of
"Show me your faith by your works."
Works honor faith. These fruits adorn the 'trees of righteousness'.
This queen—faith, has the handmaids of good works waiting upon her.
Good works are more visible and
conspicuous than faith. Faith is a more hidden grace. It may lie
hidden in the heart and not be seen—but when works are joined with it,
now it shines forth in its native beauty! Though a garden is ever so
decked with flowers—yet they are not seen until the light comes. So
the heart of a Christian may be enriched with faith—but it is like a
flower in the night. It is not seen until works come. When this light
shines before men, then faith appears in its orient colors!
one of you
says to them,
be filled," and
yet you do not
Amplified: And one of you says to him, Good-bye! Keep
[yourself] warm and well fed, without giving him the necessities for
the body, what good does that do?
Bible - Lockman)
KJV: And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye
warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which
are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
NLT: and you say, "Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm
and eat well"—but then you don't give that person any food or
clothing. What good does that do? (NLT
- Tyndale House)
Phillips: and one of you say, "Good luck to you I hope
you'll keep warm and find enough to eat", and yet give them nothing to
meet their physical needs, what on earth is the good of that? (Phillips:
Wuest: and one of you says to them, Be going away in peace, be
warming yourselves and be feeding yourselves to your utter
satisfaction, and you do not give them the things needful for the
body, what profit is there? (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: and any one of you may say to them,
`Depart ye in peace, be warmed, and be filled,' and may not give to
them the things needful for the body, what is the profit?
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: eipe (3SAAS) de tis autois ex humon,
hupagete (2PPAM) en eirene, thermainesthe (2PPMM) kai chortazesthe,
(2PPPM) me dote (2PAAS) de autois ta epitedeia tou somatos: (Jas
2:5; Job 31:16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21; Isaiah 58:7,10; Ezekiel 18:7;
Matthew 25:35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40; Mark 14:7; Luke 3:11; Acts 9:29;
One of you - The speaker is
not identified and so is applicable to each and every person who reads
this letter (even me!).
in peace, be warmed and be
filled - Each of these
verbs is in the form of a command calling for continuous action (present
voice could be either
If middle (reflexive) the translation would be something like "you
yourself go, warm yourself and fill yourself".
Kistemaker favors the
and renders the passage...
Let the shivering, hungry brothers
or sisters pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Phillips paraphrase picks
up this harsh dismissal tone...
Good luck to you I hope you'll keep
warm and find enough to eat
Hiebert notes that...
The passive implies, "Let someone
else feed and warm you," but indicates that the speaker has no
intention of doing that himself...Under either voice the speaker
reveals an inactive faith that fails. to meet the needs of needy
members of the Christian community
The translation favors the
passive voice "be warmed...be filled." But even so with
the present tense there is a tone of dismissing their need.
Yet - Marks a striking
contrast between their profession and their intention.
Yet you do not give them what
is necessary - In other words, it is not that this person does not
have the means to provide for the need. As someone has written this
self-satisfied "armchair philanthropist" has no intention of
personally supplying their need.
WHAT USE IS THAT?: ti to ophelos?:
(ophelos from ophello = to heap up, to increase, to
accumulate or benefit) means an advantage or some benefit derived.
What use is that? - Another
rhetorical question. Clearly the answer to this illustration is that
the words are useless when unaccompanied by appropriate actions as
dictated by the dire straits of the "brother or sister". And
so James' rhetorical conclusion to his hypothetical picture indicates
what he thinks of such "faith" (identified by the pronoun
C. H. Spurgeon is credited with the
view that ‘If you want to give a hungry man a tract, wrap it up in a
sandwich’. With great respect, he might better have said, ‘If you want
to give a hungry man a sandwich, wrap it up in a tract.’ For the eye
of faith sees forward into the endless reaches of eternity, and is
aware that the need to be right with God far outstrips the need for
earthly amelioration. Plainly our giving must have ‘the cause of the
gospel’ in this narrower sense well to the fore. But we are rarely
caught by this dichotomy; the limitations on our giving are those
imposed by our own cramped affections and concerns. (Motyer, J. A. The
Message of James: The tests of Faith. The Bible Speaks Today.
Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press)
Zodhiates rightly observes
It is the imperfections of this
world which provide a great opportunity to test the genuineness of our
faith. (The Labor of Love)
dead, being by
Amplified: So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds
and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of
power (inoperative, dead).
Bible - Lockman)
KJV: Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
NLT: So you see, it isn't enough just to have faith. Faith that
doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and
- Tyndale House)
Phillips: Yet that is exactly what a bare faith without a
corresponding life is like - useless and dead. (Phillips:
Wuest: Thus also, the aforementioned faith, if it does not
keep on having works, is dead in its very constituent elements. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: so also the faith, if it may not have
works, is dead by itself.
FAITH IF IT HAS NO WORKS IS DEAD BEING BY ITSELF: houtos kai e pistis,
ean me eche (3SPAS) erga, nekra estin (3SPAI) kath' heauten: (Jas
2:14,19,20,26; 1Corinthians13:3,13; 1Thessalonians 1:3; 1Timothy 1:5;
2Peter 1:5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
(houtos) refers to that which precedes and in this case draws
an analogy between the previous illustration and the faith which is
dead and does not bring salvation.
James is saying, in
the same manner as a profession to help someone is useless (as
illustrated in James 2:15-16) if it is unaccompanied by actions, so
too is the profession of one who says "I believe in Jesus" and yet
fails to demonstrate the genuineness with appropriate behavior
including good deeds.
Wayne Grudem has these words
of wisdom that relate to a faith that "works"...
But while the condition of
beginning the covenant of grace is always faith in Christ’s work
alone, the condition of continuing in that covenant is said to be
obedience to God’s commands. Though this obedience did not in the Old
Testament and does not in the New Testament earn us any merit with
God, nonetheless, if our faith in Christ is genuine, it
will produce obedience (see James 2:17), and obedience to
Christ is in the New Testament seen as necessary evidence
that we are truly believers and members of the new
covenant (see 1John 2:4, 4, 6). (Grudem,
W: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. IVP;
If it has no works - This
more literally reads "not may be having works."
James Adamson explains
having form, this faith lacks force
—`outwardly inoperative, because inwardly dead'. (The Epistle of
By itself - James is
saying that in its very essence this faith is inwardly dead. The
contrast is not between just faith and works but between a dead faith
and a living faith.
In his opening statement, James
had asked a question that assumed a negative answer to the
query of whether faith that has no works is faith that is able to save
a soul. In other words in his rhetorical question, James implied that
faith without works is non-saving faith. In the present passage James
states this conclusion more emphatically, using his easy to understand
illustration to help his reader comprehend his conclusion.
Do not confuse what James is
saying - He is not saying one must add works to their
faith in order to be saved. He is saying that good works
will be the natural (supernatural), irrevocable outcome of genuine
faith. Don't place the cart before the horse as you
read this passage. The "horse" is genuine faith, and the "cart"
is good works coupled to and flowing out of vibrant, dynamic faith. To
carry this horse/cart analogy (being aware that all analogies of
spiritual truth are limited) further, if the horse is just a wooden
horse and not a real horse, the cart cannot make the horse
move no matter how many "good works" are piled into the cart. Perhaps
this is not the best picture, but it does convey the point that we
must have an alive, useful "horse" (alive, not dead faith) in order
for the cart to move (for good works to be produced).
We need to remember that James
is not saying that one is saved by good works but that good works are
an natural and expected outflow of genuine faith producing true
salvation. Here is one Bible Church's statement of belief that nicely
expresses this vitally important distinction...
Good works follow redemption as an
evidence of justification, never as a means to earning justification;
rather, good works are the experience and expression of the
sanctification process that continues until we are glorified in
Here is a very poignant
illustration of real faith versus fake faith from Pastor Matt
It is not unlike just a few years
ago, 2002, Kansas City had the highest death rate among cancer
patients. What was very peculiar in this situation is that it was in
one neighborhood. If you lived in this neighborhood and you had
cancer, the probability of your dying was two or three times higher
than anywhere else in the country. This was a very curious thing.
After years of investigation, it turned out that the pharmacist in
that local neighborhood was diluting all the medications he was giving
out in order to double and triple his profit. He had done this for ten
years - 4,200 patients - 100,000 different prescriptions given out
over that 10-year period of time. Everybody taking a pill, thinking it
was truthful yet they were taking it and it was more like a placebo.
The medication had no effect. It was useless. It
was death to them. It led, quite literally, to their death. What would
be worse: To take a pill, not knowing that it had no effect on you; or
to know a pill had no effect but you took it anyway living with the
consequences? There is no “C” option, take the right pill. What if you
had to choose between not knowing what was right and what was a lie –
or knowing what was right and what was a lie but just choosing to
ignore it. Personally, I would go with knowing what was right and just
living foolishly or clumsily. When I come to my senses, at least I
would know what to do and where to go. This person over here is in a
state of ignorance and they think they are doing the right thing.
James is talking to this person
over here saying – You might think you have the right faith but it is
just not doing anything. If it is not doing anything, it can’t be
real. He is very passionate about this. He is convincing and
convicting at the same time because he wants every single person there
to know – Look. If you have certain symptoms and they continue, you
are not on medication. I don’t know what you are on but it is not the
right stuff. It is useless. It is ineffective. It is death. If
you are on the right stuff, you take the one that is good for your
soul. It has evidence. It has fruitfulness. It has joy and benefits
and consequences. (Reference)
In summary, James is saying that
genuine faith, like a fruit tree that is not artificial but alive,
will reveal its life by the fruit it produces. This fruit (or deeds)
is not some added extra any more than breath is an added extra to a
Here again we find that there is no
disagreement between James and Paul for Paul spoke of judging any
profession of faith in Galatian writing that...
the only thing that counts is
faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6NIV).
Comment: Saving faith proves
its genuine character by works of love. The one who lives by faith is
internally motivated by love for God and Christ (Mt 22:37, 38, 39,
40), which supernaturally issues forth in reverent worship, genuine
obedience, and self-sacrificing love for others.
J C Ryle...
We must be holy, because this is
the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus
Christ. The twelfth Article of our church says truly, that
"Although good works cannot put
away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment, yet are they
pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out
necessarily of a true and lively faith; insomuch that by them a lively
faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by its fruits."
James warns us there is such a
thing as a dead faith, a faith which goes no further than the
profession of the lips and has no influence on a man’s character
(James 2:17). True saving faith is a very different kind of thing.
True faith will always show itself by its fruits; it will sanctify, it
will work by love, it will overcome the world, it will purify the
heart. I know that people are fond of talking about deathbed
evidences. They will rest on words spoken in the hours of fear and
pain and weakness, as if they might take comfort in them about the
friends they lose. But I am afraid in ninety–nine cases out of a
hundred, such evidences are not to be depended on. I suspect that,
with rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived. The only safe
evidence that we are one with Christ, and Christ in us, is holy life.
Those who live unto the Lord are generally the only people who die in
the Lord. If we would die the death of the righteous, let us not rest
in slothful desires only; let us seek to live His life. It is a true
saying of Traill’s: "That man’s state is nothing, and his faith
unsound, that finds not his hopes of glory purifying to his heart and
Sanctification is the invariable
result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a
Christian. "He who abides in Me, and I in him, the same brings forth
much fruit" (Jn 15:5). The branch which bears no fruit is no living
branch of the vine. The union with Christ which produces no effect on
heart and life is a mere formal union, which is worthless before God.
The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no
better than the faith of devils (Jas 2:19-note).
It is a "dead faith, because it is alone." It is not the gift of God.
It is not the faith of God’s elect. In short, where there is no
sanctification of life, there is no real faith in Christ. True faith
works by love. It constrains a man to live unto the Lord from a deep
sense of gratitude for redemption. It makes him feel that he can never
do too much for Him that died for him. Being much forgiven, he loves
much. He whom the blood cleanses walks in the light. He who has real
lively hope in Christ purifies himself even as He is pure (James 2:17,
Jas 2:18, 19, 20-note;
Gal. 5:6; 1Jn 1:7; 3:3-note).
Let us set aside, in the next
place, all those who know the Gospel with their heads—but do not obey
it with their hearts. These are those unhappy people who have eyes to
see the way of life—but have not will or courage to walk in it. They
approve sound doctrine. They will not listen to preaching which does
not contain it. But the fear of man, or the cares of the world, or the
love of money, or the dread of offending relations, perpetually holds
them back. They will not come out boldly, and take up the cross, and
confess Christ before people (Ro 10:9. 10). Of these also the Bible
speaks expressly, "Faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone."
"To him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin." "If
any man is ashamed of Me and of my words, of him will the Son of man
be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's,
and of the holy angels." (Jas 2:17; 4:17; Lk 9:26) Shall we say that
such as these will be saved? The answer is clear to my own mind—In
their present condition they will not. (FEW
James 2:17: Fruitless Faith
Spurgeon's sermon on James 2:17...
Whatever the statement of James may
be, it could never have been his intention to contradict the gospel.
It could never be possible that the Holy Spirit would say one thing in
one place, and another in another. Statements of Paul and of James
must be reconciled, and if they were not, I would be prepared sooner
to throw overboard the statement of James than that of Paul. Luther
did so, I think, most unjustifiably. If you ask me, then, how I dare
to say I would sooner do so, my reply is, I said I would sooner throw
over James than Paul for this reason, because, at any rate, we must
keep to the Master himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought never to
raise any questions about differences of inspiration, since they are
all equally inspired, but if such questions could be raised and were
allowable, it were wisdom to stick fastest to those who cling closest
to Christ. Now the last words of the Lord Jesus, before he was taken
up were these, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to
every creature,” and what was this gospel? “He that believes and is
baptized shall be saved.” To that, then, we must always cling, but
Jesus Christ has given a promise of salvation to the baptized
believer, and he has said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, and whosoever
believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Here it is clear he promises
everlasting life to all who believe in him, to all who trust in him.
Now from the Master’s words we will not stir, but close to his own
declaration we will stand. Be assured that the gospel of your
salvation as a believer, with a simple confidence in Jesus Christ,
whom God raised from the dead, will save your soul, a simple and
undiluted reliance upon the life and death, and resurrection, and
merit, and person of Jesus Christ, will ensure to you everlasting
life. Let nothing move you from this confidence: it hath great
recompense of reward. Heaven and earth may pass away, but from this
grand fundamental truth not one jot or tittle shall ever be moved.
“He that believeth in him is not condemned, but he that believeth not
is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of
The fact is, James and Paul are
perfectly reconcilable, and they are viewing truth from different
standpoints, but whatever James may mean, I am quite confident about
what Paul means, and confident about the truth of the two.
A second remark. James never
intended, for a moment, nor do any of his words lead us into such a
belief, that there can be any merit whatever in any good works of
ours. After we have done all, if we could do all, we should only have
done what we were bound to do. Surely there is no merit in a man’s
paying what he owes; no great merit in a servant who has his wages for
doing what he is paid for. The question of merit between the creature
and his Creator is not to be raised; he has a right to us; he has the
right of creation, the right of preservation, the right of infinite
sovereignty, and, whatever he should exact of us, we should require
nothing from him in return, and, having sinned as us have all, for us
to talk of salvation by merit, by our own works, is worse than vanity;
it is an impertinence which God will never endure.
“Talk they of morals,
O! thou bleeding Lamb,
The best morality is love of thee.”
Talk of salvation by works, and
Cowper’s reply seems apt: —
“Perish the virtue, as it ought,
And the fool with it, who insults his Lord.”
What James does mean, however,
is this, no doubt, in brief and short, that while faith saves, it is
faith of a certain kind. No man is saved by persuading himself
that he is saved; nobody is saved by believing Jesus Christ died for
him. That may be, or may not be, true in the sense in which he
understands it. In a certain sense Christ died for all men, but since
it is evident that many men are lost, Christ’s dying for all men is
not at all a ground upon which any man may hope to be saved. Christ
died for some men in another sense, in a peculiar and special sense.
No man has a right to believe that Christ peculiarly and specially
died for him until he has an evidence of it in casting himself upon
Christ, and trusting in Jesus, and bringing forth suitable works to
evince the reality of his faith.
The faith that saves is not a
historical faith, not a faith that simply believes a creed and certain
facts; I have no doubt devils are very orthodox; I do not know which
church they belong to, though there are some in all churches; there
was one in Christ’s Church when he was on earth, for he said one was
filled with devils; and there are some in all churches. Devils believe
all the facts of revelation. I do not believe they have a doubt; they
have suffered too much from the hand of God to doubt his existence!
They have felt too much the terror of his wrath to doubt the
righteousness of his government. They are stern believers, but they
are not saved; and such a faith, if it be in us, will not, cannot,
save us, but will remain to all intents and purposes a dead,
inoperative faith, it is a faith which produces works which saves us,
the works do not save us; but a faith which does not produce works is
a faith that will only deceive, and cannot lead us into heaven.
I. What Kind Of Works They Are
Which Are Necessary To Prove Our Faith If It Be A Saving Faith.
The works which are absolutely necessary are, in brief, these:
(1) First, there must be fruits
meet for repentance, works of repentance.
It is wrong to tell a man he must
repent before he may trust Christ, but it is right to tell him that,
having trusted Christ, it is not possible for him to remain
impenitent. There never was in this world such a thing as an
impenitent believer in Jesus Christ, and there never can be.
Faith and repentance are born in a
spiritual life together, and they grow up together. The moment a man
believes he repents, and while he believes he hath believes and
repents, and until he shall have done with faith he will not have done
If thou hast believed, but hast
never repented of thy sins, then beware of thy believing. If thou
pretendest now to be a child of God, and if thou hast never clothed
thyself in dust and ashes; if thou hast never hated the sins which
once thou didst love: if thou dost not now hate them, and endeavor to
be rid of them, if thou dost not humble thyself before God on account
of them, as the Lord liveth, thou knowest nothing about saving faith,
for faith puts a distance between us and sin; in a moment it leads us
away from the distance between us and Christ; nearer to Christ, we are
now far off from sin.
But he that loves his sin, thinks
little of his sin, goes into it with levity, talks of it sportively,
speaks of sin as though it were a trifle, hath the faith of devils,
but the faith of God’s elect he never knew. True faith purges the
soul, since the man now hunts after sin that he might find out the
traitor that lurks within his nature; and though a believer is not
perfect, yet the drift of faith is to make him perfect; and if it is
faith to be perfected, the believer shall be perfected, and then shall
he be caught up to dwell before the throne.
Judge yourselves, my hearers.
Have you brought forth the fruits of repentance? If not, your faith
without them is dead.
(2) Works of secret piety are
also essential to true faith.
Does a man say I believe that Jesus
died for me, and that I hope to be saved, and does he live in a
constant neglect of private prayer? Is the Word of God never read?
Does he never lift up his eye in secret with “My Father be thou the
guide of my youth”? Has he no secret regard in his heart to the Lord
his God, and does he hold no communion with Christ his Savior, and is
there no fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Then how can faith dwell in
such a man? As well say that a man is alive when he does not breathe,
and in whom the blood does not circulate, as to say that a man is a
believer with living faith who does not draw near to God in prayer,
that does not live indeed under the awe and fear of the Most High God
as ever present, and seeing him in all places. Judge yourselves, ye
professors. Are ye neglecting prayer; have ye no secret spiritual
life? If so, away with your notion about saving faith. You are not
justified by such a faith as that, there is no life in it; it is not a
faith that leads to the Lamb and brings salvation; if it were, it
would show itself by driving you to your knees, and making you lift up
your heart to the Most High.
(3) Another set of works are
those which I may call works of obedience.
When a man trusts in Jesus, he
accepts Jesus as his Master. He says, “Show me what thou wouldst have
me to do.” The Father shows what Christ would have him to do. He does
not set up his own will and judgment, but he is obedient to his
Master’s will. I will not to-night speak of those who know not their
Lord’s will, who shall be beaten with few stripes, but I do fear that
there are some professors who are living in wilful neglect of known
Christian duties, and yet suppose themselves to be the partakers of
Now a duty may be neglected, and
yet a man may be saved; but a duty persistently and wilfully
neglected, may be the leak that will sink the ship, or the neglect of
any one of such duties for the surrender of a true heart to Christ
does not go such and such a length and then stop. Christ will save no
heart upon terms and conditions; it must be an unconditional surrender
to his government if thou wouldest be saved by him. Now some will draw
a line here, and some will draw a line there up to this and say, “I
will be Christ’s servant”; that is to say, sir you will be your own
master, for that is the English of it; but the true heart that hath
really believed saith, “I will make haste, and delay not to keep thy
commandments; make straight the path before my feet, for thy
commandments are not grievous.” “I have delighted in thy
commandments more than in fine gold.”
Now, sons and daughters of sin,
professedly, what say you to this? Have you an eye to the Master, as
servants keep their eye to their mistress? Do you ever ask yourselves
what would Christ have you to do? or do you live habitually in the
neglect of Christ’s law and wills? Do you go to places where Christ
would not meet you, and where you would not like to meet with him? Are
some of you in the habit of professing maxims and customs, upon which
you know your Lord would never set his seal? You say you believe, you
have faith in him? Ah! sirs, if it be a living faith, it will be an
(4) Living faith produces what I shall call separating works.
When a man believes in Jesus, he is
not what he was, nor will he consort with those who were once his
familiars. Our Lord has said, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am
not of the world.” Now Christ was not an ascetic; he ate and drank as
other men do so that they even said of him a gluttonous man and a
wine-bibber, because he mingled with the rest of mankind; but was
there ever a more unearthly life than the life of Christ? He seems to
go through all the world a complete man in all that is necessary to
manliness, but his presence is like the presence of a seraph amongst
sinners. You can discover at once that he is not of their mould, nor
of their spirit, only harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
Now such will the believer he if
his faith be genuine, but this is a sharp cut to some professors, but
not a whit more sharp than the Scripture warrants. If we are of the
world, what can we expect but the world’s doom in the day of the
appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ? If ye find your pleasure with the
world, you shall meet your condemnation with the world; if with the
world you live, with the world you shall die, and with the world you
shall live again for ever, lost. Where there is no separation there is
no grace. If we are conformed to this world, how dare we talk about
grace being in our souls; and if there be no distinguishing difference
between us and worldlings, what vanity it is, what trifling, what
hypocrisy, what a delusion for us to come to the Lord’s table, talking
about being the Lord’s sons, when we are none of his? Faith without
the works which denote the difference between a believer and a
worldling is a dead, unsaving faith.
Now I have not said that any
believer is perfect. I have never thought so, but I have said that if
a believer could be a believer altogether, and faith could have her
perfect work, he would be perfect, and that in proportion as he is
truly a believer, in that proportion he will bring forth fruit that
shall magnify God and prove the sincerity of his faith.
(5) One other set of works will be necessary to prove the vitality
of his faith, namely, works of love.
He that loves Christ feels that the
love of Christ constrains him; he endeavors to spread abroad the
knowledge of Christ; he longs to win jewels for Christ’s crown; he
endeavors to extend the boundaries of Christ’s and Messiah’s kingdom,
and I will not give a farthing for the loftiest profession coupled
with the most flowing words, that never shows itself in direct deeds
of Christian service. If thou lovest Christ, thou canst not help
serving him. If thou believest in him, there is such potency in what
thou believest, such power in the grace which comes with believing,
that thou must serve Christ; and if thou serve him not, thou art not
OF A TREE
This proof, before we leave it, might be illustrated in various ways.
We will just give one. A tree has been planted out into the ground.
Now the source of life to that tree is at the root, whether it hath
apples on it or not; the apples would not give it life, but the whole
of the life of the tree will come from its root. But if that tree
stands in the orchard, and when the spring-time comes there is no bud,
and when the summer comes there is no leafing, and no fruit-bearing,
but the next year, and the next, it stands there without bud or
blossom, or leaf or fruit, you would say it is dead, and you are
correct; it is dead. It is not that the leaves could have made it
live, but that the absence of the leaves is a proof that it is dead.
So, too, is it with the professor.
If he hath life, that life must give fruits; if not fruits, works; if
his faith has a root, but if there be no works, then depend upon it
the inference that he is spiritually dead is certainly a correct one.
When the telegraph cable flashed no
message across to America, when they tried to telegraph again and
again, but the only result following was dead earth, they felt
persuaded that there was a fracture, and well they might, and when
there is nothing produced in the life by the supposed grace which we
have, and nothing is telegraphed to the world but “dead earth,” we
may rest assured that the link of connection between the soul and
Christ does not exist
I need not enlarge. We should just put it into that one sentence:
“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Bring forth, therefore,
works meet for repentance.
II. Some Facts That Back Up The
Doctrine That “Faith Without Works Is Dead.”
These facts show that it is evident to all observers that many
professors of faith without works are not saved. It would be very
ludicrous, if it were not very miserable, to think of some who wrap
themselves in the conceit that they are saved about whose salvation
nobody but themselves can have any question.
I remember a professor who used to
talk of being justified by faith who was most assured about it, when
he contained most beer. Such professors are not at all uncommon, sad
is it to say so. They seem at the moment when their condemnation seems
written on their very brow to all who know them, to be most confident
that they themselves are saved.
Now, brethren, if such cases are
convincing and you entertain no doubt, but decide in their case, apply
the same rule to yourselves, for although you may not plunge into the
grosser vices, yet if you make your homes wretched by your
selfishness, if you fall into constant habits of vicious temper, if
you never strive against these sins, and the grace of God never leads
you out of them; if you can live in private sin, and yet pacify your
conscience, and remain just as you were before your pretended
conversion; when you sit in judgment and pronounce the verdict on
others, feel that you pronounce it upon yourself, for surely for one
sin that is openly indulged in, which is manifested to you in the
dissipation of your fellow-creatures, it is not hard for you to
believe that any other sin, if it be constantly indulged and be loved,
will do the same to you as it does to him.
You know men who have not faith,
but have a sort of faith, are not saved. It must be true, or else
where were the Savior’s words, “Straight is the gate and narrow the
way, and few there be that find it”? For this is no straight gate and
no narrow way, merely to be orthodox and hold a creed, and say, “I
believe Jesus died for me”; but it is a very narrow gate so to believe
as to become practically Christ’s servants, so to trust as to give up
that which Christ hates.
Truths which Jesus bids us believe
are all truths, which, if believed, must have an effect upon the daily
life. A man cannot really believe that Jesus Christ has taken away his
sin by such sufferings as those of the cross, and yet trifle with sin.
A man is a liar who says, “I
believe that yonder bleeding Savior suffered on account of my sins,”
and yet holds good fellowship with the very sins that put Christ to
death. Oh! sirs, a faith in the bleeding Savior is a faith that craves
for vengeance upon every form of sin. The Christian religion makes us
believe that we are the sons of God when we trust in Christ. Will a
man believe that he is really the Son of God, and then daily and
wilfully go and live like a child of the devil? Do you expect to see
members of the royal court playing with beggars in the street?
When a man believes himself to
possess a certain station of life, that belief leads him to a certain
carriage and conversation, and when I am led to believe I am elected
of God, that I am redeemed by blood, that heaven is secured to me by
the covenant of grace, that I am God’s priest, made a king in Christ
Jesus, I cannot, if I believe, unless I am more monstrous than human
nature itself seems capable of being, go back to live after just the
same fashion, to run in the same course as others, and live as the
sons of Belial live.
We see constantly in Scripture, and
all the saints affirm it, that faith is linked with grace, and that
where faith is the grace of God is; but how can there be the gift of
God reigning in the soul, and yet a love of sin and a neglect of
holiness? I cannot understand grace reigning and vice ruling over the
living and incorruptible seed which abideth for ever to the inner man;
and for this man to give himself up to be a slave of Satan is a thing
Faith, again, is always in connection with regeneration. Now
regeneration is making of the old thing new; it is infusing a new
nature into a man. The new birth is not a mere reformation, but an
entire renovation and revolution: it is making the man a new creation
in Christ Jesus. But how a new creature, if he has no repentance, if
he has no good works, no private prayer, no charity, no holiness of
any kind, regeneration will be a football for scorn. The new birth
would be a thing to be ridiculed, if it did not really produce a
hatred of sin, and a love of holiness. That kind of "new birth" is a
kind of new birth which ought to excite the derision of all mankind,
for children are said to be born again, certified to be born again,
made members of Christ and children of God, and afterwards they grow
up, in many cases, in most cases, let me say, to forget their
baptismal vows, and live in sin as others do. Evidently it has had no
effect upon them, but regeneration such as we read of in the Bible
changes the nature of man, makes him hate the things he loved, and
love the things he hated. This is regeneration: this is regeneration
which is worth the seeking: it always comes with faith, and
consequently good works must go with faith too. But we pass on to the
last matter, which is this:
III. What Of Those Men That Have Faith, And That Have No Good Works?
Then what about them? Why, this about them, that their supposed faith
generally makes them very careless and indifferent, and ultimately
hardened and depraved men.
I dread beyond measure that any one
of us should have a name to live when we are dead; for an ordinary
sinner who makes no profession may be converted, but it is extremely
rare that a sinner who makes a profession of being what he is not is
ever converted. It is a miserable thing to find a person discovering
that his profession has been a lie. A man sits down, and he says,
“Why, I believe,” and as he walks he is careful, because he is afraid
of what others might say. By and bye, he begins to indulge a little.
He says, “This is not of works; I may do this, and yet get
forgiveness.” Then he goes a little further away. I do not say that
perhaps at first he go to the theater, but he goes next door to it. He
does not get drunk, but he likes jovial company. A little further and
he gets confirmed in the belief that he is a saved one, and he gets so
much confirmed in that idea that he thinks he can do just as he likes.
Having sported on the brink without falling over, he thinks he will
try again, and he goes a little further and further until I may
venture to say, if Satan wants raw material of which to make the worst
of men, he generally takes those who profess to be the best, and I
have questioned whether such a valuable servant of Satan as Judas was
could ever have been made of any other material than an apostate
apostle. If he had not lived near to Christ, he never could have
become such a traitor as he was. You must have a good knowledge of
religion to be a thorough-faced hypocrite, and you must become high in
Christ’s Church before you can become fit tools for Satan’s worst
works. Oh! but why do men do this? Oh! what is the use of maintaining
such a faith? I think if we do not care to get the vitality of
religion, I would never burden myself with the husks of it, for such
people get the chains of godliness without getting the comforts of
godliness. They dare not do this, they dare not do that; if they do
they feel hampered. Why don’t they give up professing? and they would
be at least free; they would have the sin without the millstone about
their neck. Surely there can be no excuse for men who mean to perish
coming to cover themselves with a mask of godliness! Why cannot they
perish as they are? Why add sin to sin by insulting the Church through
the cross of Christ?
When men make a profession of religion, and yet their works do not
follow their faith, what about them? Why, this about them. They have
dishonored the Church, and, of all others, these are the people that
make the world point to the Church and say, “Where is your religion?
That is your religion, is it?” So it is when they find a man who
professes to be in Christ, and yet walks not as Christ walked. These
give the Church her wounds; she receives them in the house of her
friends; these make the true ministers of God go to their closets with
broken heart, crying out, “Oh! Lord, wherefore hast thou sent us to
this people to speak and minister amongst them, that they should play
the hypocrite before thee?” These are they that prevent the coming in
of others, for others take knowledge of them, as they think religion
is hypocrisy, and they are hindered, and, if not seriously, they get,
at any rate, comfort in their sin from the iniquity of these
professors. What their judgment will be when Christ appeareth it is
not for my tongue to tell; in that day when, with tongue of fire,
Christ shall search every heart, and call on all men to receive their
judgment, what must be the lot of the base-born professor, who
prostituted his profession to his own honor and gain? He sought not
the glory of God. What shall be the thunder-bolt that shall pursue his
guilty soul in its timorous flight to hell, and what the chains that
are reserved in blackness and darkness for ever for those who are
wells without water and clouds without rain? I cannot tell, and may
God grant that you may never know. Oh! may we all to-night go to,
Christ Jesus, humbly and freely confessing our sins, and take Christ
to be our complete Savior in very deed and truth. Then shall we be
saved, and then, being saved, we shall seek to serve Christ with
heart, and soul, and strength.
A VESSEL DRIFTING
Lest I have missed my mark, this one illustration shall suffice, and I
have done. There is a vessel drifting. She will soon be on the shore,
but a pilot is come on board; he is standing on the deck, and he says
to the captain and crew, “I promise and undertake that, if you will
solely and alone trust me, I will save thy vessel. Do you promise it;
do you believe in me?” They believe in him; they say they believe the
pilot can save the vessel, and they trust the vessel implicitly to his
care Now listen to him. “Now,” says he, “you at that helm there!”
He does not stir. “At the helm there! Can’t you hear?” He does not
stir! He does not stir! “Well but, Jack haven’t you confidence in the
pilot?” “Oh! yes. Oh! yes, I have faith in him,” he says; “he will
save the vessel if I have faith in him.” “Don’t you hear the pilot,
as he says have faith in him, and you won’t touch the helm?” “Now,
you aloft there! Reef that sail.” He does not stir, but lets the wind
still blow into the sail and drift the vessel on to the coast “Now
then, some of you, look alive and reef that sail!” But he does not
stir! “Why, captain, what shall I do? These fellows won’t stir or
move a peg.” But “Oh!” says the captain; “I have every confidence
in you, pilot. I believe you will save the vessel.” “Then why don’t
you attend to the tiller, and all that?” “Oh! no,” says he; “I
have great confidence in you. I don’t mean to do anything.” Now when
that ship goes down amid the boiling surges, and each man sinks to his
doom, I will ask you, had they faith in the pilot? Hadn’t they a
mimicking, mocking sort of faith, and only that? For if they had been
really anxious to have the vessel rescued and have trusted in the
pilot, it would be the pilot that had saved them, and they could never
have been saved without him. They would have proved their faith by
their works. Their faith would have been made perfect, and the vessel
would have been secured.
I call upon every man here to do what Christ bids him. I call upon
you, first of all, to prove that you believe in Christ by being
baptized. “He that believeth in Christ and is baptized shall be
saved.” The first proof that you believe in Christ is to be given by
yielding to the much despised ordinance of believers’ baptism, and
then, having done that, going on to the other means of which I have
spoken. Oh! I charge you by your soul’s salvation neglect nothing
Christ commands, however trivial it may seem to your reason. Whatever
he saith unto you, do it, for only by a childlike obedience to every
bidding of Christ can you expect to have the promise fulfilled, “They
that trust in him shall be saved.” The Lord bless these words, for
his name’s sake. Amen.
tells of the genesis (pathogenesis) of the Infidel Club in
Glasgow, Scotland. Some men were standing at the corner of a street
when a wealthy appearing man went past and one of the men observed he
was founder of the Infidel Club in Glasgow. But the other man queried
how that could be seeing that the wealthy man was an elder in the
church, so how could he also be the founder of Glasgow’s Infidel
Club. The other man then explained how the wealthy church elder's
inconsistent life had borne such false witness to Christ for so long
that it had undermined the faith of several young men who had joined
together to form the what they called The Infidel Club. Genuine
faith has good deeds.
a seventeenth century Scottish clergyman explained the relation of
faith and works as follows...
True faith is never alone, but
still joined with gospel-obedience: “As ye have received, so walk.” He
that would disjoin faith from obedience endeavors to walk with one
foot, which is impossible. Faith and works, faith and holiness, are
the two feet by which a man doth walk in Christ: and when the Spirit
of Christ doth promote the one, He doth promote the other also. If a
man should assay to go upon one foot, he could not walk, but only hop,
which would be impossible for him to continue long in: neither can
obedience be without faith, nor faith without obedience, but according
to the measure of faith, such will be the measure of the gospel-walk.
As the fuller a vessel is the faster will it run over at the top; so,
the fuller view a man gets of Christ, by faith, the faster will he run
in the way of evangelical obedience.
John Angell James - Of little
use - "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by works, is
dead." James 2:17
True religion begins in right believing and goes on to right doing;
and right believing must, through the whole of the Christian life, be
the guide of right doing.
Faith is the root, out of which grows the whole tree of our
godliness—its trunk, its branches, its leaves, and its fruit. It
is faith which, striking its fibers into the Word of God as its proper
soil, draws up the moisture which nourishes it, and which has first
come down from heaven. It is only as we understand this, that we can
begin or continue in a course of true, practical, and experimental
To merely understand the grand truths of Scripture, is of little
use—unless they produce . . .repentance, faith, love, and holiness.
That is not right faith which does not lead to practice; and that is
not a right practice which does not spring from faith. (John Angell
James. Jewels from James)
Kent Hughes writes about a
cartoon in The New Yorker that showed a large sign out in front of a
church which read:
“The Lite Church: 24% Fewer
Commitments, Home of the 7.5% tithe, fifteen-minute sermons,
forty-five-minute worship services. We have only eight
commandments—your choice. We use just three spiritual laws. Everything
you’ve wanted in a church … and less!”
Unfortunately that cartoon
paints an accurate picture. Many people today are looking for a “lite
church,” a “lite faith,” and a “lite commitment.” In the passage we’re
studying today, James asks each of us a question, “Is your faith
genuine?” How can we know if we have real faith or “lite faith?”...
Belief and Behavior—If you don’t
live it, you don’t believe it.
Faith in many ways is like a
wheelbarrow. You have to put some real push behind it to make it work
A line from a Rich Mullins
“Faith without works is like a
screen door on a submarine.”
It’s worthless and it sinks. Do
you claim to have faith? Does your life really show it? A workless
faith is a worthless faith. We must ask ourselves, “If I were arrested
for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?”
From the Peanut Gallery:
The Peanuts comic strip written by Charles Schulz once featured a
brilliant illustration of faith without works: Charlie Brown and Linus
come across Snoopy shivering in the snow. Charlie says, “Snoopy looks
kind of cold, doesn’t he?” Linus replies, “I’ll say. Maybe we’d better
go over and comfort him.” They walk over to the dog, pat his head, and
Charlie Brown says, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.” Linus adds, “Yes, be
of good cheer.” In the final frame, the boys are walking away, still
bundled up in their winter coats. Snoopy is still shivering, and over
his head is a big “?”.
Faith without Works: “No
man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same anymore than he
can come into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the
“A person who professes Christ but who does not live a
Christ-honoring, Christ-obeying life is a fraud.”—John MacArthur
A Story of Fruitful Faith
- In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Keith Green was highly influenced
by his culture. As an aspiring and incredibly talented musician on the
rise, he experimented with eastern religions and drugs. In 1975,
however, he gave his life to Jesus Christ and his music changed to
reflect an energetic faith. While inspirational or worshipful, it was
also exhortative, asking questions like, “How can you be so dead, when
you’ve been so well fed?” And, “How can you be so numb, not to care if
they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done; don’t close
your eyes and pretend the job’s done!” His life reflected his faith:
he took in the homeless, the drunks, the drug abusers, and anyone
else. His Spirit-filled music and ministry to the needy yielded much
fruit. (all the above from Morgan, R. J. Nelson's Annual Preacher's
Sourcebook : 2004 Edition. Page 218. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson
An old boatman painted the word
“faith” on one oar of his boat and “works” on the other. He was asked
his reason for this. In answer, he slipped the oar with “faith” into
the water and rowed. The boat, of course, made a very tight circle.
Returning to the dock, the boatman then said, “Now, let’s try ‘works’
without ‘faith’ and see what happens. The oar marked “works” was put
in place and the boatman began rowing with just the “works” oar. Again
the boat went into a tight circle but in the opposite direction. When
the boatman again returned to the wharf, he interpreted his experiment
in these strong and convincing words, “You see, to make a passage
across the lake, one needs both oars working simultaneously in order
to keep the boat in a straight and narrow way. If one does not have
the use of both oars, he makes no progress either across the lake nor
as a Christian. (10,000 sermon illustrations. Dallas: Biblical Studies
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