|the father of the Hebrews||a Gentile prostitute|
|a man of power and respect||a woman of ill repute|
|the recipient of God’s promises||a breaker of God’s moral laws|
|So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. Roman 3:28||So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. James 2:24|
|Declared righteous in the sight of God||Proved righteous in the sight of others|
|It shows how an unbeliever becomes a Christian||It shows how a believer lives as a Christian|
|Emphasizes the root of salvation||Emphasizes the fruit of salvation|
|Stresses inward disposition||Stresses outward actions|
|Demonstrates God’s part in human participation||Demonstrates human part with God’s participation|
This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
James – Wisdom is Faith in Action 6 – Faith and Works – Daily Wisdom/:
James: Wisdom is Faith In Action – Faith and Worksand Works. Join me on page:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” [e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
I believe most of us have sung the song “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” In some church settings, they also added the verse, “If you’re saved, and you know it, shout Amen!” And then it continues, “If you’re saved, and you know it, then your life will surely show it.” As I was thinking about that phrase, this week gave me pause. I thought, “Lord, does my life really show the faith I profess?” What about all the things I’m called to do daily as a believer in Christ, as a citizen of God’s kingdom? What about all those things that cut crosswise against cultural norms and society’s expectations? So I quickly reviewed the past weeks, months, and years, trying to determine if my life showed my faith. Even a simple children’s song can make us pause and ponder deeper truths in God’s Word.
Someone once said faith is like calories: you can’t see them, but you can always see their results! That’s the central theme resonating throughout James’s letter. We can boil it down to one word—results—authentic faith results in genuine works. Wisdom is Faith in Action. Nowhere does James more passionately argue and illustrate this theme than in 2:14-26. This passage forces us to answer that penetrating question, “If we say we believe as we should, why do we behave like we shouldn’t?”
This section is the central thesis of James’s letter. Everything before this passage is like an arrow pointing forward to it, and everything after this passage is like an arrow pointing back. (White Board) It’s the apex of a pyramid in James’s mind. James asks two rhetorical questions, and we may not be expecting an answer, but he is about to give one. James 2:14: What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
James’s question is like asking, “What good is it to carry around a driver’s license if you can’t or don’t actually drive?” People may be called Christians and claim to be part of the faith, but do they have any genuine results proving their confession is authentic to those around them? As the old saying goes, “The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating” That’s what James is asking. James says that if somebody claims to have faith in Christ, but their life doesn’t show results of faith, that faith might very well be phony.
The second question, “Can that kind of faith save anyone?” refers to a certain quality of faith—that faith that produces no fruit. The implied answer, of course, is a resounding NO! The form of the question in Greek shows that James is asking a rhetorical question that demands a negative response. For the rest of the section, James digs deeper into this basic assertion that phony faith that produces no works may not be genuine saving faith.
In 2:15-20, James sets out four characteristics of genuine faith.
First, genuine faith is not indifferent, but involved (15-16). Carefully consider this illustration. James is making it easy for his readers to decide whether to help these needy people. They’re not being asked to throw charity at ungrateful heathens or wicked blasphemers. These needy folks are genuine “brothers and sisters” with real needs: food and clothing (15). In 1 Timothy 6:8, Paul said, “So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” The people in James’s example didn’t even have the basics of life! They were in dire need, but instead of providing them with clothing or food, James’s hypothetical pretenders of faith send the needy believers away with nothing but a hollow cliché: “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” (16).
Everybody may have experienced something like this from so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe you haven’t missed meals or clothing, but perhaps you’ve endured pain and desperately needed comfort, or you’ve had a specific need that required at least a caring ear and a shoulder to cry on. But instead, you felt a pat on the head and heard a hasty platitude. Instead of reaching out with real help, those who could (and should) have stepped up did nothing to meet your need, but it is a two-way street. That’s James’s indictment.
James isn’t alone in these sentiments. The apostle John says the same in 1 John 3:17: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” If there’s genuine love, it reaches out to others. And if there’s genuine faith, it produces acts of compassion. In James’s definition, genuine faith is not indifferent, but involved.
Second, James urges that genuine faith is not independent, but in partnership (17). James says that results (works) always accompany genuine faith. If it doesn’t have results, it’s “dead.” By “dead,” James means “useless, ineffective, impotent.” It’s the opposite of a living, effective, vibrant faith. In this verse, we might even put quotation marks around “faith,” because the so-called faith that has no works is phony in James’s mind.
Third, genuine faith is not invisible, but on display (18). James puts words in the mouth of a hypothetical person who may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” The argument is subtle. This person agrees with James but claims to have a quiet, invisible, private faith. You’ve met people like that. “I keep my faith to myself,” they say. “I don’t wear my religion on my shirtsleeve.” To a person like that, anybody who actually lives out their faith looks like a fanatic. But the challenge to a personal, passive faith is valid; genuine faith displays itself. If you can’t see it, how can anyone know it exists? It is not a show-off faith of pride, but the humble assistance of others.
Fourth, genuine faith is not intellectual, but from the heart (19-20). James imagines yet another kind of person, the religious intellectual. He knows the facts and can recite the truth, but he doesn’t really have a life that matches the facts. For example, he believes “There is one God” (19). This statement comes straight out of the ancient confession of Judaism called the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4—“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” So this person has his fundamental theology down. He gives intellectual assent to the truth. But it hasn’t penetrated his heart or reached his hands and feet. Those whose faith is merely intellectual have that much in common with demons! Only those whose lives exhibit genuine faith through visible works are better off than demons, whose theology is impeccable, but whose works are abhorrent. In this analogy, we see that demons at least have enough sense of their condition to tremble in terror.
Fifth, driving his case home by repeating his thesis, James writes, “How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (20). This rephrasing of the statement from 2:17 helps us understand what James meant by referring to faith without works as “dead.” Though James doesn’t say that a person without works is dead, he clearly states that faith without works is useless —as good as dead. The point here is to encourage faith-motivated living to stir doubts about salvation.
Let me put this in very practical terms. Suppose a friend or family member has lost his job and can’t buy school clothes for his family. You just got a big raise. But instead of opening your hand to your brother, you pat him on the back and say, “We’ll be praying for you, buddy.” Or put yourself in the other place. An unexpected illness hits your family, and the medical bills make it challenging to stay afloat. Instead of tapping into their benevolence fund to help you through this tough time, you get nothing but a card from the church that says, And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28). In these cases, we see a specific need and an ability to meet the need... but a useless, dead response. In light of James’s indictment, do these responses exemplify genuine faith? No!
As a master teacher, James drives his point home with two biblical examples of true inward faith demonstrated by obvious outward actions. Though he has at his disposal a host of examples of faith and faithfulness in the Old Testament, James selects two extremes: Abraham and Rahab. What a difference! (White Board)
the father of the Hebrews a Gentile prostitute
a man of power and respect a woman of ill repute
the recipient of God’s promises a breaker of God’s moral laws
These two were polar opposites! Yet in selecting these to prove his point, James casts a broad net that captures every one of us listening to his words—every Christian finds him or herself somewhere between Abraham and Rahab. So James’s message about faith and works applies to all of us.y faith. For example, Hebrews:
The Martin Luther Conundrum
If you are familiar with the letters of Paul, you may see an apparent problem jump off the page. In verse 21, James writes, Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? Whoa, Nelly! Right with God by his actions? Doesn’t this contradict what Paul says in Romans? Paul wrote in Romans 3:28, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” How, then, could James say, So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone? (24)? Does James deny the heart of the gospel of grace? Or did Paul get it completely wrong? Neither! James is not disputing Paul, and Paul is not correcting James. These two uses are two sides of the same coin. (Show coin)
PAUL AND JAMES: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. James 2:24
Declared righteous in the sight of God Proved righteous in the sight of others
It shows how an unbeliever becomes a Christian
It shows how a believer lives as a
Emphasizes the root of salvation
Emphasizes the fruit of
Stresses inward disposition Stresses outward actions
Demonstrates God’s part in human participation Demonstrates human part with God’s participation
Once we understand James’s different approach, his illustrations from the actions of Abraham and Rahab make sense. The core commonality between the two is faith. One is saving faith, and the other is living faith. Paul is looking at the root of salvation. At the moment of salvation, you are saved through faith plus nothing. On the other side of the coin, James is looking at the fruit of salvation. After the root of faith is planted, our lives will bear the fruit of good works after salvation. Another contrast involves two different perspectives. Paul looks at life from God’s perspective; James looks at life from the human perspective. Once we understand James’s different approach, his illustrations from the actions of Abraham and Rahab make sense.e to God! The book of Hebrews:
Rahab serves as James’s second example. She was not an Israelite and, therefore, not a member of God’s covenant people. Yet, she went out on a limb and believed that the God of Israel would keep His promises to Israel and deliver her city of Jericho into their hands. We learn Rahab herself became an Israelite. She was one of four Old Testament women included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). What a remarkable example of the lasting fruit of authentic faith!
— 2:26 —
James concludes this section on faith at work with a reiteration of his thesis: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Wherever you find separation, you find death. It’s true in physical life when the spirit is separated from the body. It’s also true in the Christian life.
APPLICATION: JAMES 2:14-26
Feeding a Living Faith
James’s puzzling phrase, “Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions,” can sometimes distract us from the extremely practical principles in this section. Instead of dissecting his words, how about digesting them? Let’s move from the pulpit into the dining room, and let me offer you a five-course meal for making James’s message part of a balanced spiritual diet. I have included on the bulletin insert today this five-course meal plan. I would encourage you to carve out a little time alone each day during the week to think through the practical implications of James’s emphasis on the fruit of genuine faith.
Before clearing the table after those five days, consider what you must do in response to these questions. The book of James is all about hands-on Christianity. He’s telling us to stop sitting on our hands and use them to do God’s work! So the next time you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, use a hammer and a nail, or season food with salt and pepper, think of faith and works. They go together like hand and glove.
Next week our topic may even be more difficult for most of us, and it is Bridling the Tongue from James 3:1- 12. Would you please read it this week?