Seeking Wisdom in Difficult Days
A Study of James
A Faith that Works
The churches that James is writing to have been scattered from Jerusalem and are all over the Roman empire. As the church scattered they would be living in communities where there would be constant pressure just to blend in, and to not cause any trouble. Christians, no matter what the generation, are commanded to “go and make disciples.” We are to share our faith, and lead others to Christ.
For this early church, as is true today, there would be a constant pressure to make Christianity as easy as possible for people to follow and to water down any doctrine that may be offensive to a lost world. So, it appears that among the churches, James is dealing with how do we define faith in Christ and what does the Christian life look like? If the person just says they are a Christian – shouldn’t that be enough. Just state a creed, a belief statement, and you are in. You can’t see their heart, who are you to judge?
What Good is A Dead Faith? (vv. 14-17)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James mentions in 2:1-13 that there should be no partiality in the church, and now he moves to another issue facing the dispersed church. In vv. 14-26 he “attacks the notion that a confession of faith guarantees salvation regardless of the conduct by the believer; in other words, that the recital of a creed makes a man acceptable to God despite his behavior toward others.” Christians are not to show partiality in the church, but at the same time there are fellow Christian brothers and sisters who need help.
James is using the word “faith” and it is indicating different people depending on the context of how he is using the word. There are some who are expressing their “faith” in Christ but their lives have no deeds that are associated with being a Christian.
Then there are those that express a “faith” in Christ and also have the associated deeds of being a Christian. People who say they are believers do or do not have deeds that go along with being a Christian. Strauss says, “The appeal is to be what you say you believe.”
James begins by asking the question, “What good is it?” to say you are a Christian but not live the life of a Christian? James says such a faith is dead. What good is it to have a dead faith? It doesn’t save you at the time of judgment, and it doesn’t make the world a better place – this person has ignored the needs of those around them and is giving out useless tropes “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” Which also makes Christianity look back as a whole (hypocrites).
This is the same as giving a “thumbs up” on Facebook to some social issue your friend posts. They say, “we must stop sex trafficking . . .” So you give him a thumbs up, and scroll on your way. Have you actually done anything to stop sex trafficking? No. Have you done something to appease your guilt that someone should do something? Yes.
So, is praying for someone useless? It is the same as saying may God take care of your need to a fellow Christian. God has brought them to you, you have the means to help them, you know they need they are “poorly clothed and lacking in daily food.” But take no action to help them. Compassion and action is a characteristic of a believer. One could also say, “are we supposed to feed and clothe everyone?” This is an exaggeration and leads to doing nothing. You help those you can with the resources you have.
There is an important distinction to make with regard to faith and deeds. We place our faith in Jesus Christ which then, out of a thankful and obedient heart, leads to actions.
Faith Is Shown By Works; Three Examples (vv. 18-26)
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
James insists that you cannot separate faith and works and then goes on to give three examples to make his point (demons, Abraham, and Rahab).
1) Demons Have Faith But No Deeds (v. 19)
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
The Jewish people would say the Shema twice-a-day; so the dispersed church would still hold to Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Reciting this truth, as all the Jewish people would have done, does not constitute true faith. Simply, stating beliefs is not a living faith. The demons have a monotheistic faith.
Demons are not atheists, they believe that there is one God, but their understanding, faith, doctrinal statement, can not save them. They believe the right things but their faith is not expressed in action. “Religion that is worth something involves action that grows from the heart.”
Intellectual assent – is the belief that something exists, but not doing anything with that belief. The demons are acknowledging facts – but they are not placing any faith on those facts. There is no righteous action in their lives based on their understanding that God is real, Jesus is the Son of God, etc. “A genuine belief in the truth will produce a genuine behavior of the truth.”
Simon the sorcerer is an example of a person who mentally believes but is not saved. Acts 8:13 “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.”
Acts 8:20-22 “But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” “Here is a man who believed all that the demons believe, was baptized, but was without real repentance for his sin.” 
“A dead faith that does not move you to place all your trust in Christ is no better than the faith of demons and will send you ultimately to hell with the demons.”
2) Abraham Had Faith and Deeds (vv. 20-23)
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
James calls the person who believes they can be saved by words or confession of a creed alone a “fool.” Which at first sounds harsh, but he is addressing the fool from a moral perspective.
It is a heart issue because even though evidence has been given, the immoral person wants even more evidence. They are happy to just say or expose being a Christian, but they do not actually want to do anything Christian.
We see the word “justified” in verse 21 and verses 24, 25, and it means “An instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.”
We are all guilty of committing the crime of sin, but because God is judge, we are found “not guilty.” This is not to say a person did or did not do the crime – it is a legal finding of “not guilty.” Or that you don’t have to face the penalty of a crime (someone else has taken the full extent of the justice given for your crime).
James is emphasizing that this justification will take place at the judgment. Faith is always revealed in deeds, and these deeds are taken into consideration at the judgement. When James uses “justification” he is meaning the actions as proof of the person’s salvation, not that the actions lead to justification.
“Faith is a personal response in genuine attitude to the grace of God which Jesus proclaimed and manifested in his life, death, and resurrection. It is a relationship or trust, loyalty, gratitude, and affection.” So faith is taking action based on one’s belief in the promises of God.
The Jewish people believed that because they were direct relatives of Abraham, then they would gain entrance to heaven based on that relationship. The Jews came to rely so much on the “merit” of Abraham’s faith that they felt that all they had to say “We have Abraham to our father (Matt. 3:9). James shows that Abraham was a man of faith and that his faith led him to take action.
“A man is justified only by the kind of faith which does the things God commands. That faith which refuses to obey God is not the faith that saves. Real faith that saves is a faith that works.”
There are two types of justification, the justification before men, and the justification before God. Romans 4:2 says, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? – When faith is genuine, it will follow in obedience no matter how great the cost. In obedience to the command to sacrifice his son, Abraham began with faith (Heb. 11:8), left his home and moved his family by faith (Heb. 11:9) and sacrificed by faith (Heb. 11:17). Abraham lived a life of faith that was full of obedient action. Abraham’s faith in God was real because it governed Abraham’s life.
“You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;” The idea here is that faith is brought into maturity through action. Faith directs and motivates action; action matures faith. James is saying that the two are inseparable. We learn and grow in our relationship with God as we act and move and do what He commands and directs us to do.
Abraham moved his family, believed God when he pointed to the stars of the sky and eventually gave him a son in his old age. Abraham had faith and action as he laid Isaac on the alter – He grew as a believer as he acted in obedience.
3) Rahab Had Faith and Deeds (vv. 24-26)
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Rahab is listed in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1:5, and as one of the “Heroes of the Faith” in Hebrews 11:31 “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” She is also in Joshua chapter 2 and 6. Abraham and Rahab are polar opposites – the patriarch and the prostitute – both are given as examples of faith with deeds.
***review the story of Rahab.
When did Rahab place her faith in God? She had already heard of God before the spies arrived, she told them, “And as soon as we heard it, hour hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you . . .” (Joshua 2:11-12)
We don’t know exactly when she placed her faith in God, but she was justified before the Lord when she hid the spies, and when she tied the scarlet rope to her window, and when she waited with her family during the battle – she trusted the Lord to do what He said He would do.
It is amazing that Rahab is given as an example of a person who had faith and works, while at the same time did not have a foundation of doctrine (she didn’t grow up in the church), she was a prostitute, and she lied. “Rahab was justified by her faith because she performed works of mercy and showed hospitality to God’s people. (Bede)”
She is also an example of a person whose life wasn’t perfect, it was messy – yet she placed her faith in God and took Him at His word. Her actions of hiding the spies and risking her own life to save God’s people was a first step of continued deeds that would strengthen her faith and make her more like the woman God intended for her to be.
James finishes his argument with an analogy, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Ultimately James is not contrasting faith and deeds, but a dead faith and a living faith. Faith alone without works is as dead as a body without breath.
 Pheme Perkins, Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude (Louisville, Kentucky; John Knox Press; 1995) 113.
 George Arthur Buttrick, Gen. Ed., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1957) 40.
 “Can authentic faith find expression in a confession of right doctrine? Can authentic faith be expressed merely as sentiment that never reaches the point of action?” David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary, James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1997) 148. We Baptists, who are “people of the book,” must be careful that our focus on correct doctrine and biblical teaching does not crowd out our works of compassion and meeting the needs of those in our world. One is worthless without the other.
 Lehman Strauss, James Your Brother (Neptune, New Jersey; Loizeaux Brothers, 1980) 104.
 Clifton J. Allen, Gen. Ed., The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press; 1972) 117.
 Allen, 119.
 David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary, James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1997) 152.
 Strauss, 105.
 Ibid, 107.
 Ibid, 109.
 The crook is the one who harms another person but not themselves; the fool is the person who harms both others and themselves; and the wise is the person who does no harm neither to themselves nor another.
 Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1999) 488.
 A.T. Robertson, Studies in the Epistle of James (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1959) 92.
 Buttrick, 44.
 Robertson, 99.
 Strauss, 113.
 Peter H. Davids, New International Biblical Commentary, James (Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishing, 1983) 69.
 Joshua 2.
 Helen Wodehouse, “We think we must climb to a certain height of goodness before we can reach God. But he says not “At the end of the way you will find me”; He says, “I am the Way; I am the road under your feet, the road that begins just as low as you happen to be.” If we are in a hole the Way begins in the hole. The moment we set our face in the same direction as His, we are walking with God.”
 So what do we do with the fact that she lied as to the direction the spies went, and is in the same sentence described as “justified?”
 Thomas Oden, Gen. Ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Volume 11 (Downers Grove, Illinois; Intervarsity Press, 2000) 28.