The right TOOLS for the job
Faith Without Deeds is Dead!
If you watch a lot of medical shows on TV you’ll see the doctors and nurses working feverishly to make sure someone stays alive. They’re constantly using the tools in the ER or OR to keep someone alive. They’re checking blood pressure. They’ve got them hooked up to heart monitors and pulse taking machines. All of these tools are designed to make sure someone is alive and healthy. How do we determine if our Faith is Alive or Dead?
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? 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,” 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.
Imagine you are going to purchase a new car. How would you evaluate all your options? What type of information and assurance would you expect to hear from the sales person?
What about something much deeper and more personal, like your faith? How can you evaluate or test the genuineness of your faith? Explain.
What speaks louder—a person’s actions or words? Explain your answer. What, according to James, are some actions that coincide with genuine faith?
James used the example of Abraham to justify his argument. What point did he make?
God, help my life to represent your life. Help me to show my faith by my actions and deeds. Thank you for loving me with your deeds and not just with your words. Amen!
Are you tired of playing church and ready to give yourself wholeheartedly to Jesus? Why do our best works come after we have given up all the control in our lives to Jesus Christ?
How does hearing about God and processing His truth with others help grow and nurture your faith?
Verses 14-17 show that faith without deeds becomes an empty claim. Verses 18-20 denounce a faith which has become the mere acceptance of a creed.
2:14. Two rhetorical questions here expect negative answers. Three features of the questions are important. First, they accept the reader’s claim to faith, but do not assume that the claim without works represents saving faith. The absence of deeds of obedience in this person’s life makes the claim highly suspicious, if not outright wrong!
Second, the topic is not faith in general but a specific kind of faith, one which has no deeds. Such in the NIV text implies this focus. The question is not, “Can faith save the lost?” Of course, faith saves the lost.
The question is,“Can a faith without deeds save the lost?” The answer to that question is “no.” A verbal testimony alone is not an adequate evidence that true saving faith is present. Only works of obedience can prove the presence of genuine faith. Verse 15 provides an example of such deeds. Third, save refers to acquittal at the final judgment. Only a faith that produces works can provide security in the final judgment.
Prospective drivers of automobiles and trucks must pass a written test on road rules and a skill test on the road. Lawyers must pass the bar examination, and accountants must pass the CPA exam. Students in all institutions must show their knowledge on examinations. It is only reasonable to realize that our profession of Christianity demands a test. That test is the production of works. Without works to demonstrate faith our claim becomes false, and we show our deception.
2:15-16. These verses offer a parable in miniature, illustrating the person who has the type of faith that cannot save. Verse 15 pictures people who needed clothes and food. Cold and hungry, these believers desperately needed the necessities of life!
Verse 16 shows how the person who claims to have faith approaches these needy people: with an offer of good wishes but no practical help. Go, I wish you well offers a good-bye to the needy person. Apparently, the speaker could have helped, but he chose to do nothing except offer kind expressions. Both John the Baptist (Luke 3:7-14) and Jesus (Matt. 7:15-27) condemned professions of piety without action.
2:17. Verse 17 concludes the matter. Good wishes consisting of mere talk are empty of all reality and lifeless. Offering only good wishes to the cold and the hungry serves to depress further those who are starving and chilled. They need more than good wishes. They need practical help.
A faith not accompanied by action, that is faith alone, having no works to distinguish it, is dead. Anything with life produces fruit. The living are the acting, creating things that reveal their nature and character. Faith in Jesus produces actions revealing the nature and character of Jesus. The dead lie still doing nothing. So faith that lies still, inactive, proves it is dead. True faith brings salvation and life, not death.
2:18. James 2:14-17 warns that faith without works represents an empty claim. Beginning in verse 18, we are warned against a faith which merely accepts a creed. Here are the limitations of mere intellectual faith. Saving faith involves a commitment to Jesus Christ which produces works or deeds.
Verse 18 represents a dialog with an imaginary opponent. The opponent says: You have faith; I have deeds. James responded: Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. In other words, the opponent claims, “James, you ought to let some people emphasize faith while others emphasize works.” James insisted, “Real faith shows itself in deeds.” You simply cannot find an example of real faith that does not show itself in works. We have no room for some people to emphasize faith while others stress deeds. You must have both. Genuine commitment to Jesus Christ demonstrates its presence by deeds. Faith produces works. You can’t have one without the other.
2:19. Verse 19 speaks to the person claiming to have faith but lacking works. This kind of person merely gives intellectual assent to the creed of monotheism. This basic creed of Judaism appeared in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The statement is intellectually true, but it doesn’t proceed far enough. A person must believe in God to be a Christian, but not everyone who acknowledges the existence of God has made a commitment to Jesus Christ.
Even demons believe in the existence of one God. They shudder with fear at the thought of God (see Matt. 8:29). The behavior of demons demonstrated that someone can believe the right thing and still have an evil character.
2:20. Verse 20 calls on the objector to recognize that the conclusions of verses 18-19 are correct while also introducing verses 21-26. James appeals to us to become learners.
Foolish also appears in Mark 12:3, translated “empty-handed.” The objector was spiritually foolish or willfully ignorant. The last word of the verse is different in important Greek manuscripts. King James follows the reading of many manuscripts in translating: “dead.” Most modern versions follow Greek manuscripts with a word which means useless or “barren.” The same Greek word in 2 Peter 1:8 is translated “ineffective.” James selected Abraham and Rahab as examples of people who showed genuine faith by their deeds.
2:21-23. Verse 21 picks up the Old Testament incident in which Abraham showed his willingness to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-18). Verse 23 refers to the incident in which “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6), which took place at least thirty years before that of Genesis 22.
Verse 21 concludes that Abraham showed his righteousness by his willingness to offer Isaac on the altar. The saving faith of Abraham showed itself by his total obedience to God in the matter of offering up Isaac. The faith James commended moves the heart and controls the life. James was demanding that true faith must be alive and vital.
Verse 22 states two facts about Abraham’s faith. First, his faith and his actions were working together. Abraham’s faith prompted his obedience. It prodded him on to do good works. Second, his faith was made complete by what he did. His obedience demonstrated the integrity of his faith. This is not to say that previously Abraham had a weak faith. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac vividly demonstrated the existence of true faith.
Verse 23 summarizes the entire process. Abraham’s obedience showed he was a righteous man. God declared Abraham righteous as a matter of grace. Abraham showed the reality of this righteousness by his actions in Genesis 22. As a result of this obedience, God drew Abraham into a closer fellowship with him and called him God’s friend.
2:24. Verse 24 presents the conclusions about Abraham. Abraham had shown the reality of his faith by his willingness to offer Isaac in obedience to God’s command. We are made right in God’s sight through a faith which produces works. This does not claim that God justifies his people by our deeds. The Bible insists that saving faith must show itself by visible commitment to the Lord and compassion for others. Faith alone will bring salvation to anyone, but saving faith does not come alone. It is accompanied by works which show the genuineness of faith.
2:25. This section turns to the example of good works from the life of Rahab. Abraham was a man of prominent position and exemplary character. Rahab came from a background of degradation and insignificance. James insisted that these contrasting personalities showed deeds which demonstrated their righteousness.
Rahab (see Josh. 2) received into her home Israelites whom Joshua sent to spy out the city of Jericho. She hid them in her home and protected them from their pursuers. She deliberately misled the pursuers by sending them off in a different direction while she continued to hide the spies. Later, she guided the spies in making their escape. If residents—especially the rulers— of Jericho had known of her acts of disloyalty, they would likely have put her to death. Joshua 2:8-13 makes it clear that Rahab’s faith in Israel’s God caused her to protect his representatives.
2:26. In Genesis 2:7, God formed the first human being by breathing life into his body. The union of spirit and body produced a living human being. In death the spirit returns to God, and the body decays into dust. A body without the spirit is a corpse.
In the same way faith without works is also dead. A person claiming to have faith but lacking works is spiritually as lifeless as a corpse. An inactive faith, entombed in a creed affirmed by the intellect, has no more usefulness than a body with no heartbeat or breath. James did not intend to belittle correct doctrinal views, but he demanded practical holiness as an evidence of real faith.