What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not
have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed
and lacking in daily food, 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
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. You
believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do
you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is
useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his
son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and
faith was completed by his works; 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. You see that a person is
justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so
also faith apart from works is dead.
The question of the
relationship between faith and works is something that has been considered by
the church for a long time. This was the spark of the 16th century
reformation in Europe. It is the dividing line between the Roman Catholics
& (true) Protestants. I qualify Protestants because so many have secretly
abandoned this narrow way to the Celestial City. I pray that this sermon will
redress the balance, sound the alarm and bring them back to this strait path.
by faith alone
The free grace of God,
by which our salvation is anchored, is only obtained by faith alone apart from
the works of the law. If you would bring nothing in your hand and cling to the
cross of Christ; if you would come naked then you’re sure to be dressed by the
righteousness of Christ; if you acknowledge how helpless you are, then the free
grace of Christ of is up for grabs without money. Yes, drink from the fountain of
grace, without money.
Paul so emphatically
For we hold that one is justified
by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom 3:28)
…yet we know that a person is not
justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also
have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be
justified. (Gal 2:16)
The Reformers were so
clear and zealous in defending the doctrine of salvation by faith alone apart
from works. Our Protestant and Reformed position demands that we chant Sola Fide, that is, we depend on Faith
Alone apart from the works for our salvation.
So what is James
saying in this passage? Has Pastor James lost such a basic doctrine at this
point? Is he teaching that salvation depends on faith plus works? Is James in
conflict with the rest of the Scriptures? The answer is NO! James is teaching
that our salvation comes by faith which is demonstrated by our works. He is not
teaching how we become saved, rather, he is teaching how we are to live after
The point to be
underlined here is that Paul and James are dealing with different people and
different problems. Paul on the one hand was addressing legalistic unconverted
Pharisees of his day while James on the other hand was addressing Christian brothers (v.14) who may have been
tempted to antinomianism, and licentiousness.
James is interested in
demonstrating a living, active, working, saving faith. He then asks us what
happens in our lives and draws many examples to show what true, genuine faith
is like? Or to bring it closer home, what faith have you, living or dead faith?
He presents us with four illustrations from which he makes conclusion about at
the end of each of the illustration:
is possible to have a spurious faith (vv. 14-16).
There is such a thing
as a false claim of faith and so James tells us that it is possible for someone to say that he has faith but it
is only a claim. A false profession, if you will. The Lord constantly exhorts
us to believe in Christ and be saved. But
James pulls out two examples of showing spurious faith:
illustrates with a hypothetical man who professes to be a Christian but has
nothing to show for his faith, more than his words. He lives a life without
caring to meet the needs of a Christian who is poorly clothed and lacking in
daily food. He has no love for his neighbour as himself.
illustration of verses 15-16 applies to the first question on verse 14, since
the same question is repeated in verse 16, asking once again what good, or
benefit is having a kind of faith that would see a naked brother and do nothing
about it except pour out empty words? Even words that sound pious are not good
enough. A situation of dire need has gone unprovided for, an opportunity to
show Christian love has been wasted, and an occasion to demonstrate Christian faith
has been forfeited.
giving this example, James wants us to question whether profession of faith is
a good enough evidence of saving faith. This question is important at a time
like this when there is what we can call, easy believism, propagated by the
so-called altar-call. All you need is to hear the gospel (and most often than
not the gospel presented is not gospel at all), and then be asked if you want
to be saved. If you do, you are requested to repeat the preacher’s prayer. As soon
as you say amen, you are immediately pronounced a believer! If you confess with
your mouth, without believing in your heart, and without living accordingly,
you are not saved!
If this man goes on to
live a wicked life, he is dubbed a carnal Christian and is required to have a
second experience of salvation when he is supposed to be ‘spirit-filled’. The
question is how can a man be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and still remain
unchanged? How can one be raised from spiritual death and still continue stinking
of sin and worldliness? How can a spiritually blind man have his eyes opened by
Jesus Christ and still not see the glory of God in the face of His Son? How can
a slave of sin be set free from its bondage, power and misery, but still remain
enslaved by the same misery? When one gets saved, he becomes a new creation,
the old is gone, the new has come.
person that James presents has no kindness. He does not care for the needy
among brethren. He has no love – so his ‘faith’ does not work in love. The
Bible is so clear that Christians have a special responsibility to their fellow
believers (Gal. 6:10). The needy Christian has real basic needs – clothing and
food, it can’t get more basic, can it? Instead of seeking to meet this need, he
wishes them well, “Go in peace, be warmed
and filled.” Thomas Manton succinctly puts it like this, “The poor will not
thank you for your good wishes, neither will God for saying your faith!”
faith shows itself in the love for the neighbour, and especially those of the
household of faith. Therefore, Apostle John underscores it this way: If anyone says, "I love God,"
and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom
he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have
from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1Jn 4:20-21)
James then on the
second place tells us of demons in order to expose by illustrating this fake
and spurious faith. There are no atheists in the demon world. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and
demons believe in Deuteronomy 6:4. They are so orthodox in their belief, for
they believe that there is one God – demons are monotheistic! Are they not the
ones who identified Jesus first, as the Son of God? See, Mark 1:24 and Matthew
8:29. The devil knows a good amount of the Bible, to be able to twist its truth
to his own damnation. This is what he did in the Garden of Eden. The demons
believe in the eternal existence and power of God.
But they believe and
shudder. That is the thought of God brings terror, fear and misery on the
demons. For they have no hope of fellowship with God ever. Their faith is not a
faith that brings them peace with God. Rather it is a faith of terror that is
fully persuaded of the eternal condemnation that await them. They well know
their destiny is far from the presence of God, being at enmity with God now.
What faith do the
demons have? They have the faith of knowledge. Faith comes by knowledge (by
hearing the Word of God) and so in so far as their body of faith is concerned,
they have an orthodox understanding of the truths of the Bible. They have
intellectual faith, and would tick the truths of the Bible about God. Yet, this
is not the saving faith, for it does not trust in Christ for salvation.
Faith in Christ does
not lead to fear, for truth faith casts away fear. In fact, true faith leads to
peace with God, so that communion and fellowship with God is automatic for one
who has been reconciled with God by His Son’s blood. In speaking about this.,
once again Apostle John nails it when he says,
confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we
have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and
whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love
perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment,
because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but
perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears
has not been perfected in love. (1Jn 4:15-18)
Undoubtedly, there is
a kind of faith that is not the saving faith. It may look genuine, but it is a
spurious faith and will not bring anyone to the Celestial city. Therefore, here
is a call to evaluate and reevaluate your faith to make sure that it is a true,
saving faith. Examine and re-examine your
faith. Would you evaluate your faith now? Examine to see if your faith is
spurious or genuine, if it is living or dead, if it is active or useless.
Don’t be content with
a faith that will not put a piece of bread to a starving sister. Don’t put any
value on faith that will not cover a naked brother. You’ll show me your faith,
not by profession only, but by good works. This is the response he gave to the
objector of verse 18, who says, “You have
faith and I have works.” The point is James is not really contrasting faith
and works, as if these were two alternative options in one’s approach to God.
He is, rather, contrasting a faith that, because it is inherently defective,
produces no works and a faith that, because it is genuine, does result in
So James ends these
two examples with very sharp conclusions:
·So also faith by
itself, if it does not have works, is dead (v.17).
·Do you want to be
shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (v.20)
This can be shown to
be the case with what the Lord taught in Matt. 25:41-46:
he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal
fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was
hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked
and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we
see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did
not minister to you?'Then he will answer them,
saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of
these, you did not do it to me.'And these will
go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
you not have true faith?
Pastor James, carried
along by the Holy Spirit in holy inspiration, moves on to demonstrate the
foolishness of thinking that words constitute faith. Do you want to be shown you foolish person that faith apart from works
is useless? (v.20) He moves on to show this proposition by providing two OT
believers, patriarch Abraham and prostitute Rahab. One a Jew and another a
Canaanite. One a man and the other a woman. A hero of faith and ‘minnow’ of
faith as it outwardly looks. In doing this James silences anyone who might
dismiss Abraham as special. But both are actually in the hall of faith in Heb
The illustration of Abraham is masterful
because he is the father of faith and Jews and Gentiles can identify with him. Paul
uses him to show that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law
in both Romans 4 and Galatians 3. In fact Paul says that those of faith are sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). There were many
incidences in his life that can demonstrate his faith, from when he was called
from Ur of the Chaldeans. But James goes all the way to Genesis 22 when he
obeyed God’s instruction to offer his son of the promise Isaac and in so doing,
he demonstrated his unqualified faith in God.
We notice that Abraham’s
faith, having been given in Genesis 15, was accompanied with the actions of
faith, shown by his unswerving obedience to God. The two must not be separated,
as the root and shoot. Faith is the root of obedience and true obedience can
only come from the root of faith. The two are not mutually exclusive – in fact
they complement each other. It was his unswerving faith that made Abraham trust
the promises of God, even believing that God was able to raise him up and so
fulfill his promises of blessing him through Isaac (see. Heb.11:19). Abraham’s
faith produced obedience so whoever is a child of Abraham, has true faith and
true faith obeys (John 8:39).
Faith was active along
with his works, and faith was completed by his works. The point being made here
is not that Abraham’s faith was deficient until he obeyed God, but that his
obedience in Moriah demonstrated what metal his faith was made of! His faith
was not made on his presumption – it was made of the promise that, when he
believed in the promises of God, God credited into his account righteousness of
God. His justification was a gracious act of God, but his obedience was a proof
of the presence of God’s grace in his life. If he had acted in disobedience continuing
to claim God’s grace, then this would have been a spurious faith.
Since Abraham’s faith
proved to be a genuine faith by his obedience, then the Bible records the
wonderful blessing that came with this. He was so privileged as to be called a friend of God! It cannot get
better than that. He was reconciled with God, he had peace with God that he was
regarded to be a friend of God. It is interesting to see the contrast the
demons who are terrified, with Abraham who was at perfect peace God as to
become God’s friend (see, Isa. 41:8; 2 Chron. 20:7)
is clear that by two or more witnesses shall truth be established. So James
calls out the second witness to the dock. But the question might linger why he
would pull out a seemingly weak witness as Rahab – I mean she was a woman, and
a prostitute for that matter. Her witness would be rejected by the Jews of the
twelve tribes in the dispersion, since a testimony of a woman was not regarded
at all. Why did James bring Rahab of all the people, having been a Canaanite?
that people are constantly raising all sorts of objections against the truths of
the gospel. So I can envisage someone objecting to James – “…thank you very much for bringing Abraham. But James,
you very well know that Abraham was special – just look at the privileges he
had with God… I am only an ordinary Christian.” But James responded to the
objector who wanted to be classified as ‘an ordinary Christian’ to observe the
example of Rahab. She was a prostitute. And this should tell us that no one is
outside the realm of God’s rich grace. The grace of God can make the foulest
clean. A prostitute like Rahab was transformed by the grace of God and
immediately made a trophy of God’s saving grace.
people who can say that, “Well, salvation is only for the Jews. I have no hope
of salvation being a gentile.” But James once again points to his evidence of
the extent of the riches of the grace of God in Rahab, who was a Caananite. It does
not matter whether one is a Jew or gentile. A man or a woman. As soon as she
was saved, she made the most remarkable confession to the spies. See Joshua
2:9-10 and went on to hide them. She was saved by her faith and she
demonstrated her saving faith immediately by he hospitality to the strangers. She
protected them to her own detriment.
consider that Rahab demonstrated her faith by putting her own life at risk in order
to care for the spies, who while in Jericho were aliens, then you would see the
work of God’s saving grace. God’s law called for his people to look after the orphans,
the widows, and the aliens. Rahab’s faith was a genuine faith as to obey the
law of God even though she was ignorant of it!
have it? You say that you are a believer, you do well. Even the demons believe
and shudder. You will show your faith to be genuine by your priorities. Some of
you are irregular in church attendance, rarely pray, rarely give to the
ministry of the church, you do not take up any responsibilities or show any
interest in washing the feet of the saints and yet you think that you are Christians.
love God and they enjoy a close communion with Him. They have the peace of God.
They love His people as well. If you live as the world does without any
practical care for God’s people, dragging the name of Christ along, then you
deceive yourself. If you say that your religion is Christianity, and yet disobey
the law of God, then His love is not perfected in you.
By this we
know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our
lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his
brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in
him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before
him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he
knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence
before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his
commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we
believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he
has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.
And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1Jn 3:16-24)
 Moo, D, (2000),
The Letter of James (p.126),Grand
Rapids, MI, Eerdermans Publishing Co.