“Can faith save?”
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 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? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
This passage speaks a great deal about faith, and that is exactly what is necessary for each of us to exercise, when we read a portion of Scripture, that at first glance and with a limited knowledge, seems to contradict that which we know to be true! We must trust God and His perfect Book more than our own understanding or interpretation. The position I take is, “That sounds funny, let me study until I find the nugget of truth beneath the surface!”
2:14. In this verse we find James’ thought provoking question that causes sparks to fly. “Can faith save?”
- Say WHAT!?! This is a book of answers and now we find in its text a question that sounds all wrong!
- Jesus’ little brother who is at the time of this writing Pastor James of the Church at Jerusalem.
- This guy was no slouch; he grew up next to the Master, and was called by God to be the first pastor.
- He’s the only Pastor to write Scripture
- James was NOT asking this question in an open forum seeking feedback, but rather in a timeless, God inspired document with a lesson to follow.
“Brethren” he was writing to believers!
“Can faith save him?” Before that question can be answered, we must ask, “Save us from what?” Our immediate conclusion may be “Salvation from hell”, but this could also be salvation from the discipline that follows disobedience.
Hebrews 12:6-8 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
2:15-16. Here James, just like all good preachers, breaks down his statement and begins his lesson with a fitting illustration. If we were to put that illustration in a modern setting, I believe it would go something like this:
- Your neighbor is desperate. – no food – old clothes – no job.
- You’re watching TV with a snack, when there’s a knock on your door.
- You open the door and say, "Wow, Neighbor. Have you lost a lot of weight, or what!? Man, you need to get you some food!"
- He says, "We need help! We have no food, old clothes, and no job!”
- You then respond "Wow! That's tough, hope you find some food. See ya!”
2:17. James says, if that is how you treat your fellow man, then you missed the whole “CHRIST-LIKE” idea, and your FAITH IS DEAD. It’s like a dead battery in your car, you may have one, but if there’s no charge there’s no benefit of having the battery!
[Dead]: no longer alive! “Dead faith” indicates it was once alive and useful
- Dead faith has no hope; Dead faith has no vision.
It has no future, only past experience; it has no actions, only missed chances.
2:18. The key to this whole passage is found right here in this verse!
- “A man may say” – Our works EXPOSE our faith or lack thereof to others.
- “I will shew thee my faith by my works” We let others know “In whom we have believed” when we do the works HE would do.
I heard a preacher say this one time, and it is spot-on! “Good works are what we are saved to rather than what we are saved by”
2:19. Here, James puts down what was and is a common answer to the question of faith. “I believe in God!”
- The devils believe and even they have enough sense to fear Him!
- Because he repeated the statement, “faith without works is dead”; Obviously, the crowd that this statement was directed toward was one that did not live the faith they were claiming to posess!
He refers to them as “vain”
[Vain]: False; deceitful; not genuine;
- He calls him a “vain man”… not a brother!
- His target audience in this portion of the message was not born again believers.
· Believing that God exists in NOT sufficient for salvation.
· We must believe that He died in our place and arose!
For instance, what if I go round telling everyone that I'm a giraffe? If I did something crazy like that, you'd be looking for something we call evidence. You'd say, "But a giraffe has four legs, antlers, a long neck, is incredibly tall. That doesn't sound like you at all. VAIN or DEAD FAITH!
2:21-23. Abraham’s obedience based on God’s promise proved that the faith of Abraham was genuine!
“Was not Abraham justified by works”
[Justify]: To prove or show to be just, or conformable to law, right, justice, propriety or duty; to defend or maintain; to vindicate as right.
- There will be times when our faith is tested, but God does not need testing to prove anything to Himself. He is omniscient!
- God allows our faith to be tested so that through exercise it will be strengthened, but more importantly, that we may experience the victory that He alone can bring!
It is vital to note the time of Abraham’s salvation:
- He was justified in the eyes of God at the age of 85 (Gen 15:6/16:16)
- He was justified for the eyes of man, to which this passage refers, many years later. (Gen. 22:1-14)
[Imputed]: Charged to the account of; attributed; ascribed.
He became known by his faith as a result of his actions. God can see our faith, but men can see only our works of faith!!
2:25. (We will come back to 2:24 – James illustrates his point twice.)
Also, It is vital to note the time of Rahab’s salvation: (Joshua 2:1-14 /15-16)
Her saving faith was exposed much closer to the time of her showing faith!
- How do you know when she was saved? (Hebrews 11:31)
- Abraham and Rahab clearly illustrate a broad base of salvation stories.
He was saved and it was not obvious to everyone else for many years, but she was saved and it was almost immediately evident. Granted she was a harlot and he was for all intents and purposes a “good man”.
2:24. James has now illustrated his lesson and is now stating it plainly. We are saved by Christ and given a home in Heaven we accept His absolutely free gift of salvation through saving faith.
- Others become aware of our justification by the works they see us do.
- If all you ever do is ask God for salvation and you never have the desire to serve Him or to live more like Him or to know Him more intimately then perhaps your lack of good works has proven you have “DEAD FAITH”?!
- You may have had faith enough to be saved but you lack the faith to pass that life on to others.
- OR - You may have never actually been saved?
- A great deal of confusion about eternal security comes from those who at one time claimed to be saved, but now their faith is dead.
2:26. A beautiful and wonderful conclusion is placed here at the end of this passage! James compares a faith lacking evidence to a body lacking movement or signs of life.
- A body may be in a coma with no signs of life and yet technically alive. That person may still possess a pulse, but without medical knowledge of that person we would assume him dead.
- A believer may accept Christ and never show obvious signs of transformation. That does not mean he is not going to Heaven, but it does make it impossible for others to confirm.