Faith without works is dead

James 2:14-26 Bible Study – Faith Without Works is Dead

Here is a powerpoint of the sharing. Scroll below for the written study.

It may be hard to imagine now, but a long time ago I had more hair on my head. As a boy, I was very blond. My hair was almost white it was so blond. I come from a large family, with 7 brothers and sisters (8 of us total). My older sibling all had dark hair.

So they did the logical thing. They did what most brothers and sisters would do. They teased me that I was adopted. Of course, they did this when my parents weren’t around to correct them.

I asked the question, “Am I really adopted? Was I born into this family?” Now that I am older, I realize it didn’t matter either way. Adoption is just as good and real as being born into the family. In fact, my younger sister is adopted.

But as a child, it was a crisis. Did I really belong or was I a pretender? That was an important question I needed answered.

Was I adopted?

Today we are going to look at a far more important question. The question is, “Is my faith real?” Or put another way, “Am I really saved?”

This is probably the most important question you can ever ask.

In the book of James, he gives several tests for determining genuine faith. The first is in chapter 1. If you persevere under trials, you receive the crown of life. Perseverance in the face of trials proves the sincerity of one’s faith.

In the passage today, he gives another test. Good works. Fruit.

As we go through this passage today, let us consider that question, “Is my faith real?”

Is my faith real?

James 2:14-26 – 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.

I. What is James saying? – Doctrine

Question – What uses is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but has no works?

Thesis – Faith without works is dead

A. Compare/contrast with justification by faith

A cursory comparison of Paul’s teachings with James seems to show a contradiction.

Romans 3:28 – For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

See also – Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:28, Romans 4:5

Paul says we are justified by faith and James says that faith without works is dead. Ask your neighbor, “Who is right?”

The answer is “both.” These are two sides of the coin. They are emphasizing different things because their audiences have different struggles.

Paul was writing to churches that were heavily influenced by the Judaizers. These were people who taught that faith in Jesus was not enough for salvation. A person had to also keep the law.

James was writing to people who evidently went too far in the other direction and said they had faith, but without life change.

They were correcting two different errors related to salvation.

Paul was correcting the fallacy of works-based salvation, the idea that you can work your way into heaven.

James was correcting the fallacy of “easy-believism,” the idea that just saying a prayer or raising a hand or making a profession guarantees salvation and no repentance or life change is necessary.

They were correcting different misconceptions and therefore emphasizing different points.

Take this as an example. You are counseling a Christian young man who is fit and healthy. He exercises daily. His physical checkup comes back perfect. Yet he is constantly worried about his health. This worry causes him to buy more and more health-related items, exercise equipment, nutrition drinks, etc. What would you counsel him?

I would probably share verses about trusting in God and remind him that his life is not in his hands. God cares for him and has a plan for Him. He needs to have faith. He needs to rest in God. Doing things cannot guarantee a longer life.

Now take a young man who smokes, drinks, and is morbidly obese. He, on the other hand, is not worried at all. He says, “God is in control. Everything in His time. Until His time for me is up, I am immortal.” Would you counsel him the same way? Would you say, “Don’t worry. Trust in God.”

I would tell him that he needs to take responsibility. If he has faith in God, he should obey him by giving up smoking and drinking and losing weight.

Giving Wise Counsel

If you were to hear my words to the two people, you might think they were contradictory. They are a difference of emphasis based on context.

James’ point is not that faith is unnecessary or that through works one can earn salvation. His point is that real faith will result in a changed life. A person who is genuinely saved will bear fruit.

Jesus taught the same thing.

Matthew 7:17 – So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

The root of the tree is faith in Christ. As the root connects to Christ, the tree is nourished. The nourishment strengthens the whole tree and results in fruit.

You could try to put a tree trunk without roots and stick it in the ground. You could then try to tie fruit to the branches. That tree might look good for a short time. But soon it will rot and wither.

Matthew 7:21 – Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

There is a warning for us here in this passage. No one should rely on a past decision they made responding to an altar call or praying the salvation prayer. Many people will wrongly trust in a previous decision that did not change how they lived. Jesus warned against this.

In other places, Paul taught the same thing.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Such “were some of you.” When the Holy Spirit comes into someone’s heart, they are born again. They are regenerated (Titus 3:5). They are changed. That does not mean a believer is perf