These small group studies of James contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

James 2:14-26 Inductive Bible Study Guide and Questions – Faith Without Works is Dead

James 2:14-26 Video Bible Study

James 2:14-26 Podcast Bible Study

James 2:14-26 Bible Study Guide

Outline

I. Faith without works is dead (14-20)
II. The examples of Abraham and Rahab (21-26)

I. Faith without works is dead (14-20)

Discussion Questions

  •  Is faith without works of any use?
  •  What is your reaction when people need help?
  •  How can the phrase, “I will pray for you,” sometimes be a cop out?
  •  How can you make sure that you do pray for people that you say you will pray for?
  •  What is the main point of verses 15-16?
  •  What does living faith look like?
  •  What kind of works might accompany living faith?
  •  What does dead faith look like? Is dead faith a real faith?
  •  What warning should we take from this?
  •  How can one show his faith without works? Is it possible?
  •  What does verse 19 tell us about real belief in God?
  •  Is it possible to believe in God and not be saved?
  •  What is the difference between saving faith and non-saving belief like the demons had?
  •  Why do the demons shudder?
  •  How can you better put your faith into practice?

Cross-References

Ephesians 2:8-10 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Luke 3:11 – John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Proverbs 3:27 – Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.

Luke 6:44-46 – Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The question: Can faith with no works save you? – This question has been around a long time. Works and faith have often been at the center of debate in the church. What exactly is necessary for salvation?

Some groups have gone the legalistic route, trusting in their good works to save them, believing that by strict adherence to rules, they can earn favor with God. Others have said the mind is the most important, while physical actions aren’t. Therefore, just believe, and you will be okay.

It’s a fundamental issue and one that James covers in detail here. Keep in mind that James is a practical book, so it is natural that James will emphasize its practical side. Is faith without works of any use? Can that faith save him?

2. The illustration (15-16) – James gives an illustration to prove his main point (that faith without works is dead). The example is this:

A person in need comes to you for help. With smooth words, you bless the person and wish them well, sending them on their way. Judging only by your words, it would appear that you have great love, compassion, and mercy for this person. However, you do nothing tangible to help this person. They go away exactly the same as they came, in need. Your beautiful words did nothing to satisfy their need.

Thus, the rhetorical question: what use is that? The obvious answer–it is none.

It is hypocritical, and it would be even better to just truthfully say, “I won’t help you. I don’t want to help you.” The implication is that words are not as important as actions. Empty words are useless.

Just as words without action do not help people, neither does professed faith in God by itself show that someone is truly saved.

Application: What is our reaction when people need help? Do we truly help them out or just cop-out by saying, “I will pray for you”? If we say we will pray for them, do we really pray for them? Actions are more important than words. Never say, “I will pray for you,” unless you actually will pray for that person.

3. Faith without works is dead (17) – In verse 17, James answers his question and shows the point of his illustration. Verse 17 is James’ thesis for this passage. It is simple. Faith without works is dead. A central theme of James’ epistle is Christianity practically lived out in everyday life.

In Chapter 1, he showed that trials test true faith. Perseverance in trials is an indicator that a person’s faith is real and they are truly saved. Thus, response to trials is test number one.

Test number two is works. The point is similar to the one at the end of Chapter 1 about hearing and doing. Knowing a lot of things is pointless unless that knowledge changes how you live.

Questions for thought:

  •  What does living faith look like?
  •  What kind of works might accompany living faith?
  •  What does dead faith look like?
  •  Is dead faith a real faith?
  •  What warning should we take from this?

Simply put, this means a person with real faith will live a changed life. A person who is genuinely saved will bear fruit. Jesus taught the same thing.

Matthew 7:17 Verse

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.

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.

You should evaluate your own spiritual condition by examining your fruit. Are you zealous for the Lord? Does the fruit of the Spirit typify your life? Do you love sharing the gospel? Do you delight in studying God’s Word and prayer? Do you sacrifice things in your own life in order to pursue God?

Those things are evidence that you are a good tree. On the other hand, things such as attending church, being baptized, joining the choir, praying a prayer, owning a Bible, or calling yourself a Christian are not very good indicators of salvation.

Application: Examine your own life. Are you changed after professing faith in Jesus? Ask God to reveal areas of your life that need surrendering to Him. Pray and commit yourself to making Christ Lord of those areas.

4. Show your faith by your works – Verse 18 shows us the proper perspective we should have on the faith/works issue. Instead of getting into an argument where one believer says he has great faith and another believer focuses only on his own works, the believer should show out his faith BY his works. In fact, there is no other way we can show our faith except by works.

Faith, by nature, is invisible and intangible. That means it can’t be seen or touched. You might say you have faith, but that is impossible for others to know unless you show it by works. How can you yourself even be sure that you have faith if you are not living it out?

Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Our hearts are sinful. It is easy to trick ourselves into thinking we are saved if we aren’t by quoting doctrines like justification by faith and, once saved, always saved. James is giving us a tangible test to confirm if our faith is dead dogma or alive and breathing in our everyday life. Being truly saved will affect how we live.

5. Not all belief is saving faith (19) – There are some kinds of belief that don’t save. The demons believe God. This is probably a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4, “Here O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” Satan and demons have mostly orthodox doctrines. They know the Father, Son, and Spirit personally. They believe in the Holy Trinity of the Bible. That is, they believe in His existence and power. They certainly know God created the world. We know they believe in the judgment to come (Luke 8:31).

But they hate God with all their hearts and fight against Him with every breath even though they know He is real and the Judge. They fail in the second part of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5, which commands us to “love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds.”

Demons believe God, but they do not submit to Him. Neither do they rest in Him. So although they believe God, they do not believe in God.

This verse shows us very clearly that head knowledge doesn’t save. Even acceptance of the fact that God is true doesn’t save. Having the right doctrines doesn’t save.

Acts 16:31 Verse

Believe in the Lord. One must place their faith in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord in order to be saved. Agreement with a list of facts about God is not enough.

II. The examples of Abraham and Rahab (21-26)

Discussion Questions

  •  Does verse 21 contradict with the rest of the teachings in the Bible of justification by faith alone?
  •  Is this passage teaching faith by works?
  •  Then how can we reconcile the Scriptural teaching of justification by faith with this passage?
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