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

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 in 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?

Teaching Points

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 have said the mind is most important and physical actions aren’t. Therefore just believe and you will be OK.

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 he will emphasize the 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.

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

It is hypocritical and 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 actually 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 major theme of James epistle is Christianity practically lived out in everyday life.

In chapter one, he showed that trials test true faith. Perseverance in trials is an indicator that a person’s faith is real and that 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 that 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 – So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

There is a warning for us here in this passage. No person should rely on a past decision they made to respond to an altar call or pray the salvation prayer. There will be many people who wrongly trust in a past 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? Is your life typified by the fruit of the Spirit? 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 evidences that you are a good tree. On the other hand, going to church, being baptized, joining the choir, praying a prayer, owning a Bible, 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 to you areas of your life that need to be surrendered 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 is saying he has great faith and another believer focuses only 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 doctrine. They know personally the Father, Son, and Spirit. 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 of 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 – And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.

Believe in the Lord. One must place their faith in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord in order to be saved. Agreement to 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?
  • What is James’ main point in this passage?
  • Which came first, Rahab’s faith or works?
  • How do we know she had faith?
  • Would her belief in the God of the Hebrews saved her if she didn’t act on it?

Cross-References

John 15:8 – This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Romans 5:1 – Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 4:1-4 – What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.

Galatians 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Teaching Points

1. Abraham’s faith was proven through his works (21-24) – In verses 21-24, James uses another case study to prove his point, this time focusing on Abraham. Interestingly, this is the very example used by Paul in Romans to teach the principle of justification by faith (Romans 4).

In Genesis Also in Genesis 15:6, it specifically states that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

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

Romans 5:1 – Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 2:24 – You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

At first glance, it appears that James may be contradicting Paul’s teachings of justification by faith. How can we reconcile James’ teaching with Paul’s? Is he contradicting Paul?

We know that Scripture doesn’t contradict itself so there has to be an answer. When working with tough to understand passages it is better to interpret them in light of the clear passages. The passages teaching justification by faith through grace alone are many and scattered throughout Scripture, including the verses shared above.

James himself acknowledges that salvation is a gift from God in James 1:17-18 and quotes Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” So it is clear that James does not believe in salvation by works and this passage as part of Scripture cannot be teaching that.

So what then is the point?

We know that James is a book stressing practical living and showing us some tests we can apply to see if we are genuinely saved. In this passage James is emphasizing the action that must come out of genuine, living faith. Teachers emphasize different points when talking to different audiences. Some audiences need to be reminded more to have compassion. Some need to be reminded not to tolerate sin. Some need to be reminded to be bold. Some need to be reminded to be gentle.

If you listened to two different teachers emphasizing two different sides of the issues, you might think they contradicted or were very different, when in fact they just focused on different aspects. There are two sides of the coin.

Paul was setting forth the doctrines of Christian faith. Doctrinely speaking, justification is by faith alone. James is setting forth the principles of daily living. In daily living, our salvation, which is by faith alone, is borne out by our good deeds.

Which came first, Abraham’s faith or his offering of Isaac?

His faith came first. He first demonstrated faith many years earlier by obeying God’s call to “go to the country I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) Even when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac he first left his place and traveled to the location to be used for sacrifice. From the beginning, he believed that God would raise up Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). His steadfast belief in God led him to obedience.

Doctrinely speaking, we are saved by faith alone.

Practically speaking, this faith must show itself through action or it is dead.

2. Faith and works are necessary – Verse 22 makes it clear that James doesn’t minimize faith, saying that “faith was working with his works.” What should we get out of this? Both are necessary. We need to have faith and works.

I think we should take this as a warning against having head knowledge without practicing it. Are you a person with all of your doctrines lined up and squared away? Do you take pride in being able to defend your beliefs? Doctrine is good. Knowledge is important. But our actions are the window to our hearts.

3. The example of Rahab – James uses Rahab as another example of faith in action. Her works proved that her faith was genuine.

Did she have faith or only works?

Joshua 2:9-11 – I know that the Lᴏʀᴅ has given you the land. We have heard how the Lᴏʀᴅ dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. The Lᴏʀᴅ your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

Here is Rahab’s statement of faith. It shows very clearly that she believed God is the real God of heaven and earth.

Following this statement, her actions then proved that she meant what she said. She risked her life in order to save the lives of the spies. In essence she betrayed her own country, people, and idols, because of her faith in the real God.

James has said that “faith without works is dead.” If Rahab said this to the spies and then reported them to Jericho’s authority it would have proved that she still was loyal to her own idols. It would have proved that her faith in God was not genuine, certainly not strong enough to change her lifestyle or affect her choices.

James said that Rahab was “justified by works.” These works proved to Israel that she was loyal to Jehovah. It was on the basis of these works (saving the spies) that she and her family were saved.

Faith and works are two sides of the same coin. Without faith, Rahab never would have risked her life for strangers. And without her deeds of protection, her professed faith would have been empty. As James says in verse 26, “faith apart from works is dead.”

There are many people who call themselves Christians in the world now. About 2.3 billion people identify as Christians. A very large percentage of these people have no real evidence of that faith shown by their actions.

Perhaps they have a wedding in church (and then later toss away their vows.) Perhaps they go to church once or twice a year. Maybe they have a party and invite their friends to their child’s christening. But a neutral party observing their lives would not find any evidence that their belief is changing how they live on a day to day basis. Thus many churches are dead because the faith of their members is also dead.

Application: This is a stark warning of the need for personal examination. Your faith should change how you live. Write down two ways your faith has changed how you live on a day to day basis. Write down two more ways that your faith needs to be reflected in your daily life.

James E-book Bible Study Guide – If this study is helpful for you, you can get the whole study in one convenient E-book.

Study James 3:1-12

We want to help you study the Bible, obey the Bible, and teach the Bible to others. We have therefore created a library of almost one thousand (and growing) inductive Bible studies, which are available for free. This takes a lot of time and hard work as well as the growing expense of running the website.

Help us continue to create Bible study resources by supporting Study and Obey for as little as $1.

Support