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
- The question. In verse 14 James proposes the question. Can faith with no faith works save someone? 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 and basically trusted in their good works to save them. 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? Cross-references.
- 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 act as if you care for them. 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. The same is true in the issue of faith/works. Words of faith without action to back them up is just hot air. Completely useless, hypocritical, and false. 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? What is the main point of verses 15-16 (actions are more important than words)? Cross-references.
- In verse 17 James answers his question and shows the point of his illustration. This is the key point in the passage. Faith with no works, is dead. A major point of James epistle is Christianity in everyday life. What does true faith look like in the real world. 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/doing. Knowing a lot of things/hearing a lot of things is pointless unless we do what we know is right. 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? Cross-references.
- 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 touched or felt. You might say you have faith, but that is impossible for others to know unless you show it by works. How can you yourself you even be sure that you have faith if you are not living it out? The heart is deceitful and wicked. It is easy to trick ourselves into thinking we are saved if we aren’t by quoting off 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. Cross-references.
- Verse 19 is another key point. 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 probably even believe in His creation. We know they believe in the judgment to come. 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.
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. Why do the demons shudder (they shudder, but they don’t repent)? What does verse 19 tell us about real belief in God? Is it possible to believe in God and not be saved? If so, is it then accurate to tell an unbeliever “hear and believe and you will have eternal life”? What is the difference in these kinds of beliefs?
- In verses 21-24, James uses another case study to prove his point, this time focusing on Abraham. Interesting enough, this is the very example used by Paul. Also in the original passage in Genesis, it specifically states that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” At first glance, it appears that James may be contradicting Paul’s teachings of justification by faith. How to reconcile the two passages? Is he contradicting Paul? We know that Scripture doesn’t contradict itself so there has to be an answer. Also, 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. Cross-references. 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 stressing 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 heard both lectures/sermons, you might think they contradicted or were very different, when in fact they just focused on different aspects. 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? In fact, his faith came first. He first demonstrated faith many years earlier by obeying God’s call to go the Promise Land. Even when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac he first set off 1-2 days early. From the beginning he believed that God would raise up Isaac from the dead. His steadfast belief in God led him to obedience.
- Verse 22 makes it clear that James doesn’t minimize faith, saying that “faith was working with his works.” As a believer, 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? If so, you should consider your daily life. More practical questions are: Are you living out your faith? Can others tell by your behavior you belong to God? Are you helping those in need? I know there are a number of us hear who like to talk about doctrine a lot, but I hope we take as much joy in serving God everyday in our lives.
- Which came first, Rahab’s faith or works? How do we know she had faith (the Bible doesn’t say it expressly)?
- Faith and Works
- The question (14)
- Question Illustrated (15-17)
- The answer
- The proper perspective (18)
- Belief alone is not enough (19)
- Abraham (21-23)
Is faith without works of any use?
Can that faith save him?
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?
What is the main point of verses 15-16 (actions are more important than words)?
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? If so, is it then accurate to tell an unbeliever “hear and believe and you will have eternal life”? What is the difference in these kinds of beliefs?
Why do the demons shudder (they shudder, but they don’t repent)?
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 two passages? What is James’ main point in this passage?
Which came first for Rahab, her faith or her works? Would her belief in the God of the Hebrews saved her if she didn’t act on it (no, it would have been dead)?
Faith (11 times, 14, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26)
Works (12 times, 14, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26)
Believe (3 times, 19, 23)
Justified, save (4 times, 14, 21, 24, 25)
Dead, useless (4 times, 17, 20, 26)
Faith- Belief or trust in a higher power. The fundamental idea in Scripture is steadfastness and faithfulness. But note that saving faith is not only belief, because even the demons do that. Hebrews 11:1, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Works- Acts or deeds that either good or bad.
Justified- The process by which sinful humans are made acceptable to a holy God. To declare a sinner righteous in the sight of God or show to be righteous or To demonstrate or prove to be just, right, or valid. Romans 2:13, Romans 3:20, Romans 3:24-28
- The question
- The answer
- The proper perspective
Basically one clear application to make from this chapter. Don’t only say it, but do it!
- Is it any good to have faith without works or will it save anyone? Ephesians 2:8-10,
- If a brother or sister are in need of clothing or food Matthew 25:35-46, Luke 3:11
- and you say to them Peace, be warmed and well fed, and do not help them is that any good?
- So faith, without works is dead. Matthew 7:21, Luke 6: 46,
- Someone may say, you have faith and I have works, but I say, show me your faith with no works, and I will show you my faith by my works.Luke 6:44-45, Luke 7:4-5, 9, Luke 8:13-15
- It is good to believe in one God, but even the demons fearfully believe that.
- But are you foolish people willing to admit that faith with no works is no good?
- Wasn’t our father Abraham justified by works by offering up Isaac? (God knew he had the faith, but the works showed that his faith was true and proved it.)
- Faith was shown by his works and therefore perfected. Php 1:6
- The Scripture that Abraham believed God and it was as righteousness became true. Then he was called the friend of God. John 15:8, Romans 4:1-4,
- So see that man is justified not only by faith, but by works also.
- And Rahab also was justified by works by helping the messengers.
- Therefore as the body without the spirit is dead, faith without works is dead. Gal 5:6