James 2 – Faith and Works

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The below Bible study on faith and works takes a verse by verse look at James 2. These free inductive notes are intended as supplement to your own study, not a replacement. Feel free to copy, print, or share them. These notes can be helpful for individual study of the Word or for small group Bible studies. We hope your understanding of God’s Word is deeper from them.

James 2 – Faith and Works  Sermon

Saving Faith Works!

This morning, the sermon is going to be on an issue that is foundational to the Christian life. The issue is faith, but the passage in James that we’ll be studying points out that there are actually two very different types of faith. I’ve brought 2 flashlights to represent these two kinds of faith. Though the flashlights look the same they are actually very different. You see this one works and this one doesn’t. Similarly, one type of faith works and the other doesn’t.

Text: James 2:14-26

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?

22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;

23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.

24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

The Principle

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

·        These questions posed by James are very important questions for each one of us to consider. They are relevant to our relationships with fellow professing believers, but more importantly they are critical in assessing the genuineness of our own faith. That faith mentioned in this verse is the faith that is not accompanied by works and is the faith of untold millions of church goers. James is addressing the notion that many in the church today have that a bare profession of faith is all that is required for salvation. Often, when you ask someone if they are a Christian, you’ll get a reply like…

1.      Yes, I attended a youth camp when I was 12. There was a really good speaker there and a lot of us prayed and became Christians.

2.      Yes, several years ago I went forward after hearing a sermon that really moved me. I responded to the preacher’s invitation by going forward. A counselor asked me if I wanted to pray a certain prayer and I did and soon afterwards I got baptized.

3.      Yes, I grew up in a family that regularly attended church and I’ve always been active in church. I’m an usher and on Tuesday nights often go out on visitation.

·        What kind of response would you get if you asked them about their personal walk with the Lord? Questions like…

1.       “what have you been learning lately from your time in the Word?” or

2.      “what are some recent answers to prayer the Lord has given you?” or

3.      “how receptive have you found your coworkers are to the gospel?”

·        Well, the people with the kind of faith James is speaking to here might respond with a blank stare. Or maybe they’d reply by saying that they don’t regularly study the Bible, have a very deep prayer life, or it’s not really appropriate at their workplace to speak about religion.

·        Or maybe in response to questions like this, they’d be embarrassed and admit that they don’t really, study the Bible, they have a very shallow prayer life and they don’t really know how to witness.

·        Or perhaps they’d get upset and respond in anger saying that it’s none of your business and who do you think you are to ask such personal questions.

·        Whatever their attitude toward you, if their response indicates that their “faith” is not really operative and transforming their life, then that faith is probably not a genuine faith that saves.

In the next two verses, James answers these questions by relating a typical real life situation of a Christian brother or sister in need.

15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Jesus said that the distinguishing mark of His disciples would be their love for one another.

·        John 13:34-35

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

35 ” By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Clearly, the loving response to a brother or sister who needs food and clothes is to give them or help them get the needed food or clothes. Genuine faith produces genuine love! Notice in the example that James gives, that the response is only verbal, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” Though this person wanted to appear religious and concerned, he really had no love in his heart for this brother/sister in need. Don’t you just love the Bible, how God often makes some truths like this so obvious. As James points out, the faith that responds to a situation like this with mere words is good for nothing! It’s a useless faith!

17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

The faith that lacks works is not only useless but is also characterized as a dead faith. So what is the answer to the question James posed in verse 14, “Can that faith save him? Certainly his answer is a resounding “NO”. It is impossible for that kind of useless, dead faith to save!

You say, “OK, I’m convinced that that kind of faith is worthless, but what does the Bible say about genuine saving faith?”

·        The best way to see what true faith is is to see how the Bible itself describes faith.

Heb 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

These two statements are really saying the same thing. “Assurance” and “conviction” are synonyms and “things hoped for” and “things not seen” are also interchangeable. This form or repetition was a common technique to add emphasis to what is being said.

NT:4102 pistis, pisteoos

1.            when it relates to God, pistis is the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ:

Heb 11:6

6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

b.      in reference to Christ, it denotes a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God

Faith has Two Components

1.      It is the state of being sureconfidentconvinced of the truth of something

Abraham exemplified this absolute confidence concerning God’s promise to him.

Romans 4:20-21

20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,

21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

So the first component of faith is total conviction. It is being certain of one’s conclusions

Whereas the emphasis for the first component of faith is on the person who exercises the faith, the second component’s focus is on the object of the faith.

2.      The second component of faith is the thing hoped for or the thing not seen. If I can see something with my physical eyes, I don’t need faith to believe it. But when something is invisible to my physical eyes it requires faith for me to believe it.

Paul explains this concept to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,

18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

·        When you read later in this letter about the suffering and hardships that Paul endured, how could he possibly say that he was only experiencing momentary light affliction?!

2 Corinthians 11:23-27

23 Are they servants of Christ? — I speak as if insane — I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.

24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.

26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my  countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;

27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

So, how could Paul honestly describe his suffering and hardship as momentary light affliction?

Look again at…

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,

18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

You see, Paul was not focusing on the trials and suffering. What was he looking at? With his eyes of faith, he was looking “at the things which are not seen”! Only when we are looking with the eyes of faith can we see everything clearly and in the proper perspective just as Paul did.

See part 2 of this sermon on faith and works.

See part 3 of this sermon on faith and works. 

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