What happens when we have “faith in Christ”? What does it look like? What should it look like?
This section of James is potentially dangerous if handled improperly or with too casual of a reading, since one could be led to believe that we must work for salvation—as if we do a certain part of redemption and God does a certain part. Clearly, that idea is not found in Scripture. On the contrary, Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.
So clearly, then, James is not saying we work for our salvation. Remember grace is unmerited favor—you don’t deserve it to begin with (that’s why it’s unmerited). James writes (James 2:14-26):
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
In verses 14-17, James makes an allusion to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:16-20: “16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
James’ rhetorical question (verse 14, “can that faith save him?”) is talking to this issue. Are you a child of God? How’s your fruit? Are you a registered citizen of heaven? How’s your fruit?
Paul said Romans 7:4-5 “4So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.”
Guess what all this means: Lip service doesn’t prove anything! We should be recognized by the world as a Christian by what we do! James says (my paraphrase), “you can go around talking about your faith all day long and that doesn’t prove anything. Watch what I do and you will see Whose I am!”
Belief alone is simply not enough. The demons of hell believe there is a God. So what if you believe there’s a God. Big deal. Are you living it?
Verse 22 tells us faith and our good deeds should be conjoined twins. “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” Remember this: Fa
ith produces the action. The action does NOT produce faith.
Read this slowly to yourself, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (verse 26). What’s he saying? Do we work our way to heaven? NO! He’s not been saying that. He is saying that our actions will show whose we are! A faith that doesn’t do anything is real faith. What good does it do God’s kingdom to be undercover? In light of these passages, it is frightening to think of those who profess Jesus as Savior yet nothing in their life is different.
Jesus said (Matthew 7:21-23) “21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Summing this up, let’s come back to Paul, whom some find in disagreement with James. He wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10 “8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Your actions of faith will tell the world who you really belong to. Where there is faith, there will be action. So…what do your actions say?