James 2:14-26: Faith Plus Works?

  • 3 Key Questions:
    • 1. What does “save” mean in this context?
      • James 1:21 also speaks of a kind of salvation. Given the fact that James’ readers are born again (1:18), it is more likely he is warning against the devastating (temporal) consequences of sin (1:15; 5:15, 20).
    • 2. What exactly is “dead faith”? Was it once “living faith”?
      • “Dead” faith is a faith which is unable to do something. It is (1) unable to save oneself from the temporal consequences of sin and (2) it is unable to bring any aid to one’s Christian brethren. However, James NEVER goes as far to say that “dead faith isn’t really faith” or “dead faith was never really alive in the first place.”
      • The objector’s words start in verse 18 and continue on into verse 19 until they are responded to in 20. James’ words are marked off in verse 18 by “a man may say” and in verse 20 by “but wilt thou know, O vain man.”
      • The meaning of the objector is as follows: “It is impossible to show one’s faith from his works. Think of demons. Don’t they believe God exists and is one? Of course, they do! But does their faith in God show up in their works? No, for they rebel against Him! You see, there is no necessary correlation between faith and works.”
      • So, James is NOT saying that faith without works is “demon faith” and is not “true, saving faith”! The issue in James’ mind was never whether someone has “true, saving faith.” Eternal salvation is not part of the discussion at all! The issue is whether someone’s faith is of value. Is one’s faith setting him apart in the eyes of others? Does it bring aid to those in need? Does it keep one from the devastating consequences of sin?
    • 3. What does James mean by the word “justify”? Is he using it as Paul does?
      • If the word carries the same meaning, then James DOES contradict Paul. See James 2:24 and Romans 4:5-6. The reconciling verse is Romans 4:2.
      • Abraham was justified before God the moment he first believed (Gen. 15:6). However, the incident James mentions regarding Isaac was years later. This is when he was justified before men and was, thus, “called the Friend of God” (2:23; John 15:14). As verse 22 shows, this was a case of faith being “perfected,” or matured.
      • Likewise, Rahab believed in God before saving the lives of the spies when “received” them (Heb. 11:31).  But she also “sent them out another way” (verse 25). This, as with Abraham, justified her before men, not God. By having active, or “living,” faith she saved both the spies and the lives of her and her family. This is the point of James: having faith which saved lives (1:21)!

Author: James Buddy Smith
Ark of Hope
Jasper, Georgia