Study 5 FAITH THAT DOESN’T WORK IS DEAD!
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 2:14-26
It is fruitless for us to say that we have faith if our faith is not demonstrated by good works. This is what James is saying in James 2:14-17, 20, 26. Our faith must work, otherwise we have no right to say that we have faith. Martin Luther was very concerned about the Letter of James, and even called it ‘an epistle of straw’. Undoubtedly one reason was that he felt it contained no exposition of the gospel, and seemed to contradict Paul by making out that salvation is not by faith but by works. At first sight James does seem to contradict Paul; for example, compare what Paul says in Romans 4:1-5 and what James says in James 2:21-24. How do we reconcile these, when one says we are saved and justified by faith apart from works, and the other says that a person is justified by what he does? There is no contradiction here, as we consider this:-
1. Faith in Christ as personal Saviour is essential to salvation.
Why faith in Christ? Because He is the only Saviour (Isaiah 45:22; John 10:9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). He alone has accomplished redemption for us. If we ask the question in Acts 16:30, what is the answer? Look at Acts 16:31! The way of salvation is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour. In the New Testament there are at least 150 passages which condition salvation on believing, and faith (the one word being the exact synonym of the other) – for a few examples look up John 3:16; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 1:16; Romans 3:26; Romans 5:1; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8.
2. Personal faith in Christ is the only condition on which God saves; salvation is totally apart from human works.
We are saved by faith alone plus nothing! We are not saved by faith plus our best efforts, our prayers, our law-keeping. We cannot be saved as Cain thought he could, but as Abel was (Genesis 4:1-7), and compare Jude 11. We are not saved by doing and saying what the Pharisee did and said, but we are saved when we come before the Lord as the publican came (Luke 18:9-14). We are saved by grace through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
3. Saving faith begins when we hear the message of the gospel and believe that Christ is both able and willing to save us.
Romans 10:17 is an important verse; we hear the message of the gospel (for example, John 3:16), and we believe it; we read 1 Timothy 1:15, and we believe it; we read Romans 10:13, and believe that Christ is the only Saviour and that He will save all who come to Him and trust Him to save them. So far, however, faith (believing) is only a matter of the head, an intellectual assent. Will this belief save us? No! We can believe all that, and remain unsaved. For example:
- (1) The woman who touched (Mark 5:25-34). When she came to the Lord Jesus she believed He was able to heal her, but this believing did not bring healing.
- (2) Faith in the bank. You may have money which you want to keep safe and a friend tells you about the ‘Absolutely Safe Bank’. You hear and believe what he says, but you can still keep the money at home, although you believe in the bank.
- (3) Faith in the dentist. You have an aching tooth and you are told about a good dentist; he is not only a good technician but he is willing to help you. You believe all this, but still have the bad tooth and the pain!
4. Saving faith is our act of putting faith in Christ, believing He is able and willing to save us.
Saving faith is trust, it is commitment, it is heart-faith (Romans 10:9-10). Think again of the illustrations given above:
- (1) The woman who touched. She not only believed in the Lord’s ability and willingness to heal, but she put out her hand and touched Him and received his healing.
- (2) It is not enough to believe in the bank. We must take our money there and trust the bank to look after it for us.
- (3) It is not enough to hear about and believe in the dentist. We must place ourselves in his hands and trust him to do the job well.
This leads to the important thing James is saying: that faith without works is dead, and that it is fruitless to say that we have faith if we have no works.
5. Faith is not real and saving faith unless it results in good works, which are the evidence of true faith.
James 2:14 is the important verse. Underline the word “claims”. What is the good of claiming we have faith if there are no evidences that we do have it? Surely his works will prove it! His life will show it! How does faith work?
- (1) Take Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19) – anxious to have a son, and God promised one. He believed God’s promise, giving him the righteousness he needed for salvation (Genesis 15:1-6; Romans 4:1-5). God promised that through Isaac, Abraham would have more children than the sand on the beach and the stars of heaven. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. He had faith in God, so he was not afraid to obey Him (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham proved his faith by his works.
- (2) Take Rahab (Joshua 2, 6:17-27). Although a notorious sinner (Hebrews 11:31), she was a woman of faith. She lived in Jericho and believed reports she had heard about God (Joshua 2:10-11). Then she received and protected the two spies, proving her faith in God. Her faith was proved by her works.
- (3) For three New Testament examples of faith being demonstrated by works, read about Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8); Lydia (Acts 16:14-15); and the Jailer (Acts 16:30-34).
Are you trusting Christ as your personal Saviour? Does your faith work?