James 2:14, ff: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he have faith and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace; be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things that are needful to the body, what doth it profit?
… Even so, faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God, thou doest well; the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, oh vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Salvation by faith or by works is an old controversy. The Roman Catholic church has been the proponent through the years of salvation by works. Protestant denominationalism began in reaction against the doctrine of salvation by works, and continues to preach today salvation by faith without works, salvation by faith only. There certainly are scriptures that emphasize salvation by faith, and there are scriptures that emphasize salvation by works. In Ephesians 2, Paul says in verses 8 and 9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." In James 2, though, in verse 14, as we've seen, James says, "What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he have faith, and have not works? Can that faith save him?" In Titus 3:5, Paul said that we are saved not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. James 2:24 says, "Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." These passages are in perfect harmony with one another, and it is the task of every honest Bible student to understand that harmony and accept it. There is no tension between these verses. The truth is that there is a faith that will save, and there is a faith that will not save. There are works that will save, and there are works that will not save, and our text here in James is one of the most helpful in understanding this. He gives a vivid description here of faith without works. He says in the fourteenth verse, it is unprofitable. It's of no value. It's as worthless as clouds with no water, as fruit trees with no fruit. It's in the same class, as the New Testament teaches, with circumcision. Galatians 5:6: "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love." It prevails nothing as does observing meats or dietary restrictions religiously. Hebrews 13:9: "Be not carried away by divers and strange teachings, for it is good that the heart be established by grace, not by meats, wherein they that occupy themselves were not profited." It is as profitless as benevolence without love. Paul said in I Corinthians 13:3: "If I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." It becomes a mere "saying" faith. That is, we just say that we have faith. Mere profession is insufficient. In Luke 6:46, Jesus said, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" He said in Matthew 23:3, regarding the Pharisees, "All things therefore whatsoever they bid ye, these do and observe, but do ye not after their works, for they say and do not." The Pharisees had a saying only religion. In Matthew 7, starting with verse 21, Jesus said, "Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." To talk is easy, to walk is hard. The Lord demands doing of us. In Matthew 7, beginning with verse 24, he says "Everyone therefore that heareth these words of mine and doeth them shall be likened unto a wise man who built his house upon the rock." The man who builds on the sands is the one who hears and does not do.
In Acts 2:37: "When they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts, (These are the people on the day of Pentecost), and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?" And Peter didn't say, Oh, there's nothing to do, just believe only, and you'll be saved. He told them what to do. He said, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." In II Peter 1:10, Peter says, "Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble." Saying faith is not saving faith. In James 2:14, again, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he have faith and have not works? Can that faith save him?" The question, Can that faith save him, implies necessarily a negative answer, "No." That faith cannot save him. Now, faith saves. In Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace have ye been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." And faith justifies, Romans 5:1: "Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." And faith purifies, Acts 15:9: "He made no distinction between us and them, (talking about the Gentiles), cleansing, or purifying, their hearts by faith." But faith without works does not save, it does not justify, it does not purify, faith without works condemns. Therefore, is faith only, as their creed says, "a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort"? Certainly not! It condemns people to eternal hell. It is a dead faith. In James 2:17: "Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone." Just as a dead body is inactive, separated from what animated it, and is useless, so is faith without works. In James 2:26: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Faith alone, or by itself, is faith from which the life force, works, has gone. This is the very thing that James is saying here, that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. It is works that gives faith life. Otherwise it is dead. Works are to faith what life is to the body; what the soul and the spirit are to the body. It is "faith only" that is incapable of demonstration. Verse 18 of James 2: "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works. Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works." That is perfectly and imminently sensible and logical and demonstrable. We can show our faith by what we do. How can a man who refuses to do anything show anybody his faith? He cannot.
The Lord did not just say he loved us, he showed us his love. In Ephesians 2:7: "That in ages to come, he might show the exceeding riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…" and He says to us: "Show me your faith, show me your faith." In Titus 2:7: "In all things showing thyself an ensample of good works, in doctrine showing uncorruptness and gravity." Hebrews 6:11: "And we desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the fullness of hope, even unto the end."
Faith without works is the faith of demons. James 2:19: "Thou believest there is one God, thou doest well; the demons also believe and tremble." James uses irony here in replying to one who says that he believes that God is one. He says, Oh, you do well. The demons also believe, and they tremble, they shudder. It takes more than demon faith to justify and save. On more than one occasion, the demons recognized Jesus, confessed Him to be the Son of God, and trembled in His presence. They knew that alone did nothing. In Mark 5:7: "Crying out with a loud voice, he said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most High? I adjure thee by God, torment me not." Now here was a demon confessing that he knew that Jesus was the Son of the most High. But he didn't think that saved him; he said "Torment me not". In Luke 4:34: "What have we to do with thee, Jesus thou Nazarene? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God." But it didn't do them any good whatsoever.
Faith without works is an imperfect faith. In verse 22 of James 2, he said, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" When we were studying Romans, we saw how that verse means faith worked with his works, faith wrought with his works, and by works his faith was made complete, perfect; that's what the word perfect means, complete, whole. Faith without works is an incomplete faith. Can an incomplete or an unfinished faith save? Of course not. Faith must be completed by works.
There are three illustrations here in James 2 that show the relationship between faith and works. The first one is that of the Christian in verses 15 and 16. James says "If a brother or a sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things that are needful to the body, what doth it profit?" Here he is talking to Christians and what Christians' duties are. A Christian who has the opportunity to help a brother or sister who is physical need; he sees the need, he speaks words of comfort, but he doesn't act to help them. What is the work that should accompany faith in this situation? Well, it should be an act of obedience to the divine command, Help the needy. In Matthew 25:35, we have a picture of the judgment scene, and Christ is saying to those on the right hand, Ye saw me hungry and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in. To those on the left, he said You saw all of these things, and ye did nothing for me. In I John 3:17: "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?" Well, it doesn't. In Galatians 6:10: "So then as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith." Well, now, here's a question: Was this acceptable faith without the works? Somebody saw his brother in need of help and didn't help them. Was that kind of faith acceptable. Would the work that is helping them and providing them with what they needed, would that have made void this man's faith that saw his brother in need? How would it have made void his faith? Would the work have been boastful, for him to obey the command of God to help his brother, and he does it? That would not have made his faith void, and it would not have been boastful. It would simply be doing what God said do. There is no incompatibility between acceptable faith and obedient works. Obedience by faith to any command of God does not result in boastful, meritorious works. This is true whether the obedience is on the part of a Christian, or whether it is on the part of one who desires to be a Christian.
Then there's the illustration of Abraham. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith,
Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the Friend of God. Now the offering of Isaac here is called a work, while in Hebrews 11:17, the same offering is said to have been by faith: "By faith, Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac: Yea, he that gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." Now if faith and works are incompatible, and if works makes faith wrong and boastful and all of that, then how can the same work be both? How can it be both faith and works? Well, there's no incompatibility between faith and works, between faith and obedience to faith. There's no incompatibility, there's no tension between obedience and faith. They go together as closely as anything is possible for two things to go together. And if they don't go together, neither one is what is purported to be. You go back sometime and read the account of this offering in Genesis 22:1-14, and highlight the verbs of action there, such as "rose up, saddled, took, clave, went, built, bound, laid, stretched forth". Abraham didn't try to do this by faith only. What kind of works did Abraham do? Was it human, meritorious works? Well, those can't justify. Was it the works of the law of Moses? Well, Abraham died over 500 years before the law of Moses was given. Were they works of obedience? They had to be. Of course they were. When did Abraham believe God? Well, he believed when he obeyed. The scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the Friend of God. One doesn't really believe until he obeys. Then he gives the illustration of Rahab, verse 25: "Likewise was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?" Rahab also is mentioned in Hebrews 11:31 as a woman of faith: "By faith, Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace." Now, in James she is mentioned as a woman of works, but the right faith will result in the right works. Read the account of her hiding the spies in Joshua 2:1-21, and highlight the verbs of action: "took, hid, brought, laid, let down", etc. This is the picture of a woman of faith working.
Now there are three explanations of these passages here in James 2. There is Martin Luther's explanation. Martin Luther, rebelling against the salvation by works doctrine of the Roman Catholic church had trouble reconciling what James says here with what he had taken to be the "faith only" salvation of the apostle Paul. So he accepted the book of Romans as genuine, and he rejected James. He regarded the epistle of James as non-canonical, that is, it shouldn't be in the Bible, and when he translated the book into German, he left it out. And he added the word "alone" to Romans 3:28: "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith, alone, he added, apart from the works of the law". It doesn't say alone there, but Martin Luther made it say it because he wanted it to say it so badly. Now, it's not right to tamper with the Word of God. In Revelation 22:18,19, we're not to add to nor to take from the words of the book of that prophecy, and you can't tell me it's wrong to tamper with Revelation, but it's okay to tamper with Romans! Of course not! The principle is the same.
Then there is the widely accepted denominational explanation. They say, "Well, this passage here in James is applicable to the Christian, but not to the sinner." Good works are necessary to show that one is saved, but works are wholly unnecessary in order to be saved. If you've talkedwith very many people, you've heard this particular explanation. And Ephesians 2:10 is often quoted: "For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared that we should walk in them." But that's true only of Christians. Well, the explanation is illogical, and it's unscriptural. It's used in an effort to evade the plain teachings of scripture regarding the necessity of baptism for remission of sins. That's really the only work they object to. Just that one. And yet, Acts 2:38 still reads the way Acts 2:38 always has read. Now, it is not the truth, this explanation, for if it is, there are two kinds of faith. There is one kind of faith that saves, then there's another kind that keeps us saved. There' s one kind of faith that saves before we're a Christian, and then there's another kind we must have after we become Christians so that we can show that we are saved.
And it's a non-working, inactive, wholly trusting faith that saves, but it's a working, active, obedient faith that keeps the Christian saved, they would have you believe, except those that believe once you're saved you're always saved, and then once you're saved, you've got it made, and you don't have to do anything. Now, the Bible does not teach two kinds of savings faith. If God could require a live, obedient, working faith for the child of God, and He obviously does, why could he not require the same kind of live, obedient, working faith in order to become a child of God? And He obviously has. He could, He did. We're not saved by a dead faith and kept saved then by a live faith. It has to be a live, working faith that saves us and that keeps us saved. There's the true explanation of faith and works. There are two kinds of faith mentioned in scriptures. There's a narrow faith which involves only the acceptance of testimony. It's a dead faith. It doesn't do anything. It's all "up here". It's mental. It's a matter of emotion, but it does nothing. John 12:42, we read: "Nevertheless, even of the rulers, many believed on Him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess it, lest they be put out of the synagogue." Now here's faith only. Do you think the Lord was pleased with that? James 2:19: "Thou believest there is one God, thou doest well; the devils also believe and tremble."
And there's a comprehensive faith, which includes conviction and trust, and obedience. This is the kind of faith that saves. This is the kind of faith of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It's the comprehensive faith that's mentioned there. In Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace have ye been saved through faith." It's the comprehensive faith there that saves. Romans 5:1: "Justified by faith". It's the comprehensive faith there that includes obedience.
There are three kinds of works that are mentioned in scripture. There are the works of the law of Moses. Romans 3:28: "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." He means by that the works of the law of Moses. In Galatians 3:2: "This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" He is talking about the law of Moses. In the context, it cannot be avoided, that's what he has in mind.
But then there are works of human merit and human glory. In Ephesians 2:9: "Not of works, that no man should glory." In Titus 3:5: "Not of works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." By the way, washing of regeneration there is baptism. Almost every commentator, even those who are denominationalists, say he is talking about baptism there. That is the washing of regeneration. Notice how it reads, if you read it with that in mind: Not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through baptism…Baptism is not a work of merit, it is a work of obedience, and those are the third kind of works. Works of faith and righteousness and obedience. Acts 10:35: "But in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him." I Thessalonians 1:3: "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ and before our God and Father." Faith with all of the heart, our will, our intellect, our emotions involves action, and this action is what James termed works. If the word obedience is substituted for the word works in the passage, the meaning is clear, and it's the same. The obedience of faith that Paul talks about twice in the book of Romans. Salvation by faith is salvation by obedience. John 3:36, (just three verses down from the verse that every denominationalist in the world can quote, you know that whosoever believeth on Him should be saved) says this: "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life, but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abideth on him." In II Thessalonians 1:8, when the Lord comes back, He is going to come back rendering vengeance on them that know not God and on them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sounds like necessary works to me. Do you have that simple, trusting, obedient faith that will lead you to repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins?
By D. Conley