What Kind of Faith, James?
We often say that man's problem is sin and God's solution is the gospel of Christ. I believe that's exactly what the Bible says. As we develop this and study and talk to our friends, it is necessary to focus on faith - and especially the response of faith that is essential to be saved.
For instance in Eph. 2:8 - "...by grace have you been saved through faith..." By grace, God offers to sinners the gift of salvation; that offer is based on what Jesus did for us. By faith, we accept or receive that gift. Simple.
How does the Bible describe this faith? What is faith -- what is involved? Are we talking about simple mental agreement with a set of propositions? Are we talking about a feeling that Jesus is your Savior? Are we talking about trust that produces action in the form of obedience?
These are not just questions or issues for theologians to debate, and these are not mysterious, unanswered problems. These questions are relevant to the needs of every person who has ever sinned - and who now wants to be saved. And, there is an abundance of passages in the New Testament designed to instruct us about what faith is, and how faith behaves.
Please read James 2:14-26.
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
Before we explore the details of this text - I think it will help to deal with three fundamental questions: WHAT IS FAITH ...WHAT DOES FAITH DO, and WHAT KIND OF LIFE DOES FAITH PRODUCE ??
WHAT IS FAITH?
Faith is confidence or trust we place in another. In the case of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ - faith means we are convinced that there is a God; we are persuaded that He knows best, and in regard to Jesus - we believe He is who He claims to be, He has the power to save us -- and everything He said about everything is the truth!
When I consider examples of faith in the Old Testament - as reflected in Hebrews eleven; when I read what Jesus said about faith, then study the book of Acts, I'm persuaded: Faith means we are convinced that there is a God; we are persuaded that He knows best, and in regard to Jesus - we believe He is who He claims to be, He has the power to save us - and everything He said about everything is the truth! Our next question is -
WHAT DOES FAITH DO?
And the answer can be found in Heb. 11:1 --- Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1, NKJV). Faith stands under - that is, faith is THE SUB-STANCE of those things we hope for - that's what faith does. And faith convinces us or affords the evidence of things not seen. The third question is:
WHAT KIND OF LIFE DOES FAITH PRODUCE ??
Faith in God and faith in Christ produces a manner of life that is in harmony with the will of God and Christ. So faith -- from beginning to end -- is active; it produces a particular manner of life, develops and nurtures our character and gives us an anxious and favorable attitude toward every command and requirement of God.
And that's really what James wants to say to us. He wants to be sure Christians understand that the faith that saves is an active, obedient faith! This faith - the faith that saves - disposes us in a friendly and favorable way toward everything God has said. Faith always discovers its' existence in obedience.
Earlier, James warned about the man who thinks he is religious, but he does not bridle his tongue. Likewise - he warned about the person who is a hearer of the word, but not a doer. Now - he just comes out and deals with this matter in the plainest possible way.
This is about THE DAILY PRACTICE of being A Christian --- if I have FAITH ... faith in God, faith in Christ - I WILL LIVE A CERTAIN WAY...
I will be a doer.
I will bridle my tongue.
I will not show favoritism.
I will so speak and so do - as one who will be judged by the perfect law of liberty.
Through the book of James there is this emphasis on the activity, the conduct,
the behavior of those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's explore the passage, and see what James has to say about FAITH ONLY.
He tells us eight things about FAITH ONLY:
It does not profit (illustrated, 15-16).
Certainly this tells us something about compassion; about generosity or charity; just telling somebody to be OK, but not giving them the help we are able to give --- that betrays a lack of compassion. That's nothing but empty symbolism. It doesn't help me, and it certainly does no real good for the person who is suffering - when I just walk by and say, "be ye warmed and filled." But that also illustrates FAITH WITHOUT WORKS: if I say I have faith, but there is no expression of it, IT DOES NOT PROFIT. It is nothing but religious symbolism or lip service - to say we have faith, when there is no expression of it in our behavior. Jesus taught this, in Matt. 7:21-23; listen to what He said ...
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'
Jesus and James agreed that faith, even when confessed and claimed - faith without works does not profit.
It does not save (Verse 14).
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" The obvious and implied answer to this is - faith without works does not save. Does the Bible say anything about "faith only?" It does. It says faith only DOES NOT SAVE ... any questions? Now, you may pick up a religious tract or magazine and over and over it is affirmed that we are saved by FAITH ONLY. You may turn on your television and watch and hear a preacher say this. What is your impression when you compare what these men preach to James 2:14? My conclusion is - they are wrong, and James is right -- faith only does not save.
It is dead (vss. 17,20,26).
Verse 17 - "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." Verse 20 - "But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" Verse 26 - "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
You want to ask James, how many times do you need to say this? Three times in one paragraph James tells us that faith without works ... faith only is dead! Here is something that is written into denominational creeds - this is the mantra of the modern evangelical church; you hear this on religious radio programs all the time - WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH ONLY. James says - faith only is dead! Can you think of any way the Holy Spirit could have worded this - to make it plainer??
It cannot be shown (v.18).
"But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (Jas. 2:18, NKJV).
The meaning of this verse seems plain. Faith is SHOWN; faith is EXPRESSED OR MADE REAL by action. FAITH ALWAYS DISCOVERS ITS EXISTENCE IN OBEDIENCE. Faith is shown by works.
It is no more than the demons have (v.19).
"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!"
I have had occasion to talk to people about religion - about God and their duty - and often in such discussions - somebody will say: "Well, I believe in God!" And the implication is, that's really all that's necessary. I have not obeyed the gospel; no repentance - I don't go do anything; my life is pretty well lived as I see fit ... I have my vices .... BUT, I believe in God. James says - so do the demons!
It did not justify Abraham (21,22).
All through the life of Abraham it is apparent, he heard, believed and obeyed God. He made mistakes, without any doubt. His mistakes are openly documented on the pages of Genesis. But the general tendency and direction of his heart and life was to believe and obey God. Here in Jas. 2:21,22 James makes reference to a particular event: when Abraham "offered Isaac his son," and this takes us back to Genesis 22. Read that chapter and notice The verbs ... the words indicating ACTION.
So Abraham becomes the classic example of faith that produces works.
At this point in this discussion someone might want to ask about Romans chapter four. All right, read Rom. 4:19-21, pay attention to how Paul describes the faith of Abraham - and ask yourself this: IS PAUL DESCRIBING A DISOBEDIENT MAN? He was "not weak in faith ... he did not waver ... he was strengthened in faith and was fully persuaded." Is this a description of a man with dead faith?
It is imperfect (22).
Verse 22 - "Do you see that faith was working together with this works, and BY WORKS FAITH WAS MADE PERFECT?" All right - if by works, faith is made perfect ... when there are no works, the faith is imperfect.
It is not accounted as righteousness (23).
Verse 23 - - And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God."
Abraham was considered righteous, and was called the friend of God by what kind of faith?
In verses 24-26 James states his conclusions about faith only.
"You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only," (24).
Verse 25 - - "Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?" James does not approve of being a harlot, and he doesn't comment on her methods ... he gives her as an example of believing something, and then acting on that belief. This is an illustration of faith that responds, not a model of behavior in every respect.
Verse 26 - "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
Finally I want to say, what James teaches in chapter two, not only agrees perfectly with Paul in Romans 4 -- but also, with Simon Peter in Acts ten, who said ...
"In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:34,35, NKJV).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 5.6; June 1998