James makes an important point in today’s passage – faith that doesn’t change how you live isn’t real, living faith.
Jam. 2:14-17 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, (16) And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Can That Faith Save Him?
James asks a rhetorical question, one that expects “No,” to be the answer. If you claim to believe in Jesus Christ, but what you believe doesn’t change how you behave, then it’s not saving faith. Martin Luther had a problem with this passage because it seems to put too much emphasis on works. As you probably know, salvation by faith alone with the centerpiece of his theology. On the surface there seems to be a contradiction between James’ writing and what some of the other New Testament authors wrote:
Rom. 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Tit. 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Eph. 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (9) Not of works, lest any man should boast. (10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
That last verse touches on the idea that reconciles these verses. One of God’s goals when He saves us is that we would begin to do good works. If we claim to be saved, but fail to do good works, there is good reason to question the sincerity of our salvation. Good works are the result of saving faith. They don’t produce salvation, but they are evidence of it.
2Co. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Warmed and Filled
James illustrates the uselessness of lazy faith in verses 15-16. Imagine coming to church next Sunday and meeting a church family whose house burned down the night before. They escaped with only the clothes on their backs. They’re cold and hungry. You shake their hands, give them your most sanctified smile and say, “I’ll be praying for you folks.” Then you glide by them to find your favorite pew. What good is that? Does that sound like compassion to you? Would it feel like compassion to your cold, hungry family?
James compares this kind of “compassion” with faith that doesn’t work. It’s no coincidence that he compares compassion that doesn’t help with faith that doesn’t work. Neither one helps others. In fact, they are both hurt our neighbors. Claiming compassion without helping adds insult to the injured. Claiming faith with works adds to the cynicism of the unbelieving.
It’s not that faith plus works leads to salvation. Rather, faith saves and leads to good works. Faith that doesn’t change what we do isn’t living faith – it’s dead.
How’s It Going?
- Have you trusted Christ as your Savior?
- How has your life changed since you trusted Christ as your Savior?
- What good works are you doing because you’re saved?
Read James 2:18-20 for tomorrow. Is believing in God enough to save you?