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A Faith That Works

Charlie Boyd - 11/6/2022


James tells us if we do not put our faith into action in the trials, tests, and temptations, our faith will not do us or anyone else any good. To understand how James connects faith to works, you need to understand that James uses keywords differently from Paul. When James talks about “works,” he does not mean “the works of the law” that the Jewish people thought would merit their salvation (cf Rom3L28). He means “works of love and mercy” that are expressions of our faith. When James uses the word “save,” he is not referring to eternal salvation (Eph2:8-9)). He’s talking about being “saved” through the trials and troubles of this life and from the negative consequences of sin (James 1:2-15). Remember, every trial or test carries with it a temptation not to trust God. When James says that “faith without works is dead” (1:17 26), the word “dead” doesn’t mean that there’s no faith at all. For James, “dead” faith is an inactive, lifeless, useless, unapplied faith (1:20). And when James uses the word “justified,” he’s not talking about how faith alone, apart from works, justifies us before God. James uses the word “justify” to mean “justified in the eyes of people (2:21:25). Paul uses “justified” to mean “declared righteous in the sight of God. James uses “justified” to mean “demonstrated to be righteous” in the sight of others. If you get your mind around the context of the book of James and how James uses all these terms differently from Paul, then this whole passage opens up for you.

SCRIPTURE: James 2:14-26


Many of us have exercise equipment or home gyms or gym memberships that we, at least at some time, considered to be very important. But it’s also true that many of us don’t use those exercise “tools” as much as we should, right? I think we would all agree that buying exercise equipment and gym memberships but seldom using them doesn’t do us any good. In the same way, James makes the same point about faith. He says that faith—if it’s going to do us or anyone else any good—has to be “exercised,” expressed—it has to be put into action to make a difference in our lives. Faith, separated from application—is useless, worthless, dead—it won’t help you one bit (vv17, 20, 26). It’s vitally important that you understand that Jesus is not talking about being “saved” so you can go to heaven when you die. James is talking about being” saved” through the trials, tests, and temptations of this life. Putting our faith into action is how we can be preserved, protected, and delivered through trials. And it’s even the way we can experience the “blessing” of God during hard times (1:12, 25). 

Here's my paraphrase of James 2:4-26…

“I ask you brothers and sisters, what good is it if someone says he has faith, but that faith doesn’t express itself in good works—in some visible, tangible actions? Can an unapplied faith save him/deliver him through the trials and temptations of this life? No, an unapplied faith won’t do you any good. Let’s say you bump into a homeless man, and that man has ratty clothes, and he’s hungry. And all you do is say, “God bless you, my good man,” but you don’t do anything to help him. What good is that? Can you not see that faith by itself, if it doesn’t take some kind of action to help that man, what good is that kind of faith? I know. I hear you. You don’t like me telling you that unless you have a “doing” faith, then your faith is dead. You say, “Well, I have faith, and you have works,” but that doesn’t mean anything. Faith and works are two separate things. I can have faith whether I do all the things you are telling me to do or not.” 

But I tell you, okay, so you believe that God is one—that’s a good thing—but isn’t it true that the demons also believe in one God, and they’re scared to death of him? So how can you say that just believing in God is all that matters? You foolish fellow, do you need me to prove to you that an unapplied faith is worthless? Okay, think about this. Abraham was justified/declared righteous before God when he believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. But how do we know he was a man of faith? (I mean, he didn’t always act like a man of faith, did he?) How do we know he was a man of faith? Wasn’t he also justified by his works—didn’t he demonstrate his faith in the promises of God—when he offered up his only son Isaac on the altar? Do you see how his faith was active in his works—in what he did—and it was because of that act of faith that Abraham received the great blessing of being called “a friend of God.” Here’s another example—this time on the very far end of the righteousness spectrum. Remember Rahab, the prostitute? In the time of Joshua, when the children of Israel were going to fight the first battle to occupy the land God had promised them, the first city they had to defeat was Jericho. So, they sent spies into the city to check things out. And somehow, they found Rahab. She told them she had come to believe in Yahweh, the God of Israel, the one, true, and living God, and she hid the spies, and then she helped them escape. Remember what happened? When the walls came tumbling down, she and her whole family were saved from the destruction, and Rahab’s house was the only house left standing. Do you see how Rahab’s faith was justified by her works? The spies knew her faith was real because she acted in faith by helping them. And she was “saved” from destruction because of what she did. Now, do you see that an unapplied faith is as dead and useless as a lifeless body without a spirit? 

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.