Faith Without Works
Illustration: A ferryman had the word “faith” painted on one oar and the word “work” on the other. He was asked the reason for thus “naming” the oars, and replied by showing rather than by words. He laid the oar that had “work” painted on it in the bottom of the skiff, took the oar that had “faith” on it, and with both hands pulled with all his strength, and the boat went round and round, gradually floating down the stream with the current. Then he placed faith oar in the bottom of the skiff and took up work oar with both hands, with the same result, the boat gradually floating down the stream. Then he took faith oar in one hand, work oar in the other, and pulled with both together, and the skiff moved out of the current and across the stream.
It takes both faith and works to get anywhere in the Christian life. Doing is evidence that one believes!
Works in the life of a person does not provide the basis for salvation, but it is the evidence that a person is truly saved. There are people who say they have faith, but they have no works to prove it. The great Warren Wiersbe said, “People with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They know the correct vocabulary for prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible; but their walk does not measure up to their talk. They think that their words are as good as works, and they are wrong.” In the book of James in the New Testament, Jesus’ half brother writes that faith without works is dead. He goes on to explain that true faith would produce a new life that would in turn produce good works.
Before moving into the differences of faith and works, we must define faith. Please turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 11:1 where we will look at our first point: Faith defined.
I. Faith Defined (Hebrews 11:1)
What is faith? American Heritage Dictionary defines faith as, “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Faith is often used on an everyday basis in church circles and Christian environments, but not many Christians can give you a solid definition of faith. In fact, many of us display many different types of faith everyday without really noticing it. For example, we walk into a building and without really noticing, we have placed our faith in the architect and the architecture. We sit down on these seats without checking them out or doubting their ability to sustain our weight; this is another example of faith. The truth is that no one can live a day without faith. Someway, somehow, we display faith in some aspect of our life. John Phillips wrote, “For everyone has faith. The basic difference between the faith exercised by the individual in the daily round of life and the faith exercised by that same individual to the saving of his soul is the object of his faith.” (Exploring Hebrews p. 147) M.G. Easton wrote, “Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust.” (Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary) One of the simplest definitions of faith in Christianity comes from the Assembly's Shorter Catechism: "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel." Therefore, the difference between the everyday faith we display and saving faith is the object. Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved. The problem we have today in churches is the question: How do faith and works co-operate? Can you have true saving faith without works? This is the topic we are going to discuss today.
Transition: Please turn in your Bibles to James 2:14 to see the next point: Faith without works is unprofitable.
II. Faith Without Works Is Unprofitable. (James 2:14)
Even in the early church, there were hypocrites in the congregations. The hypocrites were the ones that said they had faith but they did not possess salvation. Warren Wiersbe said, “Wherever there is the true, you will find the counterfeit.” In fact Jesus mentions in Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (KJV) Many people are in for a big shock in eternity when they come and stand before the Lord and He does not allow them to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The hypocrites in churches today talk the talk but they cannot back up their talk with their walk. They talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk. Having genuine faith will produce a changed life that will do the will of the Father. Dead faith does not produce a life of good works. James gives a simple illustration of this in verses fifteen and sixteen; this brings us to our fist sub-point: faith without works does not help other people in need.
A. Faith without works does not help other people in need. (James 2:15-16)
Here we see a poor believer that showed up to church with daily needs. The poor believer was lacking food and clothes, but the hypocrite or the man with the dead faith walked up to him and said some spiritual words and walked away. What good was that? If you see a fellow believer in the church who does not have clothes, how hard is it to either buy some clothes out of love for him or give him money to buy some clothes? The reason that the man with the dead faith gave him some words is that he thinks his words are just as good as works and they are not. To be able to help a person in need is an example of love. In fact, according to Galatians 5:6 faith works by love. On top of that the Bible teaches believers in Galatians 6:10 to help people in need, especially those that are Christians. The Apostle John writes in I John 3:17-18, “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (KJV) If God has blessed us with the resources to give, then let us give out of the love that is in us. Let us give because we want to give.
Transition: Not only is faith without works unprofitable, it is also dead.
B. Faith without works is dead. (James 2:17)
Faith that does not produce works in the life of a person is dead. James uses the Greek word nekra which comes from the word nekros. This word means dead; without life; a dead corpse. The word can be used figurative or literally. James is drawing the picture that faith without works is dead and has no life. In no way am I saying that works are required in order to be saved. The Bible teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “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.” (KJV) However, referring back to the illustration of the oars, faith and works are tied together. A genuine faith produces godly works in the life of a believer.
Illustration: Charles Ryrie said “Unproductive faith cannot save, because it is not genuine faith. Faith and works are like a two-coupon ticket to heaven. The coupon of works is not good for passage, and coupon of faith is not valid if detached from works.”
Transition: Not only is faith without works dead, it also fails in providing evidence of salvation.
C. Faith without works cannot provide evidence of salvation. (James 2:18)
Here James discusses that a man that says he hath faith but has no works is not going to be able to prove that he has genuine faith. The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus 1:16, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (KJV) In this passage, Paul is saying that false prophets profess to know God, but they deny God by their lifestyle and actions. The Greek word arneomai, translated deny in this passage, carries the connotation of “to contradict.” (Exploring Pastoral Epistles p. 262) Therefore, the false believers were contradicting what they professed with their mouth by the way they were living their lives. They were not able to provide evidence to support their professions. However, a man that has genuine faith will be able to demonstrate his faith by the works in his life. The fact of the matter is that once you are truly saved, the Holy Spirit indwells you and fills you. You are no longer the same person, but a new creature. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 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.” (KJV) The genuine faith will produce a new life that will be producing good works. You cannot have one or the other. They come together, with genuine faith comes godly living and good works.
Illustration: I read a poster in my high school history class that read, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.”
This is very true, and it goes perfectly with what James and Paul were talking about in their passages. Would there be enough evidence of your changed life for someone to notice that you are a Christian. Or are you one of those people who profess to be saved but don’t live the life? Are you one of those people that have worked in the same job for 5, 10, or even 15 years, and the people that work with you have no clue that you are a Christian?
Transition: Now that we have seen how faith without works is unprofitable, lets move on to point number three.
III. Genuine Faith is more than knowing, it is believing with the heart. (James 2:19-20)
James moves on to explain that many people that say they are saved have mind knowledge of God. They know in their mind what to do to be saved, but they never believe it with their heart.
A. Knowledge does not guarantee salvation. (v. 19)
James brings out an illustration about demons in this passage. He says many people are like the demons that know and believe in God. Demons are not atheists; they believe God exists. They also had to submit to Jesus several times during Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. However, they know God just as many people believe with their mind, but do not believe in their heart. The problem of the demons is that believing and trembling is not a saving experience. Wiersbe says, “A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and be lost forever. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life.” This refers back to what was mentioned in verse 18 of James chapter 2, “…Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works.” (KJV) Therefore, the knowledge the demons possessed did not guarantee salvation. True salvation comes from a genuine faith that produces a changed life.
Transition: True faith produces a changed life, but dead faith does not transform.
B. Dead faith does not transform (v. 20)
The problem of faith without works is that it does not transform. The KJV uses the word dead. In verse 20 the Greek word for dead is the word arge, which means “useless, worthless, barren, or unproductive.” Dead faith does not produce godly living. There is no transformation in a person. Therefore, referring back to the question asked by James at the end of verse 14, can that kind of faith save a person? The answer is NO! Dead faith cannot save anyone. Being a Christian involves trusting in Christ and living for Christ. Warren Wiersbe puts it in simple words by saying, “You receive the life, then you reveal the life.” People with dead faith do not live the life, they are not transformed. James uses the example of Abraham and how he was justified by his works. What he is talking about, is how Abraham placed his faith in God and later demonstrated it with his life and his good works. This is the kind of faith Christians need to have.
Conclusion: Faith without works is unprofitable, and is of no use to Christianity. Dead faith does not have the power to save a person, because it lacks the power of transformation. Genuine faith transforms a person, causing him to have a changed life. Let me urge you today to examine your life. Have you honestly accepted Christ as your personal Savior, and if so does your life demonstrate and prove that you are truly saved? Do the people you hang around with know for certain that you are a Christian? Maybe, some of you are saying that you know for sure that you have accepted Christ as your Savior, but have not lived up to your maximum potential as a Christian. Let me encourage you to strive to be more and more Christ-like everyday. Remember, genuine faith produces godly works in the life of the believer. If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?