Faithlife Sermons

Faith without Works (James 2:14-26)

Notes
Transcript

Introduction

Good evening everyone, I hope you have had a great week so far. I know that some states have already started reopening; Pennsylvania has started to allow some businesses to reopen, which means that hopefully we can start getting back to normal life within the next month or so. I’m only mentioning this to give a piece of encouragement out to all of you. As we transition from having a lot of free-time in which it has been easy for us to stay connected with God through the study of his word and prayer; my encouragement is that we don’t allow our work schedules and the busy-ness of life to distract us from staying connected with God through the study of his word, prayer, and fellowship with likeminded believers. Don’t trade the eternal for the temporal.
That isn’t the point of this evening, but I’ve noticed a lot of people heading back to work, and I wanted to express that bit of encouragement before everyone started to get too busy and had already lost that connection with God.
This evening, we’re continuing our series in the book of James. This is our fourth message in James and we’ve already studied about the testing of our faith, hearing and doing the word of God, and the sin of partiality—or the sin of treating one another differently based on external socio-economic factors. Which hits on a lot of key topics relating to how we respond to salvation; how we respond to difficult situations; and how we respond to each other.
This evening, we’re looking at a particular topic and the topic is faith and works. And James is going to make a statement that seemingly contradicts other passages of Scripture, particularly some of Paul’s writings and yet, what Paul and James both say about faith and works, makes sense, when we take the time to understand what they’re actually saying.
But first, let’s take a moment to pray:

Prayer

Pray for the reopening of Pennsylvania
Pray for those that are recovering from COVID-19
Pray for the churches as they plan on their reopening

Sermon

This evening, we’re taking a look at James 2:14-26, let’s read the passage and then we’ll work on breaking the passage down:
James 2:14–26 ESV
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
As we study this passage, we’re going to look at it in four parts, (1) before we even get to the text, I want to take a few minutes to define what exactly faith is, because a working definition of faith is necessary for us to understand the rest of the passage, (2) Vs.14-17, is all driving at the point that Faith without Works is Dead or put another way, Faith apart from Works is useless (and that is going to sound uncomfortable to anyone who knows anything about Christianity, but we’ll talk more about that later), (3) Vs. 18-20, will give an answer to a common objection James’ teaching and (4)Vs. 21-26, will show us that active faith or useful faith results in active works. All of this will point us to the main point that James is trying to make in his letter, that true faith in Jesus Christ is evident in our actions.

What is Faith?

Before we can really understand James 2:14-26, we need to come up with an actual definition of what faith is:
The Oxford dictionary comes with two definitions for the word “faith,” (1) trust in someone’s ability or knowledge; trust that someone or something will do what has been promised and (2) strong religious beliefs
For the first definition, I think we can agree, to have faith in Jesus Christ is to have trust in Jesus’ ability and knowledge. In other words, we have faith that Jesus Christ accomplished God’s purpose on the cross. As for “trust that someone or something will do what has been promised,” the majority of Christians genuinely believe that Jesus will return one day, so that definition is viable
As for the second definition, “strong religious beliefs,” that is hopefully true. If you have faith, you hopefully have strong religious beliefs otherwise, I’m not entirely sure that you can have faith.
The issue with both of these definitions is that it does not encapsulate everything the Bible means when it talks about the idea of faith. So yes, technically faith in the Bible is to have faith that Jesus accomplished God’s purpose and that he will do what he has promised and yes faith in the Bible involves strong religious beliefs, but there’s more to it than that.
The term faith is thrown around back and forth and people utilize it to mean a multitude of different things:
In addition to what the Oxford dictionary has just given us, people utilize the term faith to mean a belief in something that they don’t have any evidence for, which subsequently, they utilize the same definition for hope.
People utilize the term faith to mean intellectual knowledge in something—so when they claim they have faith in Jesus Christ, it isn’t so much that they believe, but rather they know the claims of Jesus Christ intellectually.
So, let’s take a look at two passages of Scripture that give us a definition of the word faith and let’s seen what exactly the Bible means when it talks about faith:
The first passage is Hebrews 11:1-3, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
The author of Hebrews is making this statement that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and what the author is saying is that faith is the trust that we have in something that we cannot explicitly prove. In other words, we cannot point people to a visible manifestation of God today; we cannot touch Jesus like they did in the first century, we cannot smell the Holy Spirit and yet, because we’ve experienced the effects of God working in our lives, we believe.
C.S. Lewis in his essay, “Is Theology Poetry,” made this statement, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen—not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” or in other words, his statement is that he has faith because everything else makes sense when he believes.
And that’s what the author of Hebrews is trying to explain, that our belief or our faith is what allows us to believe because through faith everything else makes sense. The author of Hebrews goes on later to explain that without faith it is impossible to please God, because whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The second passage is Romans 10:8-10, in which Paul writes this statement concerning salvation or what we would call saving faith, “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
In this statement about salvation, Paul says that salvation requires us to believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths
The word believe comes from the same root that faith comes from—which implies that faith and belief go hand in hand. And in Paul’s statement, you have to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead
And then you have to confess that Jesus is Lord
Which means something vitally important, that faith—true faith will lead to us doing something
In the case of Romans 10:8-10, true faith leads us to confess that Jesus is Lord and that is all that is required for us to be saved; to believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised from the dead and to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord.
In Hebrews 11, we’re actually told in 12:1-2 what our faith should lead us to do, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”
What I’m getting at and what I’m hoping you understand is that faith isn’t merely believing; true faith motivates us to doing the word of God
Faith is an intellectual belief that Jesus was raised from the dead and that Jesus is Lord that motivates us into action.
Keep this definition of faith in mind as we start to dig into James 2.

Faith without Works is Dead (Vs. 14-20)

James 2:14–20 ESV
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
James starts this paragraph by posing a question that honestly, should make us all a bit uncomfortable.
James poses this question, “what good is it, if someone claims to have faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
And if you have any familiarity of Christianity or the Bible, every red flag in the book has just gone up in your head.
And you might be thinking, are we not justified by faith alone? And you’re referencing verses like this:
Galatians 2:16, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ”
or Romans 3:28, “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law
or even Romans 1:17, when Paul writes of not being ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
And you are right to have every red flag in your mind going up because salvation is by faith alone
But James isn’t talking about working for salvation in this passage—though he is talking about having faith in the one that saves us
James is actually talking about works in the sense of our response to the Gospel.
In other words, James is actually questioning whether or not the “faith” that these people are claiming to have is actually faith or not.
How do I know this? From Vs. 14, “Can that faith save him?” He’s referencing this type of faith that doesn’t have works as a different type of faith compared to the faith of one who is a believer in Jesus Christ.
and in reality, we come to learn that the “faith” that James is speaking of isn’t actually faith.
Douglas Moo makes this statement, “James is not saying that faith does not save: he is saying that the faith this person claims to have, a faith that has not works, cannot save. Therefore, while James’ own view of faith does not differ from that found in Paul and the rest of the New Testament (cf. 1:6; 2:1, 5; 5:5), in 2:14–26 ‘faith’ often refers to ‘bogus’ faith that neither Paul nor James would regard as genuine Christian faith.”
Vs. 15, continues and gives an example of this person who claims to have faith, but no works, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
In this hypothetical example that James gives, we actually see that the person in question knows the right things to say and he has a relationship with the church, since it is a “brother or sister” in need.
And in this example, the person with this fake faith utilizes a spiritual response, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” This person with fake faith, expresses well wishes, but they’re simply empty words of this fake believer and they do no good in providing material sustenance nor spiritual ‘profit.’
Now, in this hypothetical situation, the person with fake faith utilizes a spiritual response to essentially tell the person that he’s sorry that he’s struggling, but there’s nothing I can do or since this is a hypothetical example, more than likely there’s nothing that he wants to do; and because he’s an unbeliever, that’s that
But as a side note, how many times do we as true believers do the exact same thing? Someone is struggling and instead of trying to help them we just send them on their way.
Now, it’s one thing if we literally cannot help them, but in almost every situation, we know of places in which people in need can get help, and the least we can do is direct them to those places.
If someone needs help and we can offer them help, we ought to offer them help.
James poses a question and its a question that we have to wrestle with today because in our modern era, we’ve fallen into this trap of what I would call “easy believe-ism.” Which means this, salvation is all about reciting a prayer and then it doesn’t really matter what happens after the fact, but since you’ve claimed to believe and you’ve recited that prayer, you can now do whatever you’d like and you’re saved.
But that actually isn’t true faith in Jesus Christ, that’s treating salvation like a “get out of jail free card,” when in reality, if salvation is only a get out of jail free card to you, you probably don’t actually believe, you just want to get out of hell.
And if you’re wondering whether or not this is you; if your salvation has never motivated you to grow spiritual, seek Jesus, or do good works or acts of kindness, you really ought to check your heart.
Because true faith in Jesus Christ motivates us into action.
And James will show us examples of how faith motivates action in Vs. 21-26, but he first anticipates a common objection to this idea that faith motivates work, Vs. 18-20.

An Objection Against Works (Vs. 18-20)

James 2:18–20 ESV
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
Vs. 18 starts this objection with, “But someone will say, ‘you have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
In other words, the objection is essentially that, “just because I don’t have works to show my faith, doesn’t mean I don’t believe.”
And the idea of the objection is, just because you don’t see that I believe doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in Jesus Christ, but James has a problem with this statement and Jesus actually has a problem with this statement as well.
James goes on to say, “show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works,” in other words, the objector can’t prove that he actually believes, because there is no evidence for his statement of faith, but the evidence for James’ statement of faith is seen in his actions—put simply, people know James believes because of the way he acts.
I mentioned that I know Jesus has an issue with the statement, “just because I don’t have works to show my faith, doesn’t mean I don’t believe” because of a statement that Jesus makes during the Sermon on the Mount that is actually talking about false prophets, but can help explain what I mean here, in Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus makes this statement concerning false prophets, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves,” how can we know who the false prophets are? “You will know them by their fruits” . . . Vs. 17, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, not can a bad tree bear good fruit.”
So, even in the case of Jesus warning against false prophets, the method for determining who is good and bad, is based on the fruit that comes from their work.
Which means, that in the case of this objection, “just because I don’t have works doesn’t mean I don’t believe,” both Jesus and James is making the statement that actions show whether or not you believe.
And to drive home his point. James also confronts people who think that their knowledge of spiritual truth alone and their obedience to tradition is enough to save them. Much like the knowledge that we saw in Vs. 16, to say something spiritual like “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” does not equate actual belief, he makes this statement, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
The phrase, “You believe that God is one” refers to what is called the Hebrew shema and it was a phrase that Jewish people would recite from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, oh Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And the Jewish people as part of their ritual worship would recite this phrase twice a day.
And James makes the statement that they’re doing well in their recitation of this, but just believing that God is one and being able to recite a passage of Scripture is not the same as having saving faith. And he drives that point, my mentioning that “even the demons believe—and shudder!”
What does James mean by this? Well even the demons believe that God is one, even the demons believe that Jesus existed (we know this from Acts 19, when unbelievers try to exorcise a demon from a man and the demon responds with, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”)
And yet, even in their knowledge of Jesus Christ, they still don’t have saving faith in him.
So, when James makes the statement that even the demons believe, he’s making the point that the demons also have knowledge of who Jesus is, they just refuse to follow him
Which means, that we as individuals can have knowledge of who Jesus us, but until that knowledge is met with actual belief and true saving faith, we’re just as lost as the demons are.
And in an almost ominous warning, James warns us that if we don’t believe his statement that faith apart from works is useless, we can be shown how useless that type of faith is.
So, if faith without works is dead and even knowledge without faith is useless, what exactly does that leave us with? Vs. 21-26, explains to us through utilizing examples in the Old Testament what that true, active faith looks like:

Active Faith motivates Active Work (Vs. 21-26)

James 2:21–26 ESV
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
His first example is Abraham offering Isaac on the altar
And you have to remember that when Isaac was born—Abraham and Sarah were older in age and they were not physically able to have children and yet God promised them a son and gave them Isaac.
And by the time God tells Abraham to offer up Isaac, Isaac is the age of a teenager, so Abraham had raised this child for 12 or more years after being promised this child who would bless all of the world’s nations
And yet, when he and Isaac start to walk to where they’ll build the altar to make a sacrifice and Isaac in his teenage wisdom asks his dad, “where is the sacrifice,” Abraham had no doubt that God would supply a suitable sacrifice, which God did, after it is clear that Abraham was willing to do what God asked even in the sacrificing of his son.
Vs. 22, you see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”
His second example is Rahab the prostitute who was justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way
And if you remember, as the Israelites were coming to take the Promised Land, Joshua sent two men as spies to view the land. Or to get information about the land and the inhabitants. The king of Jericho had heard that they were in his territory and had sent people to capture them
The spies sent from Israel, lodged at the house of Rahab and when the guards came to find the men, she hid them and as she hides them she makes a statement of faith, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:1-24)
Vs. 26, closes off this paragraph with, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
And this is really the thesis statement of this paragraph. James is closing with this specific point, that you can’t claim to have faith without works because faith without works is dead just like the body without the spirit is dead.
The whole premise of James’ argument is quite simple, if you truly believe in Jesus Christ; there will be good work to back it up. If you don’t have good work to back up your beliefs, you probably don’t actually believe.
And I want to make this absolutely clear, James is not saying that you need good works in order to be saved; James is saying that good works are a result of being saved.
Kurt Richardson makes this statement about what James says about faith and works, “It is thus much more advisable to emphasize what James emphasized: faith without deeds is good to no one. He was not implying that the deeds of faith are effective for salvation. Rather, the deeds of faith demonstrate the validity of the claim to be a believer; without them the claim is empty or “dead”—but more importantly, without deeds the needy do not receive help.” (NAC, 129)
So, as we wrap up this evening, let’s look at some application.

Application

And the first question that I have to ask concerning this passage is this, do you actually believe in Jesus Christ?
Do you believe in your heart that Jesus was raised from the dead and have you confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord?
Because just in case you misunderstood, salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, through Jesus Christ alone.
If you have yet to believe in your heart and confess Jesus as Lord, might I implore you consider repenting from your sin, believing in Jesus Christ, and following him this evening? At the very least, let me remind you that in a time when life is uncertain, Jesus is certain, he is stable, and he is worth trusting in.
If you have claimed Jesus as your savior and you’ve repented of sin and you believe in Him; does your life show that you claim to believe?
Because James makes it clear that true faith results in good work.
And a lack of good work probably means that you don’t actually have faith
The second question I have, has to do with Vs. 19, “You believe that God is one; you do well” and I want to point that verse out because it seems to imply that knowledge is a good thing when it’s combined with faith. So, my question is, if you’re a believer, are you actively internalizing the word of God?
Because that is the point of the Jewish people repeating the shema, for them to internalize that God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God.
Are you pursuing more knowledge of Jesus Christ—not just by listening to sermons, but by studying the word of God individually, in groups, or in a church?
Churches are about to reopen—now would be a great opportunity to not only reconnect with the body of Christ, but to also connect with people in a smaller group pursuing knowledge and wisdom from the word of God.
Do you make the effort to learn from the word of God?
And lastly, if you’ve listened to all of this and you’ve realized that your good works and claim of faith don’t line up:
Let me encourage you first, to make sure you actually do believe; that you’ve repented of your sins and you’re following Jesus
And let me then encourage you to simply seek to love your neighbor. The hypothetical situation that James mentions at the beginning of this passage has to do with someone with a fake faith saying spiritual things to someone in need, but not actually helping that person.
In that hypothetical situation, if that person with fake faith had real faith and was actively choosing to love the person in need, good works would’ve come naturally
If you’re a believer and you’ve realized that your good works don’t line up with your claim to faith
Repent of sin
And seek to love your neighbors.

Closing

Before I close in prayer, let me remind you that I’ll be on Facebook Live on Sunday at 10:30am, preaching from James 3:1-12 about the power of the tongue. If your church isn’t livestreaming or if you’re simply looking for more Bible teaching, we’d love to have you there. I’m going to pray and then we’ll close out tonight.
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