Faith Without Works is Dead: What Did James Mean?

Children of the Kingdom;

May the grace and peace of God be with you in Jesus, our Lord and Savior. The purpose of this second letter about Grace and Works is to demonstrate that James was not preaching salvation by works in addition to grace, but was describing instead the defining characteristics of the faith through which Grace saves. In our previous letter we stated.

…in stark contrast to the kinds of works which only God can design and bring at His divinely appointed time, which can only be successfully performed if faith is present (the bible often refers to them as good works), there is a category of works that is vehemently denounced and rejected by the scriptures, which can literally bring a curse on the one performing it. These works seek to take the place of the grace of God, the place of Jesus, making light of who He is and of His sacrifice.

What did James mean in James 2:20?

James 2:20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”

In a nutshell, James is telling us to live out what we confess. Eight verses earlier he said:

James 2:12 [ESV] So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

Later on (in James 5:18), he continued the same thought by simply stating…

James 5:12 [ESV]…but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no

Christians should be men and women of integrity, of Godly integrity! Our acts, our way of life, the things we delight in and things we hate should all be in alignment with our oral confession that we agree with everything God said! So speak…so act! So speak…so act! Let us live out what we confess! Let us stop with excuses!

This exhortation is to be found time and again in the scriptures. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, said the following:

Matthew 15:8,9 [ESV]So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

There is such a thing as worshipping in vain…when we speak, but do not act. When we confess the Lord, but do not do what He says, choosing instead to do things manufactured by other men, yet portrayed as commandments of God. This is all what James was referring to: If I agree with God, then you should not only hear it from my mouth (for example when I sing worshipping songs), but you should also see it in the way I live! You should be able to read the scriptures through my life.

NOW…was James preaching therefore salvation by works also? Oh that God will protect us from such foolish accusation. In addition to the above, one needs no further evidence than the two examples James himself used to make his point: Abraham, with the sacrifice of his son, and Rahab, the gentile prostitute who hid the spies.

Abraham lived more than 400 years before the law of Moses was given. How therefore could James be referring to works of the law which did not yet exist? Abraham did not orchestrate the death of his son; how therefore could this act be his own performance? Rahab was not from Israel; how therefore could she have been familiar with their Law? Does the law of Moses say anything hiding spies? Could Rahab have orchestrated in advance such an act?

James did not choose anyone who lived under the law, perhaps to precisely to protect us from such a misunderstanding. Yet, there were many under the law who demonstrated strong faith (David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc.). But James do say…if we do not live out what we confess, then we are only fooling ourselves. Let us strive, let us strive my people to live out the faith we claim. If we do not strive, if we cannot evidence it…then our faith is dead, and that faith can’t save us.

That is why he asked the question:

James 2:14 [ESV]What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

The answer is obvious…NO, no, that type of faith can’t save us. It is no faith at all, hence Grace has nothing to work with to save us, for by Grace we are saved through faith.

May the mercy of our God be with us to give us strength to grow in the faith that saves.

In the Name above all name: Jesus, the Christ.



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