James 2:17

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17

James now shows that a person’s faith needs to be expressed outwardly in acts which are of value in relation to the faith. What does that mean exactly? First, he says, “Thus also faith by itself.” The Greek actually is structured with “by itself” at the end of the verse. Further, “faith” has an article before it to show that he is speaking of the faith of the individual in the gospel. Not all types of faith require works to be alive –

“so also the faith, if it may not have works, is dead by itself.” YLT

In this, James is showing that a professing Christian’s faith which never goes beyond that faith into some type of action, is a dead faith. One can think of a baby in a womb which issues forth dead. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a baby, but it does mean that it has no purpose from that moment on. Such is true, James says, concerning the faith by itself.

He then adds in “if it does not have works.” Again, the word “it” is speaking of “the faith,” not all types of faith. One does not need to have works if he has faith in the strength of a chair to hold him. One does not need to have works if he has faith that his wife will cook dinner that evening. James is speaking of one who has faith in Christ, but who does not outwardly display that faith in acknowledgment of what they have received. For such a person, their faith “is dead.” The only person it does any good for is the individual. But it does nothing beyond him. But Christ worked in order to save him. What kind of appreciation is there in what He did, when a person isn’t willing to extend what Christ did on to others in some manner?

But, this brings in an obvious question. When James says, “if it does not have works,” what is he talking about? “What works?” The Roman Catholic Church makes a great deal about works being necessary to be saved and to continue to be saved – cooperating in salvation with Christ. Reformed theologians speak of “works” as being a necessary demonstration of saving faith – the fruits of it. But neither system defines what “works” somehow prove the saving faith – either for or because of salvation. Each just gives the statement expecting adherents to somehow know what works justify them (RCC) or prove their justification (Reformed).

James will continue to reveal what he means, including what “works” demonstrate a faith which is alive.

Life application: Other than to hang a door, a doornail is pretty much useless. And so it is with a faith in Christ that isn’t then exercised through accompanied action. James is going to give biblical examples of faith-based deeds in the verses ahead and then he will provide a verse which has brought about argument and theological finger-pointing for eons. Until we get there, let us just think about what it means to be saved and how we can know if we are. Paul says in Romans 10:9 –

“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

Either this is true or it is not. Paul then goes on to say –

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:13, 14

Again, if we are saved by the expression of faith in Romans 10, and then immediately marked with God’s Holy Spirit as indicated in Ephesians, then how can our faith later be considered dead? Our faith is part of the gift of God for salvation as is noted elsewhere in Ephesians. So what actions are necessary to ensure our faith is alive? Think on these things and understand that there is a satisfactory answer to them if we simply think on faith from a biblical perspective.

Heavenly Father, for those who have called on Jesus, we once lacked saving faith, but O! how sweet was the day we received the gift of grace through faith from You. May we never forget the glorious moment You brought our souls to life. We reached out and accepted what You offered – peace through Your precious Son, our Lord and Savior! Help us to never forget this, and to act with living faith because of it always. Amen.

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