This section of James gives us his stance on faith and works. Real faith, according to James, will be accompanied by action. In verses 15 and 16 James presents us a scenario in which real faith and dead faith are contrasted. The scene is someone in need. More specifically, that someone needs clothes and food. Real faith would clothe the brother or sister in need of clothes and give them food. Dead faith would give them lip service accompanied by no action. When I think of someone with dead faith, the picture of a person getting “knocked off” in a mafia movie comes to mind. Their feet have been put in concrete and they can’t move. I like James’ poignant remark towards dead faith at the end of verse 16, “what use is that?”
James gives a couple of real life examples as we read along. In verses 21 through 23 he talks about Abraham offering Isaac to the Lord as a sacrifice. In verse 25 Rahab the prostitute is praised for lending a hand and helping the messengers of Israel take the city of Jericho. Apparently some in the early church (Jews and Gentiles?) believed faith could be alive without works. These real life examples (Abraham and Rahab) remind Christians of the thread between faith and works.
James teaches us that faith and works go hand in hand. If we leave faith alone it will die. If we nurture it with works it will thrive. Just like watering a plant or feeding a dog, faith is kept alive by action. I do not believe our works save us, but our works come as a result of us being saved. Verse 22 says, in regards to Abraham offering Isaac to the Lord as a sacrifice,
Faith was working with his works,
and as a result of the works,
faith was perfected.
James gives us the impression that our works perfect our faith. They make it the real deal. Faith is God working in us. Works are about us working with and for God. We team up with God when we receive Jesus. Christians must be careful to avoid the extremes of thinking they have to do absolutely nothing because they are saved for life and trying to do everything because they think salvation depends upon what they do. There is a balance between faith and works every Christian must strive for. Jesus was clear that we can’t save ourselves, but He was also clear when He said a Christian should bear fruit.
Interested in studying James 2:14-26 further? Here are some words to do word studies on from this section (I wrote only brief definitions for each).
- Faith (pistis) – Confidence and trust in God.
- Works (ergon) – Employment and working.
- Dead (nekros) – Dead, dead to sin, separated from God’s grace.
- Righteousness (dikaiosune) – Being declared right by God.