“Faith Validated” – James 2:14-26

June 23rd, 2013

James 2:14-26

“Faith Validated”

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Background Information:

  • Dikaioo GK = NIV “justify” has much the same range of meaning as the English word “justify”.  It can mean to be declared righteous or it can mean to verify or vindicate. So too with the Greek word Dikaioo
  • (v. 14) It would be no exaggeration to say that the whole of this passage and therefore the entire thrust of this epistle, hinges on the word “claims” in verse 14.  The verb in the original Greek is lego, which means “to say,” but the NIV’s perfectly legitimate alternative gives us an immediate clue to what James is getting at.  He produces a hypothetical man who claims to be a Christian.  But having made that claim, the man has no supporting evidence; he has “no deeds,” nothing to show that his claim is valid.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 160)
  • (v. 16) To eat well is a vulgarism, literally “gorge oneself,” like a ravenous beast, especially of cattle, as in early Greek.  “Go in peace,” addressed to beggars, may still be heard today in the streets of Jerusalem, and it has the same effect.  It signals the end of the encounter.  The speaker does nothing and goes off, leaving the beggar still cold and hungry, with the law of love unfulfilled.  (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, 123)
  • (v. 16) Apparently this “Christian” seems to be well able to provide relief: his ability is not in question, only his faith.  (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, 124)
  • (v. 16) The middle/passive voice of the Greek verbs rendered be warmed and be filled suggests an even more indifferent, cruel, and sarcastic attitude, which says in effect, “warm and feed yourself,” as if such a needy person would not already have done so if able.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 127)
  • (v. 16) The words are lofty: “Go, I wish you well.”  This is a typical Hebrew farewell that occurs numerous times in Scripture and the Apocrypha (Jgs 18:6; 1 Sm 1:17; 20:42; 29:7; 2 Sm 15:9; 2 Kgs 5:19; Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; Acts 16:36; Jth 8:35).  The greeting is more or less equivalent to our “good-bye” (God be with you).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 88)
  • (v. 25) The second person James uses to illustrate justification by works stands in stark contrast to Abraham.  She was a woman, a Gentile, and a prostitute.  Abraham was a moral man; she was an immoral woman.  He was a noble Chaldean; she was a degraded Canaanite.  He was a great leader; she was a common citizen.  He was at the top of the social-economic order; she was at the bottom.  Yet Rahab the harlot is listed along with Abraham in the great gallery of the faithful (Heb 11:8, 17, 31) and was even in the human lineage of Jesus, being the great-grandmother of David (Mt 1:5).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 140)


The Faith/Works – Paul/James Issue:

  • Paul is talking about being saved by a faith that justifies (makes us righteous).  James is talking about justifying (proving) your faith that it can be verified as capable of saving.
  • Now, most misconceptions of a writer’s meaning are due to imperfect definition of terms.  James was no metaphysician, and he does not stop to put precisely what he means by ‘faith.’  Clearly he meant by it the full evangelical meaning of trust when he used it in the earlier part of the letter (Jas 1:3, 6; 2:1-5).  As clearly he here means a mere intellectual belief of religious truth, a barren orthodoxy.  If that undeniable explanation of his terminology is kept steadily in view, most of the difficulty which has been found in bringing his teaching into harmony with Paul’s melts away at once.  (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: 2 Tm – Jas, 416)
  • Paul’s great theme is that nobody can procure salvation by the works of the law; James’ great theme is that nobody can prove their salvation except by works of love.  There is no disagreement here.  Indeed, when Paul wrote of those who “claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Ti 1:16) he was exactly on James’ wavelength!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 166)
  • James seems to be implying that Abraham’s faith was defective in some way until the incident at Mount Moriah.  But the explanation comes when we look at the way Paul uses an almost identical word.  Writing of the time when God refused to remove the unidentified thorn in the apostle’s flesh, Paul says that God’s word to him was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  Now it is obvious that God’s power was not created by Paul’s weakness, nor was it in any way increased by it.  What happened was that God’s power was revealed in Paul’s weakness.  The weaker Paul became, the more obvious it was that God’s power was the secret of his amazing life and ministry.  Now that is the kind of word James is using here.  He is saying that Abraham’s faith was brought out into the open and proved to be real by this staggering act of obedience.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 171)
  • Much of the difficulty has occurred because of a failure to understand that Paul and James use the term “righteousness” (or “justification”) in different, but not contradictory ways.  Paul uses the word to speak of God’s declaration that he has accepted a man on the exercise of faith; James uses it to speak of man’s demonstration that his faith is genuine and that he has been accepted.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 175)
  • James has indicated that deeds complete faith (v 22).  They are the outworking of genuine faith.  Thus deeds are the evidence that saving faith is present in a person’s life (v 18).  James was combating a superficial faith that had no wholesome effect in the life of the professed believer.  Paul, on the other hand, was combating legalism–the belief that one may earn saving merit before God by his good deeds.  Consequently Paul insisted that salvation is not by works but by faith alone.  However, the following context of the Ephesians passage (2:10) reveals that Paul did not depreciate good works.  He declared, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”  In Paul, therefore, as well as in James, good deeds are the product of genuine faith.  In both writers faith that produces no good deeds is incapable of saving a person.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 185)
  • Some have further imagined a contradiction between James’ declaration that Abraham was justified by works and Paul’s unequivocal teaching that he was justified solely by grace through faith (Rom 4:1-25; Gal 3:6-9).  Such is not the case, however.  James has already emphasized that salvation is God’s gracious gift (1:17-18), and in verse 23 he quotes Gn 15:6, which declares that God imputed righteousness to Abraham solely on the basis of his faith.  Also, the specific event James said justified Abraham by works was the offering of Isaac (v 21; cf. Gn 22:9-12)–an event that occurred many years after he was declared righteous by God (Gn 12:1-7; 15:6).  James is teaching, then, that Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac vindicates his faith before men–a teaching with which the apostle Paul was in wholehearted agreement (Eph 2:10).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 137)
  • It has been well said that St. Paul and St. James are not soldiers of different armies fighting against each other, but soldiers of the same army fighting back to back against enemies coming from opposite directions.  (W. H. Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 132)


The question to be answered is . . . What is the heart of James’ message expressed here in chapter 2:14-26?


Answer: You can claim you have faith all you want; but, if your faith is not demonstrated in some way, your claim is empty and your faith is dead.  Faith without works is dead.   To prove you have real, saving faith, it must be validated.


True Saving Faith:


  • Knowledge
  • Ascension
  • Conviction


Mistake number 1 – Is to think that you can get to heaven by good works.

Mistake number 2 – Is to think that you can get to heaven without good works.

—   Alistair Begg


The Word for the Day is . . . validate


We are not saved by deeds; we are saved for deeds; these are the twin truths of the Christian life.  Paul’s emphasis is on the first and James’ is on the second.  In fact they do not contradict but complement each other; and the message of both is essential to the Christian faith in its fullest form.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 74)


What does James desire for us to know about true, saving faith?:

I-  True saving faith can only be verified and made complete with works/deeds. (Jas 2:14-18, 20-25; see also: Mt 7:15-23; 12:33-37; Lk 10:25-37; Jn 8:39; 1 Cor 3:13)


Jesus is not saying that loving deeds earn heaven for us but that loving deeds are the marks of a heaven bound person.  — Alistair Begg


A faith without works is not real faith at all.  It is only a matter of words.  James is not saying that we are saved by faith plus works.  To hold such a view would be to dishonor the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we were saved by faith and by works, then there would be two saviors–Jesus and ourselves.  But the NT is very clear that Christ is the one and only Savior.  What James is emphasizing is that we are not saved by a faith of works only but by that kind of faith which results in a life of good works.  In other words, works are not the root of salvation but the fruit; they are not the cause but the effect.  (William MacDonald, Emmaus Correspondence Course:  The Epistle of James, 35-36)


Prove to me that you have faith without a life of good works.  You cannot do it.  Faith is invisible.  The only way others can know you have faith is by a life that demonstrates it.  (William MacDonald, Emmaus Correspondence Course:  The Epistle of James, 36)


Faith without deeds cannot be seen or proved to exist.  (R. Williams, The Cambridge Bible Commentary: John and James, 115)


It may help to understand exactly what James means by putting the first part of his challenge in the form of a question: “In what other way can you possibly demonstrate to me that your faith is genuine except by living the kind of life that proves it to be so?”  The challenge remains relevant today.  It is not enough for a person to give mental assent to doctrine, not even to be a church member.  What Jesus said about false prophets is equally true about false professors: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt 7:20).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 164-65)


It has been cleverly said that genuine faith is like calories; you can’t see them, but you can see their results!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 165)


As Jesus pointed out on several occasions, the purpose of a plant is to grow and to bear fruit–fruit representing its natural produce, whether figs, olives, nuts, flowers, or whatever.  Consequently, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:19-20).  Bearing fruit is not a function added to a plant but is an integral part of its design and purpose.  Even before it is planted, a seed contains the genetic structure for producing its own kind of fruit.  When a person is born again through saving faith and is given a new nature by God, he is given the genetic structure, as it were, for producing moral and spiritual good works.  That is the sense in which faith is perfected.  It produces the godly fruit for which it was designed (Eph 2:10).  Just as a fruit tree has not fulfilled its goal until it bears fruit, so also faith has not reached its end until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 139)


“[Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together.”  That one statement begins to take uniting “faith” and “actions,” not dividing them.  This is the language of co-operation, not conflict.  What is more, James is agreeing precisely with the Bible’s statement that “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice” (Heb 11:17).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 170)


Faith is an attitude of the inner man, and it can only be seen as it influences the actions of the one who possesses it.  Mere profession of faith proves nothing as to its reality; only action can demonstrate faith’s genuineness.  Hence James declares, “I will show you my faith by what I do.”  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 183)


“The scripture” to which James refers as “fulfilled” is Gn 15:6.  The account of the offering of Isaac on the altar appears in Gn 22:1-14.  30 years may have intervened between the events of these two chapters.  In the former passage Abraham’s faith is said to have been “credited to him as righteousness.”  The obedient offering of Isaac in the latter passage “fulfilled” the statement of the former passage.  This is not to be understood as the fulfillment of a prophecy.  Rather, it is fulfillment in the sense of completion (cf. v 22).  What Abraham did in Genesis 22 was the outworking of the faith described in chapter 15.  That it was the kind of faith that justifies is sown in chapter 22.  God’s act of crediting Abraham with righteousness because of his faith was vindicated by Abraham’s act of obedience in offering his son.  In this way Gn 22:1-14 fulfilled Gn 15:6.  James adds, as a parallel description of Abraham’s standing with God, that “He was called God’s friend” (see 2 Chr 20:7; Isa 41:8).  This is another way of saying that he was right with God.  It was not that Abraham earned the favor of God by obeying him; instead, he acted as a friend of God should act and thus showed that he was in reality God’s friend.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 184-85)


Some of the righteous and godly works James has already mentioned are endurance (1:3), perseverance under trial (1:12), purity of life (1:21), obedience to Scripture (1:22-23), compassion for the needy (1:27), and impartiality (2:1-9).  Later he mentions such things as acts of compassion (2:15), control of the tongue (3:2-12), humility (4:6, 10), truthfulness (4:11), and patience (5:8).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 124)



II-  True saving faith is so much more than intellectual orthodoxy (Jas 2:19; see also: Mt 3:7-9; Lk                            3:7-14; Jn 14:12; 15:1-16; Rom 8:1-14; 13:12-14; 2 Cor 5:6-7; Gal 5:6; Eph 2:10; Col 1:10; 2 Tim 2:19; 1 Jn 2:4-11)


Even the evil spirits “believe” in the sense of knowing a certain amount of biblical truth.  After all, those we have mentioned acknowledged the deity of Christ before some of his disciples!  There is no shadow of doubt that in this sense the devil himself is a “believer.”  He believes in the eternal existence and power of the one true God, he believes in the deity of Christ, in his virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, glorious resurrection and certain return to the earth.  Surely nothing could more vividly demonstrate the difference between a faith that merely consists of mental assent to certain facts and the faith that brings a man into communion with God.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 162-63)


Nicodemus believed Jesus was a prophet from God, that He spoke the truth, and that He performed miracles by divine power; and perhaps he even believed that He was the Messiah.  But again, the Lord made clear that, no matter how sincere it may be, mere acknowledgment of truths about Him does not constitute spiritual rebirth.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 120)


As in many other times in its history, the church today desperately needs to recognize and deal with the soul-damning idea that mere acknowledgment of the gospel facts as being true is sufficient for salvation.  We must clearly and forcefully counter the deception and delusion that knowing and accepting the truth about Jesus Christ is equivalent to having saving faith in Him.  In some church circles, it even seems to be held that merely not denying God is tantamount to trusting in Him.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 122)


Jewish orthodoxy was always centered in belief in the one true God, stated succinctly in the Shema: “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Dt 6:4).  Where most Jews fell short was in not obeying the following verse, which commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v 5).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 131)


As far as factual doctrine is concerned, demons are monotheists, all of whom know and believe there is one true God.  They also are very much aware that Scripture is God’s Word, that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, that salvation is by grace through faith, that Jesus died, was buried, and raised to atone for the sins of the world, and that He ascended to heaven and is now seated at His Father’s right hand.  They know quite well that there is a literal heaven and a literal hell.  They doubtless have a clearer knowledge of the millennium and its related truths than does even the most devoted Bible scholar.  But all of that orthodox knowledge, divinely and eternally significant as it is, cannot save them.  They know the truth about God, Christ, and the Spirit but hate it and them.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 131)


The demons have their religious facts straight, but they’re still demons.  We can know all the religious facts we want, but until we believe in Christ, we’re no more Christian than the demons.

There is one interesting difference between our intellectual friend and the demons, however.  James says that the demonic tribes tremble at the thought of God.  The Greek term used for shudder suggests a “rough, uneven surface.”  They get goose pimples!  But the dead faith of the religious intellectual doesn’t produce even that much of a reaction.  (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 87)


III-  Faith that cannot be verified by works is dead and therefore useless   (Jas 2:17, 20, 26; see also:  Job 31:16-22; Isa 58:6-13; Mt 7:21-23; 25:31-45; Ti 1:16; 1 Jn 3:17)


If your faith is dead, no amount of human effort or ability can resurrect it.


Faith that does not act is a faith that is just an act. — Lois Evans and Jane Rubietta


Faith is not faith until it is acted upon.  That is the litmus test.  Faith without works is dead.  So is love without energy.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 142)


It is clear then that Abraham’s faith inspired his works, and by his works his faith was made perfect.  True faith and works are inseparable.  The first produces the second, and the second evidences the first.  In the offering of Isaac we see a practical demonstration of the faith of Abraham.  It was the practical fulfillment of the Scripture which said that Abraham was justified by believing.  His good works identified him as a friend of God.  (William MacDonald, Emmaus Correspondence Course:  The Epistle of James, 37)


The writer has made his point in verse 17 that faith without action is lifeless.  Then he contemplates an objector getting up and saying, “Wait a minute!  Isn’t it possible for one man to be distinguished for his faith and another for his deeds?”  (Paraphrasing verse 18, first part).  This is meant to be an argument against the view of James that faith and deeds must be inextricably linked together.  So James replies, “No!  How can a man show faith apart from works to accord with it?  It is only by deeds that faith can be shown to exist in reality.”  (R. Williams, The Cambridge Bible Commentary: John and James, 115)


If a man has (true) faith, it will mold his conduct.  If he has nothing to produce but his bare assertion, then he cannot show it at all; and if no evidence of its existence is forthcoming, it does not exist.  (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: 2 Tm – Jas, 418)


James’ point is not that the presence of deeds proves the presence of faith, but that the absence of deeds proves the absence of faith.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 165)


Idle faith is as useless as idle words.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 166)


James is not challenging the person who claims to be a Christian because of the presence of good deeds in his life; he is challenging the person who claims to be a Christian in spite of the absence of good deeds in his life.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 167)


In his original creation, God joined body and spirit together; in the new creation he joins faith and deeds together.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 175)


An English preacher happened across a friend whose horse had been accidentally killed.  While the crowd of onlookers expressed empty words of sympathy, the preacher stepped forward and said to the loudest sympathizer, “I am sorry five pounds.  How much are you sorry?”  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 109-10)


It is pleasantly ironic that Martin Luther, who said such disparaging things about James, has given us, in his preface to Romans, as clear an expression of the idea of James as anyone: “Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.  He who does not these works is a faithless man.  He gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and know neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 17)  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 122)


Action is the proper fruit of living faith.  Because life is dynamic and productive, faith that lives will surely produce the fruit of good deeds.  Therefore, if no deeds are forthcoming, it is proof that the professed faith is dead.  Notice that James does not deny that it is faith.  He simply indicates that it is not the right kind of faith.  It is not living faith, nor can it save.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 183)


James does not wish to set “faith” and “deeds” at odds, or does he wish to deny the importance of faith in justification.  His point is that each needs the other in order to be efficacious.  Faith alone is insufficient, says James.  This is the natural equivalent to Paul’s formula of “faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 155)


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.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 76)


Many different kinds of works are named in the NT.  “The works of the Law” (Gal 2:16) relate to the sinner’s attempt to please God by obeying the Law of Moses.  Of course, it is impossible for a sinner to be saved through the works of the Law.  “The works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19) are done by unsaved people who live for the things of the old nature.  There are also “wicked works” (Col 1:21) and “dead works” (Heb 9:14).  Where there is dynamic faith–saving faith–you will always find good works.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 81)


The contrast is not, then, between faith and works, but between a faith that ‘has works’ and a faith that does not have works.  The latter is, like a body without a spirit (cf. 2:26), lifeless, and profits one nothing on the day of judgment.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 104)


There is an interesting and subtle play on words between “works” (ergōn) and “useless” (argē), a faith without works is unworking.  A verbal commitment to orthodoxy without resulting fruit is unproductive.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 69)


Fruitless, taking up space, and causing the soil around it to deteriorate:  A classic description of the average person who hangs around a church unconverted.  Who comes Sunday by Sunday by Sunday without any fruit in their lives at all.  They are fruitless, they take up space and their impact is to deteriorate the soil around them.  So while it was forbidden (by Jewish law) to destroy a fruit bearing tree, it was clearly within the line of duty to chop down a barren or an empty tree.  (Alistair Begg message “Mercy and Judgment”)


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: So whatFour questions that you need to answer with all honesty and sincerity because of the eternal implications:

A-  In what do you place your faith? (Mk 11:22; Jn 6:29; 12:36-37, 44; 14:1-6, 12; Acts 3:16; 16:31; 19:4; 20:21; 24:24; Rom 3:22-26; 4:5; 10:9-10; Gal 2:16; 3:26; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9; 1 Pt 1:21; 1 Jn 3:23)


Some people ask questions about the Christian faith because they want to believe, but others because they want to disbelieve, and it is this kind of quibbling questioning and arid argument that James is challenging.  He will not tolerate the attempt to substitute argument for action, because he sees what lies behind it, which is an unwillingness to forsake sin for righteousness.  As Jesus said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (Jn 3:20).  The insincere enquirer does not want to know the truth, he does not want to understand, he does not want to accept Christ–because he does not want to forsake his sin.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 168)                                                    


To put it schematically, there are four ways to view the relationship between salvation and works.  The arrow means “produces” or “results in.”

1.  Works → Salvation

2.  Faith + Works → Salvation

3.  Faith → Salvation

4.  Faith → Salvation + Works

View 1 says if we do enough good works, they produce salvation by earning God’s favor.  View 2 says that if we believe and perform works, we obtain salvation.  View 3 says that faith results in salvation.  View 4 says faith leads to salvation and works follow.  No Christian adheres to view 1.  Official, traditional Roman Catholic theology adheres to view 2, and many ordinary Catholics follow that teaching.  Some evangelical Christians support view 3 because they think it is possible to confess faith in Christ, unto salvation, without accepting him as Lord.  They believe it is good, but not absolutely necessary, to accept Christ as Lord.  But the entire NT testifies that while we are saved by faith alone, real faith is never alone.  Works are the necessary results of spiritual life (view 4).  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 95-96)


What James is condemning is not Paulinism but a perversion of it.  The essential Pauline position in one sentence was: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  But clearly the significance we attach to this demand will entirely depend on the meaning we attach to believe.  There are two kinds of belief.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 73)


After all, there is no question that it was the Lord Jesus Christ himself who said, “repent and believe in the gospel.”  Some immediately react by supposing that this contradicts the “only believe” of the Christian message.  Does “repent and believe the gospel” imply that the sinner must do two things to be saved, and not one only?  The exhortation is really only one requirement.  The instruction, “Leave London and go to Los Angeles” sounds like a two-fold request, but it really is only one: it is impossible to go to Los Angeles without leaving London.

Likewise, it is impossible to believe truly without repenting.  The difference between true faith and what the Scripture calls false faith is simple: it is the lack of repentance.  Without a doubt, many who seek to win sinners to the Savior without specifying repentance in their presentation nevertheless hope that true repentance, a mighty change of mind, heart, and life, will ensue, and rejoice when it happens.  But their disappointment when it does not happen should compel them to reword their message so that there can be no misunderstanding whatever.  (J. Edwin Orr; January 1, 1982 Christianity Today, Vol XXVI, No. 1, p. 27)


B-  Can the object of your faith be objectively verified?   In other words, how do you know where your faith lies?  (Psa 26:2; 139:23-24; Gal 6:4; 2 Cor 5:17; 13:5; Phil 1:6; Ti 3:8; 2 Pt 2:2; 1 Jn 3:7-10)


The kind of person James has in mind is someone with a lot to say but little to show.  In spiritual matters, as elsewhere, it is often empty vessels that make the greatest sound!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 168)


When disbelieving Jews sought to claim that they were members of God’s family by saying “Abraham is our father,” Jesus told them, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did” (Jn 8:39)–in other words, they would be obedient to God’s commandments.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 170)


William Gurnall has it, “Say not that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.”

May God give us the grace to prove what we profess!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 175)


Our words and our deeds should say the same thing.


The answer is that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real.  And our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth to demonstrate the varying measures of our obedience of faith.  In other words, salvation is by grace through faith, and rewards are by grace through faith, but the evidence of invisible faith in the judgment hall of Christ will be a transformed life.  Our deeds are not the basis of our salvation, they are the evidence of our salvation.  They are not foundation, they are demonstration.  (John Piper, Future Grace, 364)


The one common denominator of every person in Scripture who honored God by their faith is that they actively obeyed Him.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 61)


The works of the flesh are mentioned quite frequently in the NT.  For example, Paul enumerates some of the works of the flesh in Gal 5:19-21, which include adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contention, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and revelry.  He concludes by saying that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:21).  Paul also teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works (Eph 2:8-9).

The works of the Spirit do not originate with us.  They do not come from our lust or flesh; they flow from the Holy Spirit.  Paul teaches that we were created to live by such good works (Eph 2:10).  In contrast to the works of the flesh, Paul enumerates the works of “fruit” of the Spirit in Gal 5:22 and 23, which include love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  What a contrast!  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 61-62)


The genuineness of a profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is evidenced more by what a person does than by what he claims.  A person who professes Christ but who does not live a Christ-honoring, Christ-obeying life is a fraud.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 119)


When a man is justified before God, he will always prove that justification before other men.  A man who has been declared and made righteous will live righteously.  Imputed righteousness will manifest practical righteousness.  In the words of John Calvin, “Faith alone justifies; but the faith that justifies is never alone.”  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 138)


Abraham’s and Rahab’s justification by works was not demonstrated by their profession of faith, their worship or ritual, or any other religious activity.  In both cases it was demonstrated by putting everything that was dear to them on the line for the Lord, entrusting it to Him without qualification or reservation.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 141-42)


Nothing is easier than for a man to say “I believe”; but unless the soul actually accepts Christ as its Savior and Lord, such words are empty and delusive.  If they express a reality, it is a reality which involves nothing less than a complete transformation of the life.  The man puts himself under the authority of Christ; accepts His teaching as the rule of his life.  He is conscious of new motives, new aims, new joys.  New spiritual forces have sprung into being in his soul.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 274)


C-  What can we do to help our faith in Jesus grow?  (Rom 10:17; 2 Pt 1:3-11)


Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds.  -George Elliot


The genuine can be tested.  And God will always test the genuine so that its genuineness can be valuable to those who possess it.


It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self: to Jesus: but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ.  He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.”   All theses are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within.  But, the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” remember, therefore, it is not your hold of Christ that saves you—it is Christ; it is not your joy in Christ that saves you—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to your hand with which you art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to your hope, but to Jesus, the source of your hope; look not to your faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.  We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.  If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “Looking unto Jesus.”   Keep your eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon your mind; when you wake in the morning look to him; when you lie down at night look to him.  Do not let your hopes or fears come between you and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail you.  (C. H. Spurgeon as quoted in Alistair Begg; Pathway to Freedom, 228-29)


The reason why so few believers “through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body,” is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul: “Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good”; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure.  Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature,–a more thorough learning out of the truth,–that “in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing,”–a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God,–how much higher than they now are would be the attainments in holiness of many believers!  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 172)


Faith has a purpose, and that purpose is for the word to grow within us (1:18) until we are mature and complete (1:4).  Any “faith” that does not move toward the goal of salvation is therefore not “true” faith.  The idea is similar to that of Isa 55:11, where God declares that his word always accomplishes the purpose for which he sends it.  Anything les is evidence that what is in view is not the word of God.  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 153)


The fact is, I need God to help me love God.  And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans.  Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 104)


There is nothing more dangerous than the repeated experiencing of a fine emotion with no attempt to put it into action.  It is a fact that every time a man feels a noble impulse without taking action, he becomes less likely ever to take action.  In a sense, it is true to say that a man has no right to feel sympathy unless he at least tries to put that sympathy into action.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 76)


D-  Why do those of us who possess true saving faith sometimes fail to live like it? (Mt 16:9; Mk 8:18; Jn 15:20; 16:4; Eph 2:11-12; Phil 3:13; 2 Tm 2:8; Heb 10:32; 12:5; Jas 1:24-25; 2 Pt 1:3-11; Jude 1:17-23; Rv 2:5; 3:3)


Let’s check the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives:

  • When you find that you are feeling more love for unlovely people, people you don’t particularly like, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • When you find that there is a sense of joy about your life, without necessarily a change in your circumstances, know that the Holy Spirit has been at work.
  • When you find moments of peace that circumstances can’t destroy, you’re not going crazy, it is our Lord, the Holy Spirit.
  • When you find yourself being patient in areas where before you would have been quick-tempered and angry, you will know that the Holy Spirit has been doing His work.
  • When you find yourself kinder than you have been before, maybe even in the face of people who aren’t kind to you, that is the Holy Spirit doing what He does.
  • When you notice that you are better than you were before, doing right things just because they are the right things to do–balancing your actions, not against the bottom line, but against God’s commandments in your life, and working for what you know to be right–you know the Holy Spirit has been at work.
  • When others, who were supposed to be holding the rope for a brother or sister, got distracted by the pretty flowers…and you held on and were faithful, it is Him.
  • When you are surprised with the gentleness with which you turned away an angry friend or family member, when before you would have been quick-tempered, you know the Holy Spirit has been working.
  • When you are strongly tempted but are able to say no, though you wanted to say yes, you have seen the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  (Steve Brown, Follow the Wind–Our Lord, The Holy Spirit, 109-10)


Worship point:  One of the fruit of real saving faith is a desire to worship Jesus.  You either have this good fruit as a result of the good in you, or you don’t.


Spiritual Challenge: Be honest with your self-evaluation of the object and substance of your faith.  Is your faith truly alive?  What works can you point to that gives objective evidence to that claim?  Don’t hedge on your answer.  The implications are both eternal and significant.  If you find yourself deficient pray that God will move you by His Spirit and His Word to make Jesus the object of your faith that can be validated by your works/deeds.  Always remember the object of your faith.


It is important that each professing Christian examine his own heart and life and make sure that he possesses true saving faith, dynamic faith.  “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor 13:5a).  Satan is the great deceiver; one of his devices is imitation.  If he can convince a person that counterfeit faith is true faith, he has that person in his power.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our hearts:

1.  Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?

2.  Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come?  Have I ever seriously been exercised over my sins?

3.  Do I truly understand the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins and arose again?  Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?

4.  Did I sincerely repent of my sins and turn from them?  Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?  Or do I hate sin and fear God?

5.  Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation?  Do I enjoy a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?

6.  Has there been a change in my life?  Do I maintain good works, or are my works occasional and weak?  Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord?  Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?

7.  Do I have a desire to share Christ with others?  Or am I ashamed of Him?

8.  Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people?  Is worship a delight to me?

9.  Am I ready for the Lord’s return?  Or will I be ashamed when He comes for me?  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 85-86)


Quotes to Note:

Some people use this passage to prove that salvation is by good works.  But what they mean by good works is giving to charity, paying your debts, telling the truth and going to church.  Were these the good works of Abraham and Rahab?  They certainly were not.  In Abraham’s case, it was willingness to kill his son!  In Rahab’s case, it was treason!  “If you remove faith from these works, they were not only immoral and unfeeling, but they would have been sinful.”  Mackintosh well says, “This section refers to life-works, not law-works.  If you abstract faith from Abraham’s and Rahab’s works, they were bad works.  Look at them as the fruit of faith and they were life-works.”  (William MacDonald, Emmaus Correspondence Course:  The Epistle of James, 38)


The question is pressed, how can one verify an inward experience?  How does one know that he has to do with the Spirit of God, and not mere psychology?  After all, people can be inwardly certain and convinced about some very uncertain and unconvincing things.  1 Jn 4:1-3 offers this answer: the way to prove a spirit, whether it be of God–for there are many false prophets in the world–is to see if one if led to confess that Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh, is of God.  “By this you know the Spirit of God” (1 Jn 4:2).  The movement of the argument, then, is from the inward conviction to the outward, external, historical event of the Incarnation.  This is, indeed, an adequate criterion only for those who stand within the circle of faith.  Should one press for a “neutral” criterion by which to verify the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual Christian, or the Church as a whole, there can be no other than that of love.  Everyone, says the apostle, who is begotten of God, loves God, for God is love.  And if a believer loves God, he will love his neighbor also, for how can he hate a brother whom he has seen, and love God whom he has not seen?  If he loves God, God abides in him (1 Jn 4:7f.)  There can be no doubt that this abiding presence of God in the heart and life is the presence of the Holy Spirit, for “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).  Therefore, of all the fruits of the Spirit, love is the greatest, and is the most excellent way (1 Cor 13). (The Zondervan Pictoral Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. H-L, 196)


Works are not the root of salvation but the fruit;

they are not the cause but the effect.— William MacDonald




The object of

saving faith


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