What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled;” and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.
Yes, a man will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”
Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder.
But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness;” and he was called the friend of God. You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith.
In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.
It has been said that, “We judge ourselves by our ideals and we judge others by their actions.” That about summarizes this recounting of faith and works from James. Do you have faith? Fine! Now prove it with your actions.
- In your opinion, what good is faith without works?
- “And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food…” Notice that James doesn’t lead with giving to your local church here. He leads with extreme, life-threatening need. Are you aware of this type of need in your community? What about in the world? Where should our giving be focused—on another million-dollar building or life-sustaining aid for those all over the world who lack the basic necessities for life?
- Do you agree with James’s bold statement, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself”?
- Can you show me your faith without your works?
- James declares, “By works a man is justified, and not only by faith.” This is a dangerous road. How do we keep the mindset that our actions, or works, are driven purely in response to Christ’s love and grace without falling into a mindset that our works save us?
- Does it bother you that James uses a prostitute as an example of works? Does it bother you that this prostitute wasn’t even an Israelite? Is it possible that today if someone doesn’t wear the name of “Christian” that he or she is capable of being “justified by works”?
- Three times in this passage James states that, “Faith without works is dead.” Do you accept this as truth or can you argue a different aspect of our faith walk with God?
I came from a rigid upbringing in a southeast United States version of the Church of Christ. Works were impressed upon us as our Christian duty from an early age. It was very easy to fall into a mindset of works being the key to our salvation, that somehow we were “earning” the love of Christ. It took me a long time to overcome these feelings. I believe that I have balance now, that my actions, or works, are a response to the love and grace of Christ. But there is always that gnawing feeling in my heart that I’m relying too much on what I do rather than my acceptance of Christ’s freely given gift of salvation. I have to constantly remind myself that these actions—these “every good purpose and every act of faith” as Paul calls them—could only be manifested in my heart and executed through my hands by God’s prompting. I am, as Jesus reminds me, “Merely an unworthy servant doing his duty.” That helps with the arrogance and pride factors that continually creep into my heart when I stop and look back at what God has done through me. The bottom line: It’s him, not me. The only thing I can claim in my behalf is I said, “Yes” to God when he asked.
Father, teach us the balance of faith and works. Develop in us a strong faith. Develop in us a strong work ethic. Don’t let us delude ourselves with either. If we have these spiritual muscles, they are gifts from you and nothing to take pride in. Help us to show the world how important you are to us by our ideals as well as our actions.