Is Your Faith Real?--James 2:14-28
Is Your faith real? This question is raised by
James in the latter part of his second chapter. There are four
items that James considers as he takes up the discussion of the reality
"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?"--James 2:14
In this verse together with the next three is:
I. THE REALITY OF FAITH QUESTIONED--vv. 14-17
A. The Nature of This Questionable Faith
1. A professed faith
a. The supposed difference from Paul
(I) Paul states clearly that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and by faith alone.
(II) James asks here, "Can faith alone save a man?"
(III) The key here is "if a man says."
(IV) Paul is concerned with being just before God; James is concerned with the relation between what a man
says and what he does.
(V) Cf. Ephesians 2:8-10 where Paul places works in proper relation to faith.
(VI) What James says is in the same order as Paul; salvation comes first--1:18, and works are to follow; you
will see more of this later in the chapter.
b. This kind of faith is profitless.
(I) The word profit
(A) Occurs only here, in verse 16, and in 1 Corinthians 15:32.
(B) From the verb meaning "to increase"
(II) James is dealing with a mere profession of faith.
(III) Notice that James said, "If a man says," that is, "keeps on saying."
(IV) Go down the street and ask anyone whether he is a Christian; he is likely to reply
(A) "I'm not a heathen."
(B) "I'm trying to be."
(C) "I try to keep the ten commandments."
(V) James "speaks of false profession of faith; for he does not begin thus, 'If any one has faith;' but, 'If any
says that he has faith;' by which he certainly intimates that hypocrites boast of the empty name of faith,
which really does not belong to them." (Calvin, 309-10)
2. A workless faith
a. What work here is
(I) Not ceremonies
(II) Those acts which are the fruits of faith
b. The faith here is one that does not result in good works, and therefore, useless.
c. Matthew 7:20--"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
3. A Non-saving faith
a. James in not saying "Can faith save him?" but rather "Can that kind of faith save him?"
b. Salvation is by faith even as James points out.
(II) 1:6--as trust
(III) 1:21--reception of the word
(IV) 2:1--belief in Christ
c. Thus, a non-working faith or rather one that produces no works cannot be saving faith.
d. Many times this person has seen people supposedly accept Christ and are even baptized; then they disappear
and are never seen again; even on being visited, there is no evidence of a change of life.
B. The Illustration of Questionable Faith
1. Biblical--vv. 15, 16
a. Cf. verses 15, 16
(I) A brother (another believer) is in need.
(II) You wish him peace.
(III) You do not give the needed things (assuming you can do so).
(IV) This illustrates a non-working faith.
b. The context
(I) Cf. verse 12
(II) The royal law of love
(III) The law of liberty
a. "Blondin, the famous tight-rope walker, was upon one occasion waiting to commence his performance, when
he noticed a schoolboy standing by, all agog with interest. Addressing him, and pointing up to the rope, he
said, 'Do you believe I can walk across that rope?' 'Yes, I do,' was the reply. There followed another
question, 'Do you believe I could carry you on my back and walk across?' Unhesitatingly came the answer
'Yes, certainly.' 'Very well, then,' said Blondin, bending down, 'jump up.' But the boy disappeared. He had
said that he believed, but _____!" (King, 51-2)
b. In contrast to that
(I) A certain church with which this speaker was affiliated took up a special offering to help those members
who were out of work due to layoffs.
(II) Then there is the story of "a grocer" who "was down in the cellar of his shop, when he noticed his small
son standing at the edge of the open trap-door. He called up, 'Here I am, Sonnie, jump down.' But the
boy hesitated, 'I can't, Daddie; I can't see you.' Up came the answer, 'No, but I can see you; trust me and
jump, and I will catch you.' Upon which, the step was taken--and, in very truth, he believed on his father."
(op. cit., 52)
C. The Results of Questionable Faith
1. It is dead.
a. Verse 17
(I) It is not life-giving.
(II) Works are to follow faith; if they don't, it is not true faith.
b. Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17
c. "A mock-faith is as hateful as mock-charity, and both show a heart dead to all real godliness." (Henry, VI:981)
2. It is alone.
a. Here again James expresses clearly that works must follow faith, or it is not genuine faith.
b. "He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works. We hence conclude that it is
indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name." (Calvin, 311)
II. THE REALITY OF FAITH EXAMINED--vv. 18-20
A. The Basis of the Examination
1. The outward evidence
a. James demanded a demonstration of the person's faith.
(I) Show me your faith apart from works.
(II) One writer said, "Now give any evidence of having the faith thou professest without works if thou canst."
(III) James is setting up an impossible situation.
(IV) It is impossible to demonstrate that one has faith which is intangible.
(V) Evidence, to be evidence, must be tangible--i. e., something that can be sensed.
(VI) Therefore, it is folly indeed to profess to have faith and yet be devoid of works.
(VII) To illustrate, John Doe makes a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; he may have even come
down to an old fashion mourner's bench and wept (nothing wrong in doing that). He may even have been
baptized after that. Then, he disappears and no one sees him in church again. When visited (if he can be
found), he has some lame excuse for not coming to church. He admits that he is not going anywhere. He
made a profession, but no works followed; this is not a case of backsliding, but he was never saved in the
(VIII) "The design of James was to expose the foolish boasting of those who imagined that they had faith
when by their life they shewed that they were unbelievers; for he intimates that it would be easy for all the
godly who led a holy life to strip hypocrites of that boasting with which they were inflated." (Calvin, 311)
b. James stated that he will show his faith by his works.
(I) His works will evidence his faith.
(II) The Greek order emphasizes this fact: "I by my works will show", etc.
(III) One has well said, "I will soon let thee see how my works flow from faith and are undoubted evidences
of its existence." (Henry, VI:982)
(IV) Believers are to be judged by their works.
(A) Romans 14:10b, 12
(B) The unsaved will be judged by their works, not for salvation, but for punishment. The one work that
will doom them will be not believing on Jesus Christ.
(C) Cf. John 6:28, 29
(V) Now we must be careful to say that outward uprightness is not a sure evidence of faith, but one cannot
have true faith without works.
(VI) "This only he means, that faith, without the evidence of good works, is vainly pretended because fruit
ever comes from the living root of a good tree." (Calvin, 312)
2. The demoniac evidence
a. The belief in the unity of God
(I) This has to do with the oneness of the Godhead.
(II) This is the one truth that is common to the Jew and the Christian.
(III) "You do well," says James, "to believe this, but is that enough?"
(IV) This is the first principle of all religion.
(A) You believe that God is, in opposition to the atheists.
(B) You believe that God is one over against
(V) To rest in this knowledge, however, is insufficient; it is really self-deceptive and will end you up in hell.
b. This belief is held by the demons.
(I) Text: "The devils also believe."
(A) In effect James is saying that belief in God makes you no better off than demons.
(B) The Apostles' Creed begins, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."
(C) The profession of this statement will make one no better off than demons, for it does not go on to
faith in Jesus Christ and His work on Calvary. (This is not intended to be a criticism of the Apostle's
Creed--or any other creed, nor of the recitation thereof.)
(D) This writer has often heard, when witnessing to someone, "But I believe in God." Yet that person is as
lost and hell bound as the worst murderer in this world.
(II) Text: "And tremble"
(A) The word tremble
(1) The word occurs only here in the New Testament.
(2) Originally meant "to be rough on the surface; to bristle." (Vincent, I:744)
(3) Thus it came to mean, "Of a horror which makes the hair stand on end contracts the surface of the
skin and making 'gooseflesh.'" Thus, to shudder (Ibid.)
(B) The demons believe in God, and they trembled; they shudder at their coming and certain judgment.
(C) This terror can be seen when Jesus confronted devils:--Matthew 8:29
B. The Results of the Examination
1. A no-works faith is dead.
a. It is barren.
(I) James opening statement in this verse is simply "Doest thou wish to know?"
(II) This verse reiterates verse 17.
b. It is condemning.
(I) One well said, We are taught" here "that he who boasts of faith without works is to be looked upon at
present as a foolish condemned person." (Henry, VI:982)
(II) If this is your state, you are a candidate for hell.
(III) The Pharisees and Sadducees are good examples--Matthew 3:7, 8
2. A no-works faith is empty.
a. It is deficient.
(I) It is without any spiritual life.
(II) James is doubtlessly emphasizing here that true spiritual state of this one who claims faith, but does not
show in his life the resulting works.
b. It is worthless.
(I) That kind of faith will not save you.
(II) Notice again verse 17, and then verse 26.
(III) Such worthless faith fails to take the final trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
III. THE REALITY OF FAITH ILLUSTRATED--(vv. 21-25)
A. By Abraham--vv. 21-24
1. The apparent contradiction
a. Paul's statement concerning Abraham
(I) Romans 4:2
(II) The next verse points out that he believed God and that belief was counted as righteousness unto him.
(III) Paul's further statement is clear--Romans 4:5.
(IV) Paul is quoting Genesis 15:6
(V) Therefore, it is clear that Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works.
b. James' statement concerning Abraham
(I) James 2:21
(II) He proceeded in the next verse to state--"Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works
was faith made perfect [or complete]?"
(III) "Ha," say some, "see James and Paul contradict each other."
(IV) James is referring to Genesis 22:1ff. to an incident years later after the event in Genesis 15:6.
2. The correct answer
a. Paul's position
(I) Paul is speaking about being just before God.
(II) Paul is speaking about the faith of Abraham prior to his circumcision.
(III) Robertson stated, "Paul discusses Abraham's faith as the basis of his justification . . . ." (Robertson,
(IV) Paul elsewhere shows the importance of works as he said in Ephesians 2:10.
b. James' judgment
(I) James is speaking about the proof before men of a person's faith.
(II) Again, Robertson declared, "James points to the offering (. . .) as proof of the faith that Abraham
already had." (op. cit., 37; italics are his.)
(III) Verse 24 emphasizes that James is not talking about salvation, but rather the proof of it.--"Ye see then
how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
(IV) Robertson said in this connection, "The word justified here in verse 24 is not "is made righteous," but
rather "is shown to be righteous." (op. cit., 38)
3. The additional comments
a. The Jerusalem Council
(I) The council was called for the very purpose to discuss the very matter as to whether any works were
needed to be added to salvation.--Acts 15:6-20
(II) Peter spoke, then Paul, then James summarized.
(III) Nothing was said or implied that would indicate that James and Paul were in disagreement.
(IV) The council concluded that no works were needed to be added to faith for salvation; it was
recommended that Gentiles abstain from certain things which would show proof of their faith.
(V) It seems to this writer that this requirement answers those who claim it is "legalism" if a group requires
certain things of their members.
b. The contradiction within James
(I) Assume for a moment that James is talking about salvation here rather than the evidence of faith.
(II) It has rightly been observed that you would have difficulty in reconciling James with himself.
(III) James clearly teaches in 1:18 that God begot us of His own will and verse 17 shows it is a gift.
(IV) Liberals and others who would add works to faith for salvation ignore this very fact.
c. The just conclusion
(I) Paul and James do not contradict each other.
(II) Paul, as you have already seen, spoke of the necessity of works, though his main emphasis is being just
before God which is by faith alone.
(III) James, as you also have already seen, spoke of the necessity of faith, though his main emphasis is proof
of that faith before men.
(IV) As James pointed in verse 22, "By works was faith made perfect."
(V) Thus, as Robertson well stated, "Faith (live faith) is what we must all have (2:18), only it must shew itself
also in deeds as Abraham's did." (Robertson, VI:38)
(VI) Though James also quotes Genesis 15:6, he is doing so to illustrate a different point than Paul.
(VII) "Why then does James say that it was fulfilled? even because he intended to shew what sort of faith that
was which justified Abraham; that is, that it was not idle or evanescent, but rendered him obedient to God
. . . ." (Calvin, 316)
B. Illustrated by Rahab
1. A strange example
a. Who would ever think to use Rahab as an example?
b. But you see James did not write this on his own; he was moved by the Holy Spirit to choose her as an
c. Being a Gentile, this may show that James' audience was larger than just Jews after the flesh, but also included
Gentile proselytes, Gentiles converted to Judaism.
d. The Holy Spirit could have chosen her because she was so unlike Abraham and yet showed her faith in the
same way, that is, by works.
2. A sure election
a. Who she was
(I) A harlot--noted for her sin
(II) A down and outer, in contrast to Abraham, who was an up and outer, yet was one noted for his faith.
(III) Whenever she is mentioned she is called "the harlot."
(IV) This is not because she remained a harlot, rather to emphasize that she, as we, have no merit for
b. What she had
(I) She had faith as is pointed out in Hebrews 11:31.
(II) She had works which showed her faith.
(A) She said, "I know that the Lord hath given you the land."--Joshua 2:9
(B) That expressed her faith, but it was not mere words.
(C) She showed her faith by hiding the spies and by lowering them over the wall, and by placing the scarlet
cord in the window.
(III) She had a faith that worked.
(IV) She as well as Abraham answers the easy believism of this day.
IV. THE REALITY OF FAITH COMPARED--v. 26
A. Faith Is Compared with the Body
1. The comparison examined
a. It is unusual.
(I) Faith is an immaterial thing.
(II) Body is a material thing.
(III) One would expect faith to be compared with the spirit.
b. It is understandable.
(I) "The Apostle's view seems to be rather this; faith is the body, the sum and substance of the Christian life."
(II) To this agrees the writer of Hebrews.
(A) It is worthy to note that both Hebrews and James were written primarily to Jews (although not
(B) Hebrews 11:1
(C) It must be granted that the two words body and substance are different not only in English, but also in
2. The comparison explained
a. The word body
(I) Simply the common Greek word for body
(II) Can refer to either a living body or a corpse
b. The word spirit
(I) The common Greek word for spirit
(A) The word used of our human spirit
(B) The word used with the word holy to refer to the third Person of the Trinity.
(II) The common Greek word for breath
c. One way we can tell that the spirit has left a person is by the absence of the breath.
(I) This was the method in olden days.
(II) Now, we have more accurate means of determining when one is dead.
(A) For a while it was the cessation of the heart beat.
(B) Now, it is the absence of brain waves.
(C) Who knows what more accurate means will be discovered in the future.
d. The point that James is making is that a body without a spirit (or breath) was dead.
B. Works Compared to the Spirit
1. The comparison examined
a. It is unusual.
(I) Works are a material or visible thing.
(II) Spirit is an immaterial thing.
(III) One would expect works to be compared to the body.
b. It is understandable.
(I) Works are equivalent to obedience.
(II) This is what one finds out in James 1:21b, 22
(III) Being a doer of the word is the same as obeying the word.
(IV) Thus, works show that the faith is alive or genuine.
2. The comparison explained
a. The works, being equated to obedience, is "the moving and quickening" of "that body", namely "faith."
b. In the like manner the spirit is the quickening of our natural bodies.
c. Thus, the comparison is clear and accurate.
(I) How do you tell that a person is physically alive? By his spirit (or by their breath in the old days).
(II) How do tell that a person has genuine faith? By his works!
d. Matthew Henry pointed out two factors here (Henry, VI:983)
(I) "The best works, without faith, are dead; they want their root and principle. It is by faith that any thing we
do is really good, with an eye to God, in obedience to Him, as done and so as to aim principally at his
(II) "The most plausible profession of faith without works, is dead; as the root is dead, when it produces
nothing green, nothing of fruit."
e. He further stated "Faith is the root, good works are the fruits, and we must set to it that we have both."
f. Clearly you can not have the fruit without the root; it is the fruit that shows that it's genuine faith.
Paul and James do not contradict each other; neither
of them teaches that we are saved by works; rather
they both teach that works are the fruit of our faith.
You can say that you have received Jesus Christ as Savior by faith. However, if your life has not been changed, if you are living the same old life as before your profession (This writer is not saying that everything in your life has changed), if
you are not trying to live pleasing to God, this writer says you have no genuine faith! Your profession was false! You are yet in your sins and headed for hell!
If that is your case, see How to Be Saved; then, turn right now and really put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Then, show it by telling others, going to church, reading your Bible, etc.