Discover more from Heaven On Wheels
Faith without works is dead… or is it?
James 2:26 A person truly justified by faith will demonstrate their genuine faith in Christ through the good works in his or her life
“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
James 2:26 NASB1995
The last third of James 2 is all about faith and works, how the two must be present in the lives of Christians.
Would you believe that this verse was part of the reason for the Reformation? In this epistle, James seems to be at odds with the Apostle Paul. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul specifically says “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” James, on the other hand, says that “faith without works is dead.” Who is right?
It helps if we look at a definition of “good works”. These are things done for salvation in addition to professing one’s faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These works vary from one religion to another, which has caused no end of conflict between different factions of what should be one body of Christ — the church.
For example, some Christian denominations say that water baptism (in addition to faith) is necessary for salvation. No baptism, no salvation. Other churches add to the level of complexity, with rules about which minister may do the baptism, what age a person is baptized at, what method is used to perform the baptism (sprinkling with water or complete immersion), and what words need to be said during the ceremony.
It’s as if they’re saying that salvation is an equation, where Salvation = faith + [some work]. That work can be receiving Mass, going to confession, taking communion regularly, tithing, reading the Bible daily or any number of other variables.
Paul repeatedly makes the case for salvation by faith alone. I won’t insert the text of all of the many verses here, but if you wish to explore his assertions, refer to Acts 16:31; Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:24; Ephesians 1:13; and Philippians 3:9.
So, where is James coming from? It pays to look at this verse in the context of the rest of the chapter. In James 2:17-18, he says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” He states that genuine faith in Christ produces a changed life that results in good works.
Let’s look at the other verses leading up to today’s verse (James 2:20-25).
“But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”
James 2:20-25 NASB1995
James is not saying that justification requires faith and works, but that a person truly justified by faith will demonstrate their genuine faith in Christ through the good works in his or her life.
Paul continues in this theme in Titus 2:14, where he says “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Even in Ephesians 2, right after saying that we are saved through faith and not works, Paul says of our creation (Ephesians 2:10) “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
The resolution of this entire debate? We are saved by works, but not by our works — even if they appear to be worthy of salvation. Our salvation only comes by the work of Christ on our behalf, through the works of His death and His resurrection. Both James and Paul agree on one thing — we receive our Savior by faith. That faith should change us and compel us to do good works to conform with the life of our Savior.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, I thank You that by Your grace I am alive in Christ and am filled with the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that my faith may be a living, growing faith, producing good works that You have set in front of me to do; not a dead faith that produces no fruit. May others see Christ living in me and working through me, so Your name is glorified by my life. I ask this in Jesus’ holy name, AMEN.