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UNDERSTANDING JAMES 2

James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

The Bible clearly says that faith without works is dead. Many Catholics, Protestants, and even some Baptists will twist this to mean that faith without works cannot save a person. The problem with that is that there are hundreds of scriptures that say that believing on Jesus Christ (faith) is all that is required for salvation. So you can either use this one chapter to negate the rest of the Bible, or you can weigh this passage against the rest of the Bible and see that it’s obviously not saying that faith without works won't save a person.  

Let’s examine what James is saying verse by verse in James 2:  

(14) What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

In verse 14, he asks what is profited if a man says he has faith, but has no works. What if you tell someone “I believe in God,” and never give them the gospel. Did that profit anyone in any way? Of course not. The person you told that to is still lost, and you have gained nothing by telling them you “believe in God.” Or maybe you even told them you believe in Jesus. That doesn’t help anyone. Saying you have faith does not profit anyone in any way. It also does not necessarily mean you actually have faith.  

The very next thing it says in this verse is “can faith save him?” This is a question, not an answer. Most people just automatically answer this “no” and say “see faith alone can’t save a person”. But the person in question is someone who says they have faith, not someone who actually has faith. The context of this whole passage is someone who says they have faith.

(15) If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

(16) And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

In verses 15-16 it asks what would happen if a brother or sister lacks food or clothing and you say to them “be ye warmed and filled;” what it would profit. In other words, your faith would not be accomplishing anything. That’s why it asks “what doth it profit?” This has nothing to do with being saved. It has to do with what your faith is accomplishing. Did you know that we are all going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ someday to receive rewards for what we do?  

2Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

(17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

 In verse 17 it says faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. Now let’s ask another question; is dead faith still faith? Well, James says faith without works is dead, so obviously faith without works exists; and according to Romans 4, faith without works can still justify a person before God (save them).

Romans 4:5-6 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (6) Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

(18) Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

In verse 18 it says “shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works”. It is impossible to demonstrate your faith to someone else without works. You can’t cut your head open, take out some of your brains and say “see, right here is my faith.” The only way anyone else could see that you have faith is to observe your works and see if they match up. If they don’t match up, that makes you a hypocrite. I once gave someone the gospel whom everyone else said would never listen to them. The man told me he could tell that I was serious and actually believed. You can see that this man judged my faith by my works. He could tell I was really a believer because my works lined up with what I was saying. And this allowed me to give him the gospel. Please don’t mistake what I am saying here. I am a sinner who deserves hell.  Giving the gospel to someone is just doing what God told me to do.  This just demonstrates, however, that we are judged by unbelievers by our works.

(19) Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

This verse is probably one of the most abused verses in the Bible. You tell someone that the way to be saved is to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (like the Apostles said in Acts 16:31) and they tell you “Just believe, huh? Well, the demons also believe”. WRONG! The devils believe there is one God according to this verse. Islam believes there is one God, as well. In fact, there are many people that believe there is one God who are on their way to hell today. Believing in one God is not enough to save you. You must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. (Acts 10:43, Acts 16:31, John 3:16-18, John 3:36)

(20) But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Remember the context of this passage when reading verse 21. Because in Romans 4 it says the following:

Romans 4:2-3 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (3) For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

 So then Abraham was justified before man by works that demonstrated his faith, however if he were justified by works before God, he would have reason to glory. And the Bible says that God will not share his glory, nor will we be able to boast about our salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (9) Not of works, lest any man should boast.


Quoting these verses out of context can give people the wrong impression. Beware of deceivers who know these verses in James, but don’t know any of the other scriptures. It’s great to know these verses, but it’s not great to twist them to mislead people into works salvation.  

(22) Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

(23) And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

In the final verses, he concludes the exact same thing that it says in Romans 4. His faith was made perfect by his works, in that he demonstrated his faith. What’s interesting is that there is so much symbolism of Christ in Abraham’s offering his only son on the altar. It was a great picture of his faith in Christ. Yes, his faith in Christ. Because people in the Old Testament were saved exactly the same way we are saved today; by faith in Christ.

 

Below you can see the pertinent passages of James 2 side by side with Romans 4:

JAMES 2

(14) What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

(15) If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

(16) And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

(17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

(18) Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

(19) Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

(20) But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

(22) Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

(23) And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

ROMANS 4

(1) What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

(2) For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

(3) For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

(4) Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

(5) But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

(6) Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

(7) Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

(8) Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

(9) Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

(10) How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

Q: Is faith without works dead?
A: Yes! (James 2:17, James 2:20)

Q: Can faith without works still save you?
A: Yes! (Romans 4:5, John 3:16, John 3:36, Acts 10:43)

Dead faith, if it is truly faith in Christ, is still faith, and still able to save a person.

You cannot add works to grace.  A gift is only free if you don't earn it in any way. 

Romans 11:6  And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. 

Audio Sermon "James 2 in Context"