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James 2:1426comment (0)

August 6, 2009

By Jay T. Robertson

Related Scripture: James 2:1426

Explore the Bible
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

James 2:14–26

Just Talking (14–17)

This passage is perhaps the most misunderstood one in the Book of James. Some see it as a contradiction of the apostle Paul’s teaching on the way of salvation. They say James was a champion of salvation by works, while Paul was a champion of salvation by grace. But when the teachings of the two men are viewed in proper perspective, there is no conflict. They did not differ in core biblical beliefs, only in emphasis. Paul was expounding the way of justification, and James was describing the life of the justified. In this passage, James contrasted two kinds of faith — one genuine, the other spurious; one alive, the other dead; one that saves, another that does not save.

Biblical faith is more than verbal expression. James asked the question that we also must ask: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith, but does not have works?” The key word here is “says.” What good does it do to “say” you have faith but your life does not reflect it? There are many today who profess one thing but practice something else. You may know someone who can quote the Bible by the yard but lives it by the inch. May God grant us the grace to live our lives consistently for His glory.  

James also asked in verse 14, “Can his faith save him?” This question can be translated as “can such faith save him?” The obvious biblical answer is that it cannot. Saving faith is a matter of works as well as words. We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.

Verses 15–16 illustrate the truth set forth in verse 14. James depicted a fellow Christ-follower in desperate need of the necessities of life. The believer was cold and hungry. A Christ-professor responded only with talk. Mere verbal faith cannot serve others. Words have never filled an empty stomach or clothed a cold body. Empty words do not profit either the one who utters them or the one who is in need. The apostle John wrote, “Little children, we must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). According to verse 17, such faith is not merely outwardly barren but inwardly dead. 

Just “Believing” (18–20)
Biblical faith is manifested by visible evidence. In verse 18, James introduced an imaginary objector who basically said, “You have your theology and I have my works.” The objector argued that there is a place for both the person who emphasizes faith and the person who stresses works.  

Even today, some have the opinion that theology is a waste of time. Let’s just get busy for Jesus, they say. But what’s down in the well comes up in the bucket. Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” As A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our theology leads us to live the way we do. True faith is demonstrable. You cannot see my faith. You can only know my faith by what I do. 

In verse 19, James is still speaking to the person who professed faith but produced no works. For the sake of argument, James admitted that the person gave intellectual assent to the truth that “God is one.” That belief is good as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. John Calvin wrote that mere knowledge about God “can no more connect man with God than the sight of the sun can carry him up to heaven.” Demons know that God is one. Mere intellectual belief about God does not save anyone. Saving faith is a matter of the heart as well as the head.

Justifying Faith (21–26)
Biblical faith is made clear by obedient living. Saving faith is public as well as private. In verses 21–24, we see that Abraham, the patriarch, demonstrated that the spiritually privileged can please God with a balance of faith and works. In verses 25–26, we see that Rahab, the prostitute, demonstrated that the spiritually poor can please God with a balance of faith and works. Just as the body without the spirit is dead, faith that is a mere shell, void of fruit, is dead also. Christ-follower, don’t just stand there. Do something for Christ’s sake. 

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