Lesson 19: The Emptiness Of An Unproductive Faith (James 2:14-20) PART 2


(Woodruff, S.C.)

Therefore, true faith always manifests itself by love (Gal. 5:6). If a man shows enough love for his neighbor as he does himself, we can be sure his faith is genuine.
First (before deeds) comes faith. Then, when we have believed, we become new people. True faith then causes a change in our behavior. God fills our life with His love through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). We receive new power to love our neighbor and to believe all of Christ's other commands. And this new love and new obedience is the proof that our faith is indeed true. Therefore, in summary, the New Testament teaches that we cannot obtain salvation by our work and effort; instead, we receive salvation through true faith. But true faith is consistently demonstrated by our love and obedience; if there is no love and obedience, there is no faith. Deeds – that is, love and obedience2 – are the proof of our faith. Without love and obedience, our love will not save us; it is dead.
One of the criminals crucified with Jesus believed just before he died (Luke 23:39-43). After believing, he had no chance to do any good works. From this, we know he was saved through faith and not through any works. But for those who do not die immediately after believing, their faith must be manifested by works of love and obedience, as long as they live.

18But 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."

Who is speaking? There are two possibilities.
(1) It may be the same man who asked the question in v. 14 or his representative: "What use is it, my brethren if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" He merely says You (James) have faith. He means: "You (James) are in the same position as we are; you are one of us." James sharply replies, "and I (with emphasis) have works, and continues with his attack, Show me. . . .
(2) On the other hand, James may be keeping himself in the background, and the same one may be speaking on his behalf and answering the question asked in v. 14. He begins by saying, You have faith (as you say, v. 14), and I have works. He continues his offensive. Knowing that faith is an inner attitude and that the man claims to have it, he says, 'Show it.' At the back of his mind is the thought, 'If you can, I doubt it.' For it is impossible to show it without works, which the man does not have. He finishes the round with a hard punch, 'I will show you my faith by my works.' This is possible because the works express faith.
Here James speaks of an imaginary conversation between two people. The first person says that only faith is necessary, not works. The second person says that both faith and works together are required. The second person (James) speaks to the first: "You have faith, you say? Please show me your faith. You can't show it because your faith is without works. But I will show you my faith by what I do. My works are the proof of my faith."
19You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
Here, the imaginary conversation continues. The attack is resumed and pressed home. Perhaps the man will try to show his faith by referring to its contents. Are you a monotheist in belief? Good! This is a sincere comment (Deut. 6:4), for the doctrine is basic, but it becomes ironical. You have not demonstrated your Christian faith; indeed, you keep strange company: the demons believe just as you do and shudder at the exorcistic formula, 'one God,' in fear of losing His power. Your faith is merely the popular, intellectual (though not necessarily learned) idea, and it can be combined with evil. Just as the demons believe and continue their wickedness, so you too can believe and go on sinning. The point is not that the content of faith was wrong but that it was inadequate. We might appropriately compare Tit. 1:16 with Heb. 11:6
20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
James speaks in his own name here. As the imaginary conversation continues, the second person (James) reminds the first person about Abraham. God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar (see Gen. 22:1-13; Heb. 11:17-19).
Abraham had true faith in God; therefore, he obeyed God. Is proof desired? He adds Scripture (v. 21) to reason to show that faith apart from works is useless.
Why was Abraham considered righteous (v. 21)? Because he believed? Or because he obeyed? The answer is both. Abraham was deemed to be righteous because he believed and also because he obeyed.


General Notes
1 "And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." These are Jesus' words to the one thief on the cross who repented. Is proof desired? He adds Scripture (v. 21) to reason to show that faith apart from works is useless. And Paul said, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph 2:8-9).
2 Love and obedience always go together; to obey is to love, and to love is to obey (see John 14:15). In the same way, faith and deeds always go together; you can't have one without the other.
3 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Mat. 7:21).

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