James 2:14-26 – Faith – with or without deeds



JAMES 2v14 – 26.




The main topic dealt with in these verses is faith – a very broad concept having a variety of meanings. We speak of the Christian of Muslim Faiths …. of faith as believing something … as placing trust in something or someone … keeping faith as loyalty …..


When the Bible uses the word faith – as here – it is referring to that belief and trust in God that accepts that I am cut off from God by nature but because God is merciful and gracious, on the basis that Jesus Christ died for me, I can have a personal relationship with God. So my faith is in God’s ability and willingness to rescue me from spiritual death [cut off from God] and to give me spiritual life [bring me into a personal relationship with God].


The teaching of the Bible is that salvation is a gift from God and is received by faith alone. We do not deserve salvation – we cannot earn it

– it is all God’s work

– we simply receive it from God as a gift.


How does this square with the passage before us?


James 2:17-26

17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ……….


20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?…..


24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.


…26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)


Because of these verses many have said that James is at odds with apostle Paul and that there is a fundamental contradiction within the NT.



Helpful comparison of Paul and James on this issue!!



Faith is God’s foundational gift Ephesians 2:8 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —


James 2:5

5 ..Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (NIV)


Faith is the common mark of all Christians Galatians 3:26

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, (NIV)


James 2:1

1 My brothers, as believers [those who have faith in] in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.


The thread running through the Christian life 1 Timothy 6:12 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (NIV)


James 2:22 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (NIV)


The root from which good works grow Titus 3:8 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.


James 2:22 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (NIV)



There is fundamental agreement between Paul and James on how we receive salvation – they also agree as to how that salvation should show itself in our lives.


We need to carefully look at this passage to see that James is not saying that works are more important than faith or that faith and work are needed in equal portions in order for us to receive salvation from God.





James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (NIV)


When he says .. Can such faith save him? .. he is not saying that faith cannot save a person. Look carefully at the verse — this hypothetical person is claiming to have faith — it claiming to be a Christian — James is saying that claiming to have faith is not the same as having it — people make claims about many things but not all are genuine.


ILLUS.: “Some one has said “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you!”


This is the issue that James is addressing – faith must be followed by action otherwise we must question the claim to faith!


James now gives 4 illustrations:

– the one who claims faith yet neglects to help a fellow Christian.

– the demons

– Abraham – the father of faith

– Rahab – a Caananite prostitute

The first two are example of faith without deeds and the last two of faith with works.




Taking the first and last illustration.

James 2:15-26 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


25…., was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)


The first situation is clear fellow a Christian is in need materially and this armchair Christian does nothing to help – and we must assume that this person is in a position to help.


The second situation – Rahab – After God had rescue the Hebrew nation out of slavery in Egypt – and after their 40 year desert wanderings they were brought to the land of Canaan – present day Israel/ Palestine. When Hebrew spies were sent into the land Rahab who lived in Jericho – the first city to be attacked hid and rescued the spies at great risk to herself. It seems evident that this Caananite prostitute had already identified herself with God’s people.


v17 and v26 makes it quite clear that faith which does not produce good deeds it not simply deficient or lagging behind but is dead. The claim to faith that simply pats a hungry, cold person on the back and says “There, there everything will be fine – go your way and God bless you” – such faith is no faith at all!!


Rahab by contrast, when faced with fellow believers who were in need put her house, her resources and her personal safety on the line.


I wonder what James would say to us today – if he looked at the world in which we live – ‘Ah! there are very few people in Godalming who are poor and hungry’ – but there are thousands and thousands of Christians around the world [ millions if we consider our brothers and sisters as the family of humankind] – who today are hungry and sick and cold and suffering – while the church in the West is fat and comfortable.


If James were looking at us today would he see a living, vibrant faith – ‘What can we do to care for the world’s millions?’ – not a lot!! — but we can exert pressure on governments and agencies who could – ‘They won’t listen to me!!’ — have you tried have you written to your MP??

God will hold the rich nations to account – It is a fact that there is enough food to feed the world – millions go to bed hungry while mountains of butter, meat, fruit and grain are destroyed in the name of profits and shareholders and governments spent billions on weapons of mass-destruction!!


But it come much closer than that !! – What of the neighbour who has lost a loved one? Have you visited?

The old lady who is alone? have you popped in for a chat?

The disaffected teenager whose music is too loud for your liking? Have you made an effort to befriend her??


The kind of faith that stops with words is worthless! What we believe is important – our creed is important but a creed without caring is like a body without breathe – it is dead!!


Listen to Job on this

Job 31:16-22 16 “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, 17 if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless — — 19 if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment, 20 and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep, 21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, 22 then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. (NIV)


Job was a giant of faith yet he understood exactly what James is talking about.




James 2:18-24

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.

20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (NIV)


V18 seems to give the crux of the argument going on between some of James’ readers -, “You have faith; I have deeds.”


John Blanchard puts it like this “You have a great concern for doctrine and theology; you place a great emphasis on ‘faith’, on being quite sure of what you believe. Well, that’s fine, but I am what you would call a practical Christian. For me Christianity mean trying to live up to the Ten Commandments and the sermon on the mount. But surely we are both right? We are just different kinds of Christians that is all. Your Christianity majors on things you believe, mine majors on things I do. surely there is room for both of us.”


James’s response to such an argument is this ‘You say you have faith – very well show me without any deeds!! It is not possible! The absence of deeds proves the absence of faith!


What is the kind of faith the James is talking about??

His illustrations about demons and Abraham clarify the point!!


The demons.

It would seem that there were those who were saying ‘I believe in God therefore I must be OK’ – James takes the fundamental Jewish [and also Christian] belief that there is only one God Deuteronomy 6:4

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (NIV)


Good!! this is an essential belief BUT if you think intellectual assent to the exist of God is enough then think again – even the devils believe that.

There are a number of occasions in the life of Jesus were the demons recognised him for who he was :-

Matthew 8:29 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they [the Demons]shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (NIV)

Mark 1:24 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” (NIV)

Mark 3:11 11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” (NIV)


These emphasise the point James is making ‘there are no atheists in Hell’ [Blanchard]

They might believe in God BUT they do not know the peace of God, they do not experience God’s love – they are not saved – they remain demons opposed to everything God is! YET the are terrified – they shudder – they know the consequences of their rejection of God – they know that they are cut off from God forever — And the same fate awaits all you reject God’s offer of salvation.

There will be terror and sorrow and regret – hell will be full of people saying “If only ..” “I heard about Jesus Christ IF ONLY I had believed …” “I remember my friend of that preacher telling me how I could get right with God IF ONLY I had listen …”

The Bible tells us that Today is the day of salvation – this is God’s era for salvation – when this life is over it will be too late!



From demons to Abraham – the one who is called the father of faith –

Remember that James is not challenging the person who claims to be a Christian and is doing good works – He is challenging the person who claims to be a Christian and in whose life there is an absence of good deeds.


The story of Abraham is well recorded in the book of Genesis – God calls Abraham to follow him [Gen 12] – God promised that Abraham would have a son through whom descendants would be a numerous as stars in the sky – and in Gen.15 we read that Abraham believe God – trust him – took him at his word – James is quoting from Genesis in v23 James 2:23 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. (NIV)


After having waited for 25 years for the son to be born – when he is a young lad God tells Abraham to sacrifice him as a burnt offering – [Gen 22] After having arrived at the place where that sacrifice was to take place listen to the words of Abraham to his servants —Genesis 22:5 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while we [I and the boy] go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (NIV)


WE will go … we will worship … and we will return.   BUT between the 2nd ‘we’ and the 3rd ‘we’ the boy Isaac, was supposed to be killed and burned to ashes. But Abraham believed that God was true to his word and would if necessary even raise the boy from the ashes.


Abraham’s willingness to act – to do what God had asked him to do was the evidence of the faith that was in his heart.


This is James’s argument – because Abraham believed God he was willing to put his faith into action. James is not saying that Abraham was justified before God because he was willing to sacrifice his son but that he obedience was evidence that he already believed. Some 35 years earlier Abraham had believed God and God had justified him.


Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God [which God stopped] was a clear picture of God’s willingness to sacrifice his Son – [Jesus] – on the cross so that everyone including Abraham and you and I could be saved. Jesus was no reluctant sacrifice – he laid down his life because he loved us!


BUT James readers might be thinking – ‘Abraham was a great hero of the faith these things don’t applied to us in the same way!’ – So James adds Rahab as another example of faith and deeds.


a major Bible character a minor character
father of the faithful a foreigner
respected in the community a person of disrepute
a man a woman


James covers the whole spectrum!

It does matter whether or not you come from the top of bottom of the social barrel! It does not matter what your past is! God’s grace reaches all!


But having been justified by God there needs to be evidence that you are a believer – Listen to Rahab’s words to the spies Joshua 2:11 …….the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (NIV)


Her confession was the same as the demons and the armchair Christian – there is one God – BUT was it her confession that proved she was a genuine believer?? NO!! She was considered righteous because of what she did!! -as was Abraham!


What kind of faith is James arguing for –   – Not faith instead of deeds

– Not deeds instead of faith

– Not deeds above faith

– Not faith and deeds equally

– BUT Genuine faith produces good deeds!!


The outworking of our faith is obedience to the word of God and that is seen practically in our concern for the needs of other people – not just their spiritual needs but their physical and emotional needs as well.


Faith is God is not measured by some decision we made in the past – How do you know that your faith is genuine?? What are you doing??


Our confession and our conduct must agree.


John Calvin “It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone

Billy Graham “Faith that saves has one distinguishing quality; saving faith is a faith that produces obedience, it is a faith that brings about a way of life


FAITH – with or without deeds?


James 2:14 – 26




      q v. 14      “.. Can such faith save you?”





      q v.15-17 faith and the absence of deeds


      q v. 25-26 faith and the presence of deeds





      q v. 18-20 “.. even the demons believe – and shudder.”


      q v. 21-24 “.. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as                                         righteousness.”




It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone”         John Calvin



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