Today we cover James 2:14-26, where he goes into his most controversial statement – faith without works is dead – the Fruits of Faith are missing. This statement is what inflamed Luther against James’ letter and is what has confounded many Christians who have been taught that salvation is by faith alone. At first glance, one might think that James is saying that salvation is attained by works. In Chapter 1 he already affirmed that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. He is asking if something that is dead can then produce new life in Christ.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” (fruits of faith)
Deeds and FruitShow me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds (fruits of faith). You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. James 2:18b-19 Click To Tweet
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions (fruits of faith) were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did (fruits of faith). 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.’You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do (fruits of faith) and not by faith alone.
Abraham and Rahab
In the same way, 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? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds (fruits of faith) is dead.” James 2:14-26 NIV I added (fruits of faith).
So what is James saying here? Let me jump to verse 19 – “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” So are demons saved? James is saying they believe in one God.
James is Speaking About the Practice of Faith, Not Justification
Of course they are not saved. They know without a doubt that there is one God and that Jesus is the Son of God. However, their works are evil. So, what they know does not save them. Knowledge is not faith.
Watchman Nee wrote about this passage in James, stating that, “James is speaking here about practice; he is not dealing with justification by faith.” Nowhere in this passage does James connect works with salvation. Watchman Nee goes on to say this, “We must take note of the word “show” here. This person says, “Show me,” and, “I will show you.” Hence, James 2 is not talking about whether or not a man has faith before God. It is not dealing with our faith before God at all; rather, it is dealing with our faith before man. If someone boasts before man that he has faith, you should say to such a one, “Show me your faith without works.” James 2 deals with the problem of faith before man. No one can see whether or not you have faith. Others see only if you have works, that is, if you feed others and give others clothes to wear. Do you realize that this requires faith also?”
Faith is an Action Word
It is easy to say that we have faith, but, as Watchman Nee pointed out, how do we show or demonstrate our faith to the people around us? Faith itself is invisible. However, if they see me doing things which are connected to faith in God, then, they “see” faith. In addition, faith is an action word. It has the power to become the substance of what we hope for, the evidence of things not seen. It becomes substance and evidence. How? That is a mystery I cannot explain. The reason I know it is true is because I have experienced it. James is saying that Faith will produce the fruits of faith, the stuff you can see.
James never says that salvation comes by works. He simply points out that faith does things which are visible. He uses an analogy with our bodies. If the spirit leaves your body, it can do nothing. It is now useless and cannot produce life. If a body has a spirit in it, it is not useless – it moves and breathes and speaks and eats. It is alive. In the same way, faith without works(fruits of faith) is useless and dead.
Even the Demons Believe There is One God
James states that even demons believe in God, yet we know they are not saved. How do we know? Because their works are evil. They have a mental knowledge of God and, if you could ask them, they would agree with you that there is one God and that Jesus is His Son. Yet – they shudder. Mental agreement or mental assent is not salvation.
I can agree with you that an orange tastes sweet and juicy. However, if I have never eaten an orange, I really don’t know what I’m saying. I am simply giving mental agreement. I can agree with you that Jesus died on the cross for my salvation. My mind agrees with you. The difference between mental agreement and faith has to do with the heart. Until I take the orange into my mouth, I really do not ‘know’ the orange. Until I make Jesus the Lord of my heart, I am not saved. Words and knowledge are not enough.
Faith is a Fruit of the Spirit
James says, ‘show me your faith without works.’ Could you do that? How do we show faith? Faith isn’t a trophy we can pull out of the closet and show someone. It isn’t a certificate we can carry around to show that we are certified as Christians. So, tell me, how would you show your faith to someone? I think that question helps us see what James was getting at. Faith acts.
One of the fruits of the Spirit is faithfulness. Faithful is defined by the Miriam Webster Dictionary as an adjective meaning – steadfast in affection or allegiance; firm adherence to promises or in observance of duty; given with strong assurance; and, true to the facts, true to the standard, or to an original. As a noun, it refers to church members. Faithfulness is the quality of BEING faithful. Being is an action word. If you are being good, you aren’t disobeying. If you are being watchful, you are on alert. Whatever you are ‘being’ requires some sort of active participation. It demonstrates.
Faith is Not in Our Actions, Actions are the Result of Our Faith in God
If I say, “I have faith,” one might wonder what that meant? Do I have faith in, about, because of? If I see someone who is hungry, and I simply say, “I will pray for you. Be blessed,” is that faith? No. That is words. Faith happens when I use my limited funds to obey the Holy Spirit as He prompts me to go buy food and give it to that person. The faith is not in the action. The action is a result of faith. First, I have faith that it is the Holy Spirit prompting me. Second, I am exercising faith by trusting God and giving out of my own need.
A few years ago, my husband were praying fervently about starting a church. At last, I was so convinced that this was what we were supposed to do that I told God, “I will do anything and go through whatever You say.” We moved, started the church and lived by faith.
One day, I was driving home and asking God why we were totally broke, barely had any food, and had no idea how we would pay our rent. If we were in God’s will and had faith we were doing the right things, what was wrong?
God spoke to me, and asked me a question, “I thought you said you would do anything and go through anything?” I started laughing almost instantly because I recognized my own weakness. It was easy to say those words when we had money in the bank. So, I just answered Him and said, “Yes, I did. I get it. So, no matter what, I will.”
The Testing of Our Faith
Needless to say, we got through and things got better. We had faith, it just went through a time of testing. God turned up the heat, the dross floated to the top, He skimmed it off, and there was gold which was much purer than before. We acted on our faith and God took care of us. It didn’t look or feel like we wanted it to, but faith doesn’t guarantee ease and comfort. Usually, it guarantees the opposite!
When James asks if faith without works can save a person, he is saying that true faith will not be lifeless. Faith is deeper than words. And, if faith is real, it will not only save, it will also produce the fruits of faithfulness and actions which others can see and therefore know what faith is.
Others Can See Your Faith Without Words
James gives several examples of faith including Abraham, who acted on what God asked, as did Rahab. The faith came first. The actions followed. At one point, I worked for a County Prosecutor’s Office as the Victim Witness Coordinator which meant that I assisted victims of crime. This meant that I worked closely with the Court and Law Enforcement. When I went to work there, I did not proclaim to everyone I met that I was a Christian or that my husband and I pastored a church. The girls in the office found out as it came up in normal conversation.
However, the officers would apologize to me when they used some language that wasn’t part of my vocabulary. I didn’t make faces at them or make comments. I didn’t say anything. They knew. They knew because they had observed the fact that I didn’t use those words and they observed my actions and attitudes. I didn’t show any signs of offense because I wasn’t offended. Through that, they recognized who and what I was and showed me great respect which I appreciated. They “saw” my faith, partially because it was truly minus words!
This Isn’t About “Good Works”
Anyone can do good works. Matthew 7:21-23 talks about people who prophesied and did miracles in Jesus name. Yet, Jesus response to them was, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” James makes it clear that works do not save. These people were not serving Jesus – their works were self-serving. But the person with true faith will do the things which correspond to and flow out of that faith.
Nothing in this passage contradicts Jesus or Paul. In fact, it supports what they said. Jesus said that we would be known by our fruit. Fruit is produced. That requires activity on the part of the tree. The fruit is a natural by-product of the healthy tree doing what it was created to do.
Works are simply the fruit of faith. In Mark 11, when a fig tree did not produce fruit, Jesus cursed it and it withered from the root up. Why would He do that? The fig tree already had leaves early in the season which made it appear to have the promise of fruit. But Jesus looked underneath the surface, the leaves, and found that there was nothing underneath. No buds of fruit. The tree was an empty promise.
God Sees Our Fruit and Faith
While there is nothing that tells us the specific reason for Jesus’ action, it is interesting that this passage is followed by Jesus clearing the temple of money-changers. Where there should have been prayer, instead there was a den of thieves. Things looked good on the outside but Jesus “entered the temple courts.” He looks deeply into everything, seeing what is below the surface and can see if there is simply an empty promise.
He does the same with us. Our outward appearance must match the inward truth and that happens when we have fruit because the fruit is produced from deep within. The concept of growing fruit is spread throughout the entire Bible which means it must be important. I live in an area with many orchards and when you plant a peach tree, you expect to harvest peaches. If you have twenty trees and only nineteen produce peaches, number twenty is eliminated. It is a tree but it is not a ‘peach’ tree because a ‘peach’ tree produces peaches, not just leaves. We can be trees or we can be Holy Spirit Fruit Trees!
Fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22-23 are, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.“
Love has to be shown. Joy shows itself easily. Peace has to be chosen and maintained. Forbearance, or patience, can be hard work. Kindness is nothing if it isn’t shown in some way – kind thoughts are not a substitute for kind acts. Goodness is shown, not just talked about. Faithfulness is demonstrated daily. Gentleness is demonstrated. Self-control can be easy or hard work. These are the works of the Spirit. They are the fruit of the Spirit. Be a Holy Spirit Fruit Tree!
This concludes Chapter 2 of the Book of James. Such wisdom and grace spoken by this humble servant of Christ. Of course, in Lesson 8, we will begin Chapter 3. Be sure to Subscribe below to get your free coloring pages!
**We use verses from different Bible translations.
To see more information about the copyright for each one, please visit our Scripture Citations.
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