| |

James 2:14-26: What is faith without works?

This week I’ve been reading and studying one of James’ famous passages, which talks about faith and works. I listened to Paige Brown and Doug Moo teach this passage this week. They reminded me that saying we believe in God is not enough. If our lives are not being transformed by our faith, producing the fruit of the Spirit and resulting in our doing good works, we need to examine our relationship with Him.

The “book” of James is a letter. It feels choppy at times like he is jumping from one topic to the next, but there is a thread he is pulling through these first 2 chapters. Our faith results in action, specifically in responding to trials in the right way, being doers of the word, acting in fairness, and especially in caring for the poor, widows, orphans, the marginalized in society.

Unfortunately, some think James contrasts faith and works, but that is not what he is saying. He repeats his thesis three times…

  •  Verse 17: In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
  • Verse 24: You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
  • Verse 28: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

True faith produces fruit!

James is saying it is useless to say we have faith and not act on that faith. The Apostle Paul wrote some 20 years after James that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Faith makes us alive in God,
alive to God, and
alive to serve others.

This teaching is aligned with teaching throughout scripture.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls attention to our service using several illustrations (Matthew 5 – 7):

A Shining Light: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV).

A Fruit-Bearing Tree:  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:17-19 NIV). 

Rock vs Sand: Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).

Later, Matthew records Jesus saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NIV).

Separating Sheep and Goats

I heard this poem this past week – it paraphrases Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25, where He contrasts the sheep and goats, saying to the goats, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Listen, Christians

I was hungry
and you formed a humanities club
and you discussed my hunger.
Thank you.

I was imprisoned
and you crept off quietly

to your basement chapel
and prayed for my release.

I was naked
and in your mind

you debated the morality
of my appearance.

I was sick
and you knelt and

thanked God for your health.

I was homeless
and you preached to me

of the spiritual shelter
of the love of God.

I was lonely
and you left me

alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy
so close to God.

But I’m still hungry
and lonely and cold.

So where have the prayers gone?
What have they done?

What does it profit a man
to page through his book of prayers
when the rest of the world

is crying for his help?

Cone, J. (1986). The Servant Church. In Shelp, E. E., & Sunderland, R. H.(Eds.), The Pastor as Servant (pp. 61-80). The Pilgrim Press. 

Even Demons Believe!

One last thought … James says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” It is not enough to have good theology. The demons know God; they recognize Him. They know He is real! But that isn’t enough- that’s not saving faith.

Orthodoxy—proper beliefs—is where we begin. But it’s not where we end. To be clear, we can’t grow much in our love for God without also growing in our beliefs about God. What we believe about God is vitally important. But it’s dangerously possible to grow in our knowledge of God without growing in our love for God. We can accumulate a lot of knowledge while our hearts remain far from him. We can even give our life as martyrs and miss the mark.

Why Good Theology Isn’t Enough

To be clear, we are not saved by doing good work. We cannot earn our way to a right relationship with God. Our salvation is a gift from God. Period.

a quote by Martin Luther about salvation by faith alone ... but that our faith also produces works
Quoted by many – most likely attributed to Luther

When we receive that gift, we are changed from the inside out. He gives us new hearts and moves us to obey His Word. Transformation is a process involving our desires, our loves, and our actions. Our love for God grows as we learn and grow in our knowledge of Him. And it is out of that love we seek to be His hands and feet in our world.

Faith that produces good works is true faith.


Father, You gave Your Son that we might be Your children,
His life, death, resurrection, and ascension – Your gifts
Of mercy and grace – for without Jesus, we can
Do nothing of eternal significance.
Thank you for this gift of salvation; we boast in no other
Name except the Name of Jesus.
Grant that we may live as shining lights in our dark world,
Seasoning our sphere of influence with the salt of Your covenant,
Building our lives on the bedrock of truth that expresses itself
In kindness, generosity, and compassion to all people.
May we be known for our love for You and
May the good work we do point others to our Father in Heaven.

Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Pursuit of God -

Leave a Reply