The Epistle of James 2:14-26.
14 ¶ What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 ¶ Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith,
and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit 1 is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
The key words show the essence of the argument: 'though a man say he hath faith' but his life does not show evidence of it (good works). This is the opposite problem from those (especially the Pharisaic tradition) who insisted that only works brought justification or righteousness before God. The true faith goes far beyond acceptance of God's existence, and goes on to show love, forgiveness, and sharing.
Example: If one is confronted with a brother or sister with obvious and serious needs, kind words or warm wishes are not truly any help.
James restates the case. Neither side is correct by itself. True faith will yield fruit – good works.
A man may claim his works, another may claim his faith. James restates that the evidence of his true faith is his good works. The living faith resides within and therefore motivates a person's actions. Part of that living faith is the indwelling Holy Spirit, which energizes actions of love, charity, mercy – the recognized fruit of the Spirit.
Belief in one God is not enough, even though it is true. Even demons acknowledge God's existence and rightly tremble. This separates the group from the heathen nations of the world – by this the Jews believed they inherited salvation if they tried to please God – they would earn their way to eternal life.
Vain man, pay attention to the following examples from the beginning – Abraham.
His faith was proved by his offering up his son to God. This act made his faith perfect – the spirit of obedience.
His entire life of faith was active in what he did – therefore his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. The highest description of a person's character was given to him: he was called the friend of God.
Abraham's faith believed God's promises, and he acted accordingly – his acts proved the genuineness of his faith – obedience to God proves and maintains faith. Both are essential – two sides of the whole.
Another example: Rahab the harlot saved the Jewish messengers, because of her faith in God. She risked her life. She acted on her faith and was justified.
A human body cannot live without a spirit. Just the same, true faith animates a life of good works. By their fruit you shall know what manner of tree produces it.
15 ¶ Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
This article was written by my father T.O.D. Johnston, who was licensed to preach the Gospel by Paran Baptist Church on May 26, 1979. He has been a student of Scripture since 1972. View more lessons at his Bible Study Lessons page.