James Chapter 2 explains what salvation is about on the practical side. We have doctrine and it’s not open to just any interpretation. James goes a step further by showing us that Christianity is practiced; it is to be manifested—or shown.
The doing of our believing is what he talks about. People have trouble understanding faith and works. James helps us understand what type of faith we need at all times—a faith that shows. If we want to show our faith, how do we do it? This should encourage us. It’s straight but what we need. Chapter 1 tells us to count it joy when we fall into temptations. Every chapter deals with the practical level, and we can zero in on our problem areas.
This speaks of the Law in the Old Testament. James explains the Law’s place and how Jesus fulfilled it. As Christians we serve the Law of Christ. If we get an x-ray that shows an enlarged appendix, it reveals a problem, something that needs to be done. However, the x-ray doesn’t fix it. That’s what the Law does. It reveals what needs to be done and directs us to Jesus. We can’t live a Christian life without Jesus. We trust in his work on Calvary. We do not add our good works to complete salvation.
James 2: 14What 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: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
James is not talking about two different things when he talks about faith and works. Faith is a faith that works. If doing good does not come from a heart that knows Jesus as Savior, it is no good. I know people who do good but are not saved. Those good deeds won’t save them. If we trust Jesus, it will manifest itself by our actions. It will show. The only way to reflect it is by our doing—our actions.
I’ve heard many say they believe in God. James addresses this in verse 19. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. Even the devil knows who Jesus is, but he constantly works against him. He is not saved just because he knows what he knows. It takes more than saying you believe.
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, Abraham believed God, 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 is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
This rings similar to Chapter 1. We cannot be hearers only of the Word of God. We must be doers of what we hear because hearing is not enough. It does us no good unless we act on what we hear. Rahab’s faith caused her to act. When you see the word “works” it means actions. A lot of times the use of it confuses people. To some, salvation is the sum of putting faith in Jesus plus doing good deeds. That’s not correct. Jesus did his best and gave his all for us. We must do the works of God—believe on him whom God sent. What James says is that we believe to the extent that it changes our lives. We quit doing what we were doing—repent and stop sinning—and gain the ability to overcome the devil with Jesus as Savior.
Let’s say you’re sitting in your living room watching television and smell smoke. You don’t have a wood stove but see smoke coming out of the ceiling light. What will that cause you to believe? Are lights supposed to put off smoke? No. You would believe there is a fire in the attic. What would happen if you casually believe there is a fire in the attic? You’d burn up!
That’s what some people do. They casually believe in Jesus but don’t act on it. If you call 911 and get out of the house, you have acted on your belief that the house is on fire. James says this kind of faith saves—faith that causes you to do something. Abraham was justified by showing his faith when he acted upon it and laid Isaac on the altar. Believing is what you do with your heart and soul. Doing is on the outside. They are intertwined. Real faith causes you to do something. When we were sorry for our sins and repented it was shown. We stopped sinning. It wasn’t turning over a new leaf. God gave us the ability to live a Christian life, and you can’t do it until you’re saved. We are enabled to live it when we become one. We couldn’t wear diapers or eat formula until we were born and became a visible human being. We have to be born again before we can live a Christian life.
I know people who do good things for others and go to church, but they aren’t saved. They believe doing good deeds and attending church saves them and entitles them to heaven. Some even think it gives them latitude to do whatever they want. They are so close but are not saved. It’s not knowledge, being churchy or religious, or being known for doing good. It’s faith that believes to the degree that what we do and how we live changes. We say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus. The evidence of salvation shows. If Jesus is in our heart and not reflected in our actions, then our faith is dead. Verse 26 says so. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Our believing will cause us to do something. James didn’t say faith + good deeds = salvation. Faith that produces a change in a person’s life and actions = salvation.
Romans chapter 10 says it this way. The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Confess with the mouth. Believe with the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is a two-part thing in one action. We can’t secretly believe. Confess with the mouth and believe in the heart = salvation. It is not possible with half of it. When we trusted Jesus we had to say something. We talked to him. He came into our heart. We then turned around and told someone else we got saved. I worry when people never tell anyone or publically confess salvation. Being baptized doesn’t save anyone, but if we’re going to follow Jesus we need to do it. If a person is not physically able to be baptized, that’s one thing. Simply refusing to do it for whatever reason is another. It’s not right. This is how salvation works. It’s a belief/faith that results in doing. It’s a believing that changes the state of being. Actions and beliefs are consistent with faith. We must be careful to not be sanctimonious in actions. The only way to do right is by trusting Jesus. We must live by faith in the Son of God.
If a person boasts of faith that has no works, James says I will shew thee my faith by my works. Real faith is shown by living and reflecting the glory of Jesus Christ. Show faith by what you do. We live a Christian life in an imperfect body with an Adam nature. Our Savior is perfect, and when we sin we have an advocate with God through Jesus. When we do wrong, we fix it. With God’s help we do things that once we couldn’t. When we were unsaved we couldn’t control our actions, our tongues, or our behavior. When we trust the Lord, there is victory to overcome.
If it took the best Jesus could do + the best I can do to be saved, I’d be hurting. I can’t say that I’ve ever really done my best every day. I can confidently say that Jesus has done his best. All he wants is for me to trust him and surrender my life to him. Let him live through me. Jesus had to save me in order for me to be saved. He made it happen when I surrendered to him. He helps me overcome and carry on. On my own I cannot do it.
I’m glad it is not faith + works. It’s a faith revealed by our works. It is the doing of our believing in him that gives us the victory and enables us to live a closer walk with him. Isn’t it wonderful! Christ working in us for the glory of God for our joy and benefit.
Our prayer should be for our faith to be so alive that it shows forth in a lively way in every area of our lives. Our body is his temple and the expression of the life he’s given us. That is faith shown by actions—by our works—the doing of our believing.