Faith Without Works Is Dead Commentary – The Truth About James 2 And What Works Really Means
Faith Without Works Is Dead – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Here’s the truth about what kind of ‘works’ and ‘faith’ James is talking about. The Answer: James says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26). It’s about real faith versus fake faith.
The Religious Deception: James 2:17 says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” Religion tells us James is talking about Christians who are not on fire with lots of works and puts fear in believers leading them to think God is measuring our performance to determine if our faith is real. The idea is you better get out there and do more so God will be pleased with you. Get the truth behind this verse with easy-to-understand commentary that explains the meaning of ‘faith without works’.
The Truth From a Grace Perspective: In this video, you will discover that James is addressing unbelievers. In James 2 verse 14 James asks “can that faith save him” and while religion seems to overlook that strange question, it’s only a question that would be asked about a non-believer, whose faith would not produce the type of works that God is interested in. James goes on in that same chapter to give only two examples of works, and interestingly enough he uses an example of Rehab, a prostitute that the bible only tells us about one work she had. She hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. If this were really about Christian works why would James choose a prostitute with only one work? Answer – She believed God was real. That one work was enough to save her and make her right with God.
Faith Without Works is Dead – James 2:17
Did you know this is actually written to non-believers?
Today we are to talk about this verse found in James 2:14 which reads “if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
This verse is often cited to force more works on Christians. It’s the ‘do more be more so you can prove that you are a Christian’ doctrine. But like many misused verses, the problem is the context in which we see it.
So let’s work through this and see what’s really going on here. But first, let’s be clear, we’re not saying Christians don’t have works. In fact, we do. But some will have many works, and others only a few. Some will give their time, some their money, and others just kindness and love. The problem is when we use James 2 as a teaching tool to get out a measuring stick and compare how much works we have, and then try and debate when it’s enough to really be okay with God. This verse is often used to keep you on a treadmill of more works. You can keep running, but you never get anywhere.
A good starting point is to notice how this teaching flies in the face of the Apostle Paul’s teaching.
[Romans 4:4-6] 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
[Romans 3:27-28] 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
If that’s not enough, we can see how it compares to the teaching of Jesus as the Pharisees approach him and ask what kind of works please God. Keep in mind, these guys were all about works, and watch how Jesus takes works, plural, and turns it into a work, singular.
[John 6:28-29] 28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Religion teaches us that this verse found in James 2:14 as meaning Christians must have ongoing works to prove faith, which flies in the face of Paul and Jesus’ teachings.
Paul tells us we are justified and made righteous APART from works.
So either James totally contradicts Paul and Jesus, or we have misunderstood the true meaning of this verse. Here’s what’s really going on.
You see, this message from James is about an unsaved person. The question James asked was “can that faith SAVE HIM?”, not ‘is he a good Christian’. Now STOP here! Do you see it? This person is NOT saved. James is asking if this person’s faith is not real, then can it save them! So it’s not about Christians on a treadmill of do more be more to prove salvation, but rather it’s having real faith that saves us. In other words, it’s talking about TRUE FAITH that comes with a decision, a work (not lots of works), and remember that we just saw that even Jesus Himself said that believing is a work. James 2:9 tells us even the demons believe. So if demons believe and Christians believe then what’s the difference? The difference is Christians made a real decision for Jesus, and we see the chapter conclude with two examples illustrating that this is a ONE time WORK that is tied into a decision from faith that produced a single action concluding with them being made righteous because of their FAITH. And before you go on thinking these were big works, wait until you see the second example of works James gives us.
[James 2:21-23] Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM “BELIEVED” GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,”
How many times did Abraham offer his son? This was single work showing that Abraham believed God, and that work accredited him as righteous.
Now it gets really good. Check out the 2nd example James gives of works. He uses an example of a prostitute who had one work in her life, and all she did was open a door. Really James? If doing more and being more is so important that why would you pick such a lousy example? The answer is because it’s not about the kind of works that requires ongoing effort. It’s about a single work that shows faith and saves us. The prostitute opened a door to help spies escape because she really believed their God was true, and therefore was made righteous.
[James 2:25] In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
Rahab believed God was real, and her only work was that she made a decision to “receive the messengers” and she was immediately made righteous.
So you see, truly “believing” is a work, and this kind of “work” James refers to is perfectly in line with Paul’s teaching and what we learn from Jesus. God cares about real faith, and he’s not asking us to get out our legal pad and measure our volume of works to see if we are doing enough. One decision, one work, made righteous one time, once for all. Amen.
So in the same way that Rehab opened the door to receive the spies because she believed God was real, and the question we need be asking is ‘have we opened the door of hearts to Jesus to let Him in‘? That’s the kind of work God loves. I leave you with this verse:
[Hebrews 11:6] And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
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Faith without works is dead commentary | BOOK OF JAMES | NEW TESTAMENT | | faith without works is dead | saved by faith for good works | show me your faith without works | Salvation is by faith alone
It is this truth that i have come to know today, that has made me free indeed.
Thank you brother Mike.
I believe what James was saying is that we work because we have the true faith and brings us to serve Christ through our works. Another words, our works do not save us, but we do works because we love our Savior so much we want to serve Him with our works.
Mark, it is true that our outward works can be an expression of our inward new creation in Christ. It is also true that we are made for good works, and will be fulfilled as we pour out your love of Christ day by day moment by moment. But I honestly do not believe that is what James was teaching in this particular letter. I covered a lot of those reasons in the video, specifically, I feel this way because of the first question that was asked. CAN THAT FAITH SAVE HIM? That’s the context. He’s talking about a real faith it actually comes with a decision for Jesus. Anything else it’s not really faith.
GOD BLESS YOU MORE PASTOR MIKE
I think you have a lot of good points in some of your videos, but some of this is not accurate. James is definitely writing to believers. He starts out addressing the entire letter to “The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora”. These are Messianic Jews scattered from persecution. Otherwise, why would he talk about their faith in Jesus at the beginning of Ch. 2? Mark H. is right that James means your faith in Jesus should produce good works through you; not out of compulsion to follow the Law for salvation, but as an expression of love for God. Some scholars think that this letter is in response to many Christians over-applying or misapplying what Paul wrote about that it is by faith alone, not by works, that we are saved. That’s true, the works don’t save us but the works are a fruit of genuine faith. It’s also not accurate that the works he is talking about is just believing God is real. That is literally the type of faith James is condemning. Ch2 v19-20 says that just believing in God is dead faith, even the demons believe that. True living faith will produce works. But you are right that we are not to twist this to coerce people into volunteering without end or comparing who’s better by who does more works.
It is true that James opens the letter by addressing Christians. But I think it is a massive mistake to assume that James does not also have a heart for the unsaved and asset address them. The idea that everyone reading this letter is a believer would be a stretch.
Read Romans chapter 1- through three. What we see is all kinds of condemnation. The apostle Paul is describing what’s going to happen to all these people as a result of sin. But then you hit chapter 4 and all of a sudden he’s only addressing the believers. No more talk about hell. It’s just Paul burying them in grace.
This is exactly what’s happening in James’s letter.
As I pointed out in the video, once you get to the bottom of chapter 2 we discover that the context is salvation through FAITH. I continually point out that one of the examples James gave was a prostitute who had one work. I’ve literally never seen one person giving offense to that. Everyone just ignores it. And that’s because they don’t have an explanation as to why, if this were about works or the lack thereof causing a loss of salvation, then why would James you such a ridiculous example?
And again the obvious question that James asked. Can that faith save him? I context is there’s real faith with the decision for Jesus and then there’s faith that isn’t real at all.
To be honest, if we’re going to say this letter is addressing questions then we have no other option but to say that the apostle James is threatening salvation. Which means you have to subscribe to the theology of losing salvation. And there is no biblical grounds for that argument and I simply cannot meet someone in the middle on that. There’s no getting around it – that is a works-based salvation theology.
You are free to disagree my friend. As for me, I’ve studied all of this very carefully and I have not even been remotely convinced that James is trying to push a theology that you better have a laundry list of works if you want to retain your salvation.
I’m sure James had a heart for the unsaved but there is no reason to believe that this was written to unbelievers. The stretch would be thinking that James wrote something to unbelievers in a letter to believers. He uses the phrase “brothers” throughout and constantly speaks of their faith in Jesus. If you write a letter to someone, you aren’t going to address somebody else who is not in the same house in the same letter. Same thing with Romans (I went ahead and reread ch1-4). This is written to believers and he isn’t talking condemnation to unbelievers in the beginning and then turn and talk strictly to believers only. The historical context according to scholars and historians is the Jews and Gentiles of that congregation were at odds because of differing beliefs, probably circumcision and adherence to Torah observation for salvation from the majority of text of Romans.
I think we are misunderstanding each other somewhat. I am not saying that works saves anyone. I am saying that “saved by grace through faith, apart from works of the Law” is correct and is congruent theologically and Biblically with “faith without works is dead.” The faith of being saved by grace comes first, then as a result, or our response, we produce the fruit of good works. It’s like if I say, “I love my wife with my whole heart,” then never clean up the house, do dishes, give her gifts, kiss and hug her, or otherwise show her that my love is real. That is dead love. Or if there are 2 trees in front of you, how do you know which is dead and which is alive? Well obviously the one that produces leaves and fruit is the one that is alive. If it doesn’t produce something, it is dead. The tree doesn’t produce in order to gain life; it produces because it already has life.
Again, just saying you believe in God, or even truly believing that God exists is not good enough. Verse 14 clearly asks what good is it if someone CLAIMS to have faith but has no ACTIONS to back it up, then asks if that kind of faith is able to save. The following verse is the example. Then he gives another example in v.19 “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” v.20 “How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”
I appreciate that you study the scriptures for yourself instead of just taking what a pastor says on Sunday as good enough, as I do the same and study scripture too, because it is very important. But when studying anything, it is vital to understand the context of who is writing, to whom, why, the historical and spiritual context, and making sure it aligns with the entirety of the rest of the Bible. It is also important to understand what context is and where it applies. Context for a statement comes 99-100% of the time before the point being made.
You are committing intellectual suicide to say there is no reason to believe that this was written to unbelievers’.
That is just nonsense.
How about considering that James also wants people to be saved? Is that really out of the realm for you to consider?
Romans 1-4 doesn’t address believers and unbelievers? Let’s put that to the test.
[Romans 2:1] Therefore YOU have no excuse, YOU foolish person, everyone of YOU who passes judgment; for in that matter in which YOU judge someone else, YOU condemn YOURSELF; for you who judge practice the same things.
[Romans 2:5] But because of YOUR stubbornness and unrepentant heart YOU are storing up wrath for YOURSELF on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God
So, Paul is either losing His mind and can’t write, or he’s addressing unbelievers who are in danger of God’s wrath…..or more likely, you believe Paul and James are both addressing believers and threatening their salvation.
I could be many more verses to put legs on this. I think my point is pretty clear.
So, I’ll call it as I see it. you ARE pushing works-based salvation. You think Christians can lose salvation. With respect, this concludes me to believe that you do NOT trust Jesus. You do NOT believe we are saved by faith apart from works…and worse, you are likely not truly in Christ as you are rejecting everything He did for YOU, and your trust for salvation is in YOUR performance.
I find it strange that you are so dogmatic about Christians not doing works because Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works meaning that talking about works is bad. But you conveniently leave out the very next verse: [Ephesians 2:10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Are you really saying that Christians shouldn’t be doing works? If you are right about that, then you need to stop making these videos and studies and take this website down, because those are works.
Re: Your quote me as saying I’m “dogmatic about Christians not doing works”
Slow down, cowboy. Now you’re not only twisting the scriptures, you’re now twisting my words. I am VERY pro works. We ARE created for good works in Christ. I said that many times in many videos.
We are not having a debate on rather or not Christians should have works and a healthy outward performance record. We are debating on whether or not they saves us.
So if you’re going to quote me out of context I prefer that you don’t quote me at all. That was a weak way to make your case.
If I would quote you, I would have used “” and would have said I was quoting you.
Good. I was hoping that wasn’t what you were implying. That was the point of that last comment. It is ridiculous to say that you should stop doing those things but it stated to sound like you were against works. I’m not sure how you think we were debating whether or not works saves us from reading any of my comments, because you can look at them and see I’ve not said anything about works being the means of salvation. My disagreement is when you say “James is saying, he [the person with dead faith] is not saved,” and the works that James is talking about is “making a decision for Jesus Christ,” or just believing in God. I’m saying that the works James is talking about are actual works and the good works that we are made for in Jesus. What you are saying is the context for the main verse you’re presenting is not actually context, which makes it harder to understand what you’re point is.. Like I said before, I think there was misunderstanding in the conversation and that’s why I prefer to talk things out in person where the non-verbal communication can be factored in.
Sir, you literally wrote these words:
*I find it strange that you are so dogmatic about Christians not doing works*
I’m honestly not sure how anyone else could have concluded that you were not quoting me.
Moving forward now
No one who watched my video could reasonably conclude that I was against works.
To be honest, it’s very difficult understand exactly what you’re trying to debate, and why?
And if we are not debating the idea of those works save us then exactly what are you debating here? You literally started out by saying that James was writing to believers. And since the question asked in that story was “can that faith save him?” The only thing I can conclude from your comment is that if this is written to believers, and James is saying can that faith save him, then putting your thoughts together with your view of James writing would imply losing salvation. Maybe you did not intend that but that’s exactly how it would come across.
Nonetheless, I think we’ve gone down this rabbit hole enough and should move on. Agree to disagree or whatever it is you’re trying to communicate. God bless.
Wonderful explanation. I wonder about the purpose of the legalists spoiling the message of the Gospel. Churches competing for outward appearance?
I hear you.. That has been a problem for a very long time and I don’t suspect it will end. Some just have the blinders removed.