Dead Faith Doesn’t Work

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:14-20)

James returns here to the theme he first started in chapter 1 verse 22, which is that a true believer will not only be a hearer of the Word but a doer. And if there is no doing of the Word then there is no evidence of a transformed life. A person that has been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life will be made obvious by the way they live. What we do reflects who we truly are. This is a most critical point to understand. Someone who says they are saved is not necessarily the same thing as someone who is saved. The way any person can have assurance of their salvation is, do they desire the things God says they should desire, and do they do the things God says they should do? What is their level of obedience to the Word?

Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” You can confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, but how does anyone know if they really have believed in their heart? If they have believed in their heart God raised Him from the dead, and it was not just some kind of emotional experience or just intellectual consent? They can know because Jesus is Lord of their life, and they began to follow Him and do the things He commands. They began to study His Word and began to become obedient to the Word. So they are learning His Word and putting it into practice in their life. The Bible describes this in several ways: bearing fruit, the fruit of righteousness, fruit of the Spirit, good works, and good deeds. Whenever you see these terms in Scripture they are describing someone whose actions match their claim that they are a Christian.

James in chapter one and through the first 13 verses in chapter two has given us some tests that we can look at in our lives to see if we are truly Christians.

1:2-4 – How do you respond to trials? Do you see trials as part of God’s work of sanctification in your life? Do you have any joy in your trials?
1:21 – Are you dealing with sin in your life, putting it off?
1:22-25 – Are you just a hearer of God’s Word, or do you study His Word so that you can do it? Do you come to church and hear the Word and say, “Man, that was a good sermon,” and no sooner than you have walked out of the church you have forgotten what you heard? Or do you leave church eager to put into practice what you heard and to look at that Word again to be reminded of what you should be doing?
1:27 – Are you concerned for those in great need and does your concern lead to action? Do you have any real interest in holiness? Or as James says it, keeping yourself unstained by the world?
2:8 – Do you love your neighbor, and as a result do you treat everyone as better than yourself?

So James says in chapter 2 verse 14, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”

So think about all the distinctives James has covered already in chapters one and two, and someone comes along and says, “I have faith, but no works.” And if they would continue to truthfully describe their lives they would say, “I never respond rightly to trials, I am not interested in putting off sin, not interested in the Word of God, not interested in putting into practice the Word I have heard, I do not help those who are in need, I am not trying to keep myself unstained from the world, in fact I love the world, I don’t put anyone ahead of myself. Loving my neighbor? They need to be loving me.” So this person does not have little fruit, and they don’t have inconsistent fruit, they have absolutely no fruit.

And James rightly asks the rhetorical question, can that faith save him? Your translation may say, can that kind of faith save him? Put another way, can faith that has no fruit, no good deeds, no good works be saving faith? Scripture is clear it cannot. If we say we are Christians, that is why we must examine our lives to see if we are bearing fruit that reflects salvation.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

You cannot have been saved by Christ and continue to live your life just as you please. If you have truly been saved by Christ you begin to live your life as He pleases. You may produce a small amount of fruit and it may be inconsistent, but you will have some fruit.

In verses 15 and 16 James gives a description of the callous inaction of false or dead faith.

15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (James 1:15-16)

What good is it to a brother or sister if we see them in need of the basic necessities of life – food enough to nourish their body through the day, clothing enough to keep them warm – and we offer them words for food and clothing? The Lord may have intended to answer their prayer for daily bread through you and provide them with clothing through you. We are the body of Christ, to do the work of Christ. What good is it to our brother or sister in need of the basic necessities of life if we just talk a good game, but are never willing to do the good works that Christ has saved us to do (if we say we belong to Him)?

James is not saying we need to do everything, but he is saying we should be doing something. Each of us as the body of Christ doing our part. If you say you belong to Christ, are you doing your part? Are you serving others in and outside of the church? Are you bearing any fruit of righteousness in your life? Are you dealing with sin in your life?

We see in verse 16 dead faith offers a false blessing – “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.” “Go in peace” is a common biblical blessing, so what could be wrong with that? Nothing unless it is said as a cover for the fact that you don’t want to lift a finger to help, and of course you don’t want to say that, so you say something scriptural because it sounds good. And that is what we have here. Here is a person who sees an urgent, desperate need of someone who is supposed to be his brother or sister, and he does not want to help, but wants to sound pious and spiritual.

In verse 16 the “be warmed and be filled” part of this statement shows that dead faith offers helpless advice, and no real help. “Be warmed and be filled” can be translated from Greek in two ways. The first translation is “warm yourself and feed yourself.” That is to say, “I wish you well as you take care of yourself; try to stay warm; you are looking a little thin and weak, you should eat more.” This is useless advice. If this poor brother had the means to properly feed and clothe himself, he would. The second translation is, “Be warmed and be well fed.” Meaning, “May God feed and clothe you, because I sure won’t. You are on your own.” Can you see the cold and callous heart behind this false blessing? Not at all in keeping with someone who is supposed to belong to the kind and compassionate Lord.

If you are truthful with yourself, are you living a life of compassion or a life of selfishness? Are you living a life of care and concern for others, or is your life centered around you, your pressures and your desires?

James ends verse 16 by saying, “What use is that?” It is of no value to the brother who is in desperate need of food and proper clothing if you meet that need with empty talk. The kind of faith that offers a brother or sister who is in need of real help to meet the basic needs of life empty words and no action, is dead faith. Jesus describes what He will do on the day of judgment to one who has that kind of dead faith.

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ (Matthew 25:41-43)

Notice Jesus is not using whether or not they made a profession of faith as the criteria here for those who are sent into eternal fire. They were sent into hell because they did not live a life of compassion, which is a by-product of someone who is truly saved. They may or may not have made a profession of faith, but the way they lived their life did not produce any fruit. The totally selfish way they lived their life denied any claim they may have made of being a follower of Christ.

We are not saved by works, but if we are saved we will bear the fruit of good works. You cannot be saved and live a fruitless life. Those words are chilling – “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” We need to be sure where we stand.

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (James 2:17)

We see in Scripture that genuine faith, saving faith is followed by good works. Our works have nothing to do with saving us but our good works are a by-product, they are a result of salvation.

Notice again in Ephesians 2:8-10. Verse 8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” So living faith is not something we produce, it comes from God as His gift to us. Verse 9, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” There are no works on our part that have anything to do with salvation. Verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” See how salvation is all God’s doing, we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus. But for what? For good works! See how good works follow right behind salvation. And the good works that follow after salvation are something you do not do in your own strength. God prepared our good works beforehand, so the good works that we do are prepared by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That’s why in order to walk in the good works that God prepared for us we must be filled with the Spirit, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:17. So saving faith comes from God and results in us producing good works in our life. Because our life is wrapped up in Him, how could we not produce good works?

We also know life this side of heaven is not easy, because we must do battle with our own flesh. And there can be times in the life of a believer when fruit is scarce, but the life of a believer will bear fruit. It will produce good works.

Verse 18 is a tricky verse to translate from Greek to English because the Greeks did not use punctuation, so it is very difficult to know if this is James speaking about himself. Is this the voice of an imaginary critic? If so, where does the critic’s voice end and James is speaking for himself again? It is very tricky, and impossible, I think, to be dogmatic about who is speaking and to whom. But what we can be certain of is the point that James is making. What he is teaching us is very clear in this verse. It appears that James is speaking with an imaginary critic who believes, as many do today, that faith can be genuine without a changed life. And James is the someone who is speaking to the imaginary critic and he says, “you have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works; and I will show you my faith by my works.” James is pressing the point that living faith can be seen. It is evident by the way we live our life.

Here are some of the fruit that should be clear to see in the life of a believer. From Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Is your life marked by these qualities? Are you growing in these qualities? In addition, are you quick to forgive others, are you quick to repent and ask for forgiveness when you have sinned against others? Do you tell the truth without evasion or exaggeration? Are you growing in these areas of your life?

As a true believer you may struggle with some or all of these character traits as you grow and mature in Christ, but you should not be fruitless. They should not be absent from your life. But dead faith does not bear this kind of fruit, so the imaginary critic in verse 18 would have no fruit of righteousness to show James in order to support his claim of having saving faith. But James is saying, “I will show you the genuineness of my faith by how I live my life. See the imprint of Christ in my thinking and speaking and actions.”

In verse 19 our attention is turned to the issue of Christian orthodox thinking about God. Or put another way, a right understanding of who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. But is a right understanding of who God is enough to save anyone?

Remember that James is writing to believers who were Jews, as we saw in chapter 1 verse 1. And the Jews being surrounded by pagan cultures prided themselves on having the correct understanding of who God is. They prided themselves that they did not believe in a false pagan god or gods, but in the one true God.

You may come to church and hear about God as He describes Himself in the Bible, the great I AM, the one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and you may say, “I believe all that I have heard about God at church and at home.” And as the Jews did back then, we live in a society that for the most part does not have a correct understanding of God. We live in a society where more and more people are atheist, that would claim that there is no God, or agnostics, who claim it is impossible to really know whether God exists or not. And our society is also full of false religions that believe in a god other than the God of the Bible. You may say, “Man, that is a little harsh and arrogant to say that all other religions are false.” But I am just conveying to you what God says about Himself. He says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”

The Lord himself asserts that there is only one way to correctly understand who He is. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So God has made it clear that there is one way and only one way to know Him, to approach Him, to follow Him. So if He says His way is the only way, if we follow Him we must say the same thing.

To state and to hold to the exclusivity of Christianity is not to denigrate or put down anyone else’s religion. And it certainly is not a license for believers to be cruel or callous to those of other religions. But we must state the truth of the exclusivity of Christianity, not to put others down, but to exalt the Lord and the truth of His Word as He Himself has stated it to us.

That was a bit of a tangent; let me try to get back on track regarding verse 19. So you may come to church, hear about God as He describes Himself in the Bible, and you believe all that He says about Himself. And you look around our society and you see a culture that in the main does not know who the one true God is anymore, and you may say to yourself, “Man I am doing good. I know who God is.” But is that enough? Verse 19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

A right understanding of who God is is not enough to save you, it is not enough to establish a relationship with a Holy God. It is not enough to have your sins forgiven and to be cleansed from all unrighteousness. The demons know who God the Father is, they know who Christ is, and they know the Holy Spirit. They are trinitarians. They know there is only one God in three persons. They are as orthodox as we are in their understanding of who God is, yet they are doomed to eternal fire. So you see, even the demons have a correct understanding of God. And their understanding of Him is not just intellectual. It is emotional. They fear Him and they dread Him. Then what separates the true believer from demons? The true believer not only knows who God is, we love Him and want to follow Him in obedience. We have given our lives to Him. We have trusted in His Son Jesus Christ, whose shed blood is sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:20)

It is foolishness to believe you can have Christ and have your own way; that you can be saved and live life on your own terms. Romans 8:29 says that we are becoming conformed to the image of His Son. As a true believer our life is a radical transformation from who we were before salvation. We are in the process of being brought into line with the purity and holiness of Christ. If you have made a profession of faith and you see no change in your life, no change in your desires or thinking or actions, then you need to question the type of faith you have.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

This is one test you want to take on this side of the grave. Because in the quiet of your heart and mind if you fail the test, you will be so near to salvation. If you will confess that to the Lord, that you know you have no fruit of righteousness, and you know you are a sinner who has not bowed his knee to Christ as Lord, that you have been a rebel, maybe a rebel in sheep’s clothing, cry out to Him for saving faith which only He can give. Jesus says, “Come to me.” He does not say, “Keep away.” So if you have failed the test, run to Christ for the salvation of your soul.

After death there are no more chances. Only heaven or hell awaits you. Be certain where you stand.

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:14-20)