14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. ~ James 2:14-19
The main theme in the book of James is faith. In fact, earlier in this book, God promises His people will be "rich in faith." And, this faith expresses one's trust in the Lord. But, those with false faith substitute words for deeds. They believe that they are what they say.
Everybody has faith, but not all have faith in the God of the Bible. Faith, when placed in the God of the Bible, ushers us into a personal relationship with God. Many believe about God, but few have faith in God. And, true faith in the God of the Bible will always be quantified by His fruit in our lives. On the other hand, false faith will not be seen at all. This kind of faith does not save because it does not find its substance in God.
In v.14 of today's passage we read, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?"
The veracity of our faith in the God of the Bible is so important because as we read in Hebrews 12:14, "Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” No one will ever enter into the presence of the Lord without the application of His holiness to our lives. Our justification must have with it more than just a forensic statement about our position; it must have with it, sanctification. This is to say saving faith is manifest in the expressions of God's presence in our lives. There is a great difference between saving faith and nominal faith. For those who believe that there is contradiction with James writings, we must remember that Paul wrote about the root of faith, while James wrote about the fruit of faith.
In Romans 3:21-28 Paul wrote, "21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."
It is clear that no one is made right through our own good behavior. There is never any boasting of our goodness before God. Paul wrote that our rightness before God can only be purchased by the perfect Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. But, if there is no expression of God in and through the life of the believer, the believer does well to make sure his faith is authentic.
This is why in James 2:14 we read, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?"
Whereas Paul wrote to those who wrongfully trusted in their ability to measure up to the Law of Moses, James wrote to many Jews who had not entered into a personal relationship with God through Christ. The whole of the epistle written by James is a series of tests by which we can evaluate whether our faith is a living faith or whether it is a dead faith. Some of them, obviously, were genuine, and some of them were less than genuine, hence all of these tests given in this epistle. And James' point: if we come into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, He will express Himself in and through us.
In v.15-17 of today's passage we read, "15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
In these three verses, James gives an example of his point. Here is a person who is poorly clothed and starving. Here is a person who’s cold and hungry. And, we say to this needy person, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," which was a common Jewish expression in that day. James is saying the words are empty, meaningless words. If we were to say to this needy person these words, and do not cloth and feed them, we would really be ignoring their need. If we say we believe in God and have not His heart for the needy, we very well may not be in His family. If our alleged faith is not accompanied by helping to meet his need, that faith is not living faith.
Justification is always accompanied by sanctification. The process that we entered into when we got saved, this process whereby God began to change our souls, is evidence that we have entered into a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. A faith with no fruit is a faith that is marked by false compassion because it has not the heart of the Lord.
In v.18 of today's passage we read, "But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds."
The word "show" means to exhibit, to demonstrate, or to put on display. Real faith always reveals itself in the fruit that it produces. And, of course, our good works are really the fruit of the Spirit. If God lives in us, it is impossible for us to hide Him. This will never mean that we will be perfect or sinless. This just means that if we have entered into a personal relationship with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, we will experience His expression in our lives.
In v.19 of today's passage we read, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."
This is a sarcastic verse. James wrote this verse with a bit of a chuckle in his voice. Many give mental assent to the reality of God, but, if their hearts aren't engaged, their faith isn't real. The heart must be involved, to some degree. It is at the point of our hearts that we are justified in the presence of God. This is why the Lord Jesus was able to say to the thief on the cross, "Today, you shall be with me in paradise."
If our faith in the Lord is not demonstrated by good works then we are not even in the category with the demons. All of the demons believe in the deity of Christ, and they tremble from fear. Many have intellectual faith while demons have emotional faith. And, demonic faith is characteristic of those who are in rebellion to God. To be saved, we must have faith in the heart.