Dead Faith (James 2:14-17)
True faith produces visible change. That is the argument of James 2:14-17. James emphasized this key truth with two rhetorical questions. First, he introduced a person who claims to have faith. Merely saying one has faith is not the same as possessing it. The absence of works in his life makes that claim suspicious if not spurious. Therefore, James asked, What good is it? What benefit does it accomplish for a person to say he has faith when that faith is not legitimate enough to produce works in his life? Claims of faith without any resulting works are useless, profiting that person nothing.
The second question James asked was important—can such faith save him? He did not ask, “Can faith save him?” The answer to that would certainly be that faith can save a person. The Greek construction of the sentence, placing an article with faith, indicates James was referencing the kind of faith that claims to be genuine but lacks works. The kind of faith that has no resulting works is not genuine and therefore cannot save a person.
James used an illustration to show the ridiculous claim that faith exists without any resulting works. He mentioned a brother or sister who was living in poverty. These were clearly believers who existed in fellowship with other Christians but lacked the basic necessities of life.
The response of the faith community was appalling. A fellow-Christian told the poor person to go in peace. This was a standard farewell address in James’s day. Rather than helping the poor person, the church member tried to wish him on his way without helping. Ironically, it’s hard to be at peace without proper clothing and something to eat. Second, the church member said to the poor person, stay warm, and be well fed. In addition to attempting to dismiss the poor person, he wished him the very things that he lacked—clothing and food. The poor person needed more than words; he needed compassionate action.
If a person claims to care, wishes the poor well, and yet does not take care of the need, is that concern genuine? James asked again as he did of faith, what good is it? The hook was set. Nobody would say that the person’s concern is genuine if it is not connected with works, and neither should anyone say that a person’s faith is genuine if it is not supported by actions befitting a person who is walking with the Lord.
James delivered the point of his illustration in verse 17. He emphasized that faith without any resulting works is dead by itself. Good wishes and blessings without actions are nothing more than empty talk, and so is faith without visible change.
What evidence might a person point to as proof that his or her faith is alive? How do the works of a person reveal the genuineness of his or her faith?
This article is an excerpt from Explore the Bible: Adults Personal Study Guide Fall 2018. Explore the Bible is a book-by-book group Bible study that encourages participants to let the Word dwell in them and challenges them to live it out in their own context. Click here and fill out the form before tomorrow night at 11:59pm for an opportunity to win a free Explore the Bible: Adult Group Box. The Box contains 10 Personal study guides; 1 Leader Guide, and various other leader resources.