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We are blessed to know many people who daily give evidence of their genuine faith through good works.

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James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

I want to teach you about dead faith… stated in various ways as “faith without works”, “faith without action”, “faith without good deeds”, “faith without service”, “faith without ministry” or “faith without a physical manifestation of it” (faith in words only).

Many people say “I have faith” and they give evidence of it by stating their trust in God, belief in Christ and joy in salvation. All those are good things but there is more to faith… James tells us very plainly that living faith is active faith:

James 2:26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

There’s no wiggle room in that statement. Faith without works is dead, a very negative statement conveying a positive concept. Given such finality, it is to our best interest to find out what James means. Let’s back up a few verses and see:

James 2:14 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

Huh? Doesn’t that contradict plain Scripture that says faith IS what saves you (Eph 2:8-9; Gal 3:24; Rom 11:26; Phil 3:9 among others)? This verse has been used to create “religions” (as opposed to Christianity which is a relationship with God) and confuse many people.

Remember, the Bible does not contradict itself and always plainly interprets itself.  So we know faith alone saves us, the Bible declares this beyond question. We know we do NOT earn our salvation by the merit of good works as every other religion teaches. In fact, this is the great chasm that divides Biblical Christianity from all other religions that teach “faith plus [something] = salvation”.

Christianity = Faith + Nothing Else
All Other Religions = Faith + [Something]

Again, we know from Scripture that faith alone saves. We know from Scripture that we cannot earn our salvation through good works. So what does it mean: “faith without works is dead”?

The key is the context (the rest of the Scripture that surrounds the verse in question). The Book of James is practical instruction about living the daily Christian life. Leading up to the passage about faith and works, we see James 2:1-7 instructing us to not show favoritism (see Part 6 of this series). The next five verses are about the Law, then verses 14-26 talk about faith and works. I’ll give you the answer first, and then I’ll show you the explanation. Here’s the answer:

“Faith without works” is a way to recognize faith that is FALSE because all true faith will be accompanied by good works.

It doesn’t mean that good works EARN salvation but that good works is demonstrable, authentic evidence that genuine faith (and thus genuine salvation) is present. More simply, James is saying that while the presence of good works is not proof positive of genuine faith (you can perform outward “good works” without faith), they are certainly a good indicator of genuine faith. On the flip side, the absence of good works IS proof positive of a dead or false faith. Let’s look:

James 2:15-17 – If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (NKJV)

It’s not rocket science. Which response reveals true faith in Christ: to physically help those in need? Or to say “God bless you” and send them on their way cold and hungry?  Faith without works is dead faith.

To make sure there is no confusion, James himself clarifies:

James 2:18 – But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (NKJV; emphasis)

Good works are a tangible evidence (“show me”) of genuine faith. If a person declares their faith but manifests a life without good works they have a false faith. It is impossible to live the genuine Christian  life without good works because loving, serving, helping, ministering and giving are woven into the fabric of the faith-filled life.

To declare faith is possible without good works would be akin to declaring human life possible without breathing. Therefore, just as breathing is evidence of life, good works are evidence of genuine faith.

James goes on to call someone “foolish” in verse 20 who even questions the obvious point he is making. To prove the assertion in real life, James lists a couple of well known and accepted “faith” figures and proclaims it was their works that identified/substantiated their faith: Abraham and Rahab.

James final conclusion which leaves no room for an alternative was:

James 2:14 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

James 2:26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

– – – – – – – – – –

You wonder why James has to even make the effort to clarify something so obvious. The answer to that is simple: the fickle, petty and immature nature of humans. We want the easy way out. We want to be part of the “club” with as little commitment, effort and sacrifice as possible. It is a by-product of our sin nature.

So like a good father reminding his children that good intentions are not enough, they must be accompanied with self-sacrificing and diligent action, James takes care to remind us that faith alone, without attending good works, is a dead faith.

On a deeper level, the mature Christian is COMPELLED to good works by his faith. How can a Christian sit by in the face of so much need, hurt and want… and do nothing? Yet, proclaim his “faith” to the world?

  • “Oh, you are hungry? Well, God will care for you. I’ll pray for you” without giving food? That’s not faith.
  • “Oh, you lost your job and your electricity is cut off and your kids are cold? God bless you. All will be well” without paying their electric bill? That’s not faith.
  • “Need to go to the doctor and no way to get there? I’ll pray God will provide a ride” without going and taking them? That’s not faith.
  • “Your wife left you and you need help with the kids? Have faith brother, God will see you through” without making time to help? That’s not faith.

Of course I’m talking about when it is within our power and ability to physically help but we send them on with a “God bless you” and don’t lift a finger. That’s not faith.  True faith is demonstrated by our actions, our commitment, our sacrifice, our ministry to others, our willingness to physically and tangibly HELP and bless.

James 2:14 – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (NKJV)

James 2:26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

We know so many faithful Christians who pour out their life through good works... it's a travesty to single any one person out knowing that I run the risk of not mentioning someone else equally deserving. I could easily name a hundred people off the top of my head whose faith is authenticated by their untiring good works. Within the circles of our close Christian family, my friend John Abernethy would be considered the spiritual ringleader of good works. I count him among my close spiritual friends and a shepherd. He is truly unwaivering in his willingness and alertness for opportunity to lead (and very often perform himself) good works within our community. I'm blessed to hold up John as an example of a living, authentic, active "James faith" (of course equally true of his wife, Lori).

In closing (my third “close”! Typical wannabee preacher…), I want to also pay tribute to a very special person in our life… Jim. Jim knows who he is. He is an example of living faith through good works. I have seen his good works first hand… amazing, extraordinary good works… and yet he is never seen, he never asks for (nor wants) any recognition. I have seen his good works literally make a LIFE CHANGING, life altering difference for a family.

While God calls some to be more public, some to be visible and “up front”, others do good works unnoticed by the world or even other Christians. Most mature Christians probably have a mix of both kinds of good works, seen and unseen. I believe these unseen good works (unseen to us) are a special blessing to God and will result in our greatest rewards throughout eternity.

I wanted to pay a special personal tribute to Jim and publicly thank him for his testimony of faith through good works.