Summary: The practical faith of Rahab stands in contrast to the platitudes of the person who sent the hungry empty away, and failed to clothe the naked.
FAITH AND WORKS
A person is making what seems to be a credible claim to “faith” - but (as yet) there is no evidence in their lives of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. They seem to have all the right words, but (so far) “works” are lacking.
James 2:14. What is the profit in the faith of such a person, asks James, if it is not backed up by works? Surely such a faith cannot save them? The second question expects the answer “no”!
A FAILURE TO FEED THE HUNGRY (James 2:15-17)
As both Paul and James would agree, good deeds do not make us Christians: but Christians will do good deeds (Titus 3:8). James, Peter and John encouraged Paul and Barnabas to remember the poor - which, says Paul, was the very thing that they were forward to do (Galatians 2:10). James indicates that our attitude to the poor is a benchmark for the truth of our “religion” (James 1:27), and the impartiality of our “faith” (James 2:1-4).
James 2:15. Yet here we have someone in obvious dire need: a brother or sister, no less, who lacks food and clothing.
James 2:16. It perpetuates inequality when we send such a person away with platitudes, whilst we have the means to help them (2 Corinthians 8:12-14). What does it profit? The Lord Jesus will condemn those who lack practical works of mercy in such situations (Matthew 25:42-43).
James 2:17. Faith alone, without the evidence of works, is dead.
FAITH VERSUS WORKS? (James 2:18-20)
According to Paul, we are “saved by grace through faith… not of works, so that no one can boast.” Those who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are seen as God’s workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10). James agrees.
James 2:18. Someone has interrupted James’ discourse to announce the equality of faith and works, as if they were separate but equal gifts. Yet James, like Paul, insists upon the primacy of faith - and, like Paul, expects faith to be backed up by works. Faith is the distinctive property of all Christians - but, says James, faith can only be evidenced in the works that flow from it.
James 2:19. Even the demons “believe” (which is the same word as “faith” in Greek). They believe in the one true God, but they cannot go on to love Him (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). In the face of perdition, their “faith” leaves them shuddering nervous wrecks!
James 2:20. Faith, without the works that validate it, is dead.
ABRAHAM’S WORKS OF OBEDIENCE (James 2:21-24)
The LORD promised Abraham a son, and a plenteous seed. At that moment, Abraham believed the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Paul clearly demonstrates that Abraham was justified by faith, staggering not at the promises of God (Romans 4:20-22).
James 2:21. Without denying Paul’s teaching, James is contrasting Abraham’s faith with that of the demons. They had a faith of sorts, as we saw - but it led them to fear and dread, rather than love and obedience. Abraham, when put to the test, did not withhold His son, his promised son Isaac, trusting in the One who is able even to raise the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).