Summary: James teaches that faith without works is dead and he uses for examples: helping the needy, the devils who believe but don't obey, Abraham and Rahab.
1. Open your bibles to James 2:14-26. This passage has much to say about the importance of both faith and works.
2. Years ago, there was an old gentleman whose job was to row people
across a river at a spot where there was no other way to cross.
(1) This elderly man was very religious and loved to preach in his own way. The
way he did it was unique. He called one of his oars “Faith” and the other he called “Works”.
(2) When someone got in his boat, he would first pull on the “Faith” oar and the boat would go in circles. “Faith only ain’t enough”, he would announce.
(3) Then he would pull on the “Works” oar and the boat would go in circles in the opposite direction. “Works only ain’t enough”, he would say.
(4) Then he would pull on both oars at once and the boat would go straight to the other side.
(5) “It takes both faith and works”!. the evangelistic boatman would triumphantly conclude.
3. The lesson that James 2:14-26 teaches is the same message that the old boatman would illustrate over and over with the use of his oar that he called “faith” and his oar that he called “works”.
14. Let’s begin our study of this passage from the second chapter of James.
I. FIRST, JAMES 2:14-16 TEACH THAT “FAITH WITH OUT WORKS IS OF NO PROFIT”- “SUCH A FAITH IS USELESS”.
1. Let’s read James 2:14-16, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 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?”
2. In v. 14a the word “Profit” means “to have value”. The first part of James’ question is this: “Of what value” is it to say one has faith if one does not work, does not obey?
(1) The New English Bible has, “What use is it?” The understood answer is none. Faith without works is useless.
(2) We might notice that James does not deny that this man has faith (in fact, James refers to his faith in the last part of the question).
(3) The trouble was that the man’s faith was expressed only in talking. He said he had faith. But by just telling the man who needed clothing and food to go and find his food and clothing somewhere else he was not demonstrating faith that was active.
(4) He just had “talking faith” which was useless and of not profit in the eyes of God.
3. In verse 14, the last part, the word “save” is in a context that teaches that one is not going to be saved by “faith only”.
(1) The word “saved” can refer to being saved from past sins at the point of baptism. Mark 16:16 declares: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned”.
(2) The word “saved” can also refer to being saved eternally, when one is faithfully obedient unto death. Matthew 24:13 declares: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved”.
(3) Since James is writing to Christians, I would assume that the second type of salvation is primarily in view.
(4) But what difference does it make? There are only two classes of people now, and there will only be two classes of people in the judgment, the saved and the lost!
(5) James says here that works has to do with going to heaven. If you want to go to heaven, don’t just say “Lord, Lord”, but do the will of God in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
4. In James 2:15&16, James establishes a general principle applicable to “all Christians”. To establish his principle James gives an illustration of talking but not doing.
(1) In vs. 15&16 James says, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 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?”
(2) Let’s try to visualize what James is telling us as he gives his illustration.
(3) James is telling us of a brother or sister in Christ that comes to a Christian and the one who comes is in need of clothing and food and yet the Christian that could help him, does not help him, but rather tells him to depart.
(4) The one who has been told to “depart” is not a professional bum, but is genuinely hungry and lacks adequate clothing to cover his body. It may be cold weather.