Summary: This morning, we come to faith alone. This was the material principle of the Reformation. The question at hand was, “How is one made right with God?” The theological term for this is “justification.”

Sola Fide - Faith Alone

James 2:14-26

Pastor Jefferson M. Williams

Chenoa Baptist Church


Screen Door on a Submarine

I love that song! Just as it is silly to think about a screen door on a submarine, it is equally absurd to talk about a living faith without loving deeds.

This morning, we continue our series Foundations of the Faith.

Two weeks ago, we studied 2 Tim 3:15-17 and affirmed that we believe that the Bible is the inspired, sufficient, inerrant, infallible, immutable, invincible Word of Almighty God.

Jason K. Allen writes:

“The Bible holds authority over all other religious books, church traditions, councils, or popes. The scriptures are the standard, the benchmark, the plumb line for the church.”

It is Scripture alone that is our norm for Christian faith and practice.

Last week, we studied Ephesians 2:1-10 and discovered we were dead, defiant, and doomed…but God made us alive with Christ Jesus. This was simply an act of grace - unmerited favor. We didn’t deserve it. We couldn’t earn it. Instead of judgement for our sins, Jesus demonstrated amazing grace by dying in our place, for our sins, to take the punishment we deserved, in order to make a way back to a relationship with God.

Sola Fide

This morning, we come to faith alone. This was the material principle of the Reformation. The question at hand was, “How is one made right with God?” The theological term for this is “justification.”

The way you answer this question makes all the difference. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants would all agree that being made right before God involves faith. But as Protestants, we assert that it is by faith alone that we are made right before God.

James Montgomery Boice defines justification as “an act by which God declares sinners to be righteous by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”

Terry Johnson reminds us that it is a judicial act of God:

“It’s a declaration, not a process, a new status, not a new nature, it the verdict of the judge, not the works of the accused.”

Remember, the equation is Jesus + Nothing = Everything. The Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Catholics would all disagree with this equation. To them, it is Jesus + good works (missions, confession, church attendance) = everything.

“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24-25)

John Stott sees in these verses:

The source of our justification - the grace of God.

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We are justified freely by grace through redemption. Redemption is the language of the marketplace. It means to buy back or to ransom.

The ground of our justification - the work of Christ.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

The big theological term for this is “propitiation.” This means a substitutionary sacrifice which satisfies the wrath of God.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus lived a life we couldn’t live - He kept the law perfectly. He died a death we couldn’t die. He died in our place, for our sins, to atone or pay our penalty.

His righteousness was imputed (given) to us. We have no righteousness but His.

How was this done?

The writer of Hebrews wrote, quoting Leviticus 17:11:

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“Oh! how sweet to view the flowing of my Saviour’s precious blood. With divine assurance knowing He has made peace with God.”

The means of our justification - faith.

—to be received by faith.

What is faith? Hebrews defines faith as:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

I love Sinclair Ferguson’s definition of faith - “The receiving and relying on Christ and His righteousness. It is

Christ-directed, not self directed. It is Christ-reliant, not self-reliant.”

Last week, we saw that even our faith is a gift of God and doesn’t earn us any merit.

It isn’t faith in faith but faith in a Person - Jesus.

In the hymn we sang earlier:

“Nothing in my hands I bring / simply to the cross I cling.”

Now that we have established that salvation is by faith alone we need to look at a passage a Scripture that seems to contradict that.

Paul writes that it is faith alone that saves us. James writes, “Faith without works is dead.” Which is it? Did James misunderstand Paul? Is this one of those errors in the Bible?

Let’s turn to James 2 and get our scuba gear and dive deep to see what God would teach us today.

By the way, the Wednesday morning Bible study is starting the book of James on October 30th if you would like to jump in.


The Text in Context

Remember that it is always important to take the text within its context. In chapter one, James focuses on how God uses trials to strengthen our faith and shape our character. In chapter two, he shifted gears to our behavior as Christians - particularly the ridiculous practice of showing favoritism to rich people who came to their meetings, while looking down on the poor. James exposes their motives and showed that their behavior should line up with what they saw they believe.

Talk is Cheap

James begins this section with a bone to pick with his readers. Look at verse 14.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (v. 14) 

James as already told us his thoughts on the kind of behavior that should be exhibited by Christians - keeping a tight rein on the tongue, looking after orphans and widows, and keeping one from being polluted by the world.

James addresses his audience and asked them of what benefit it is to keep talking about having faith if there are no deeds to back it up.

It’s like having a driver's license but have no interest in driving.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases James question this way,

“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere. In this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?”

There was a problem between some of his readers words and actions and James was preparing to call them out.

He asked, “Can such a faith save you?” The answer to this in James mind is a resounding now. He’s going to give four case studies to prove his point.

Case Study #1 - Good Luck

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  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?” (v. 15-16) 

James gives us a scene that would have been very common in his reader’s lives. There is a fellow believer who is without adequate clothing, probably just wearing an inner tunic that would not been very effective at keeping him warm. The character in this story is also hungry.

He then introduces us to another character in the story - someone who claims to be a Christian. The reaction to this poor soul tells something about their poor heart.

They basically say, “Wow! You are really down on your luck. That’s too bad. Keep your spirits up and don’t become discouraged. Hope you find a way to stay warm. You’re actually looking pretty thin. Hope you find some food. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, “God bless you!”

Kind of makes you want to wince, doesn’t it? How can this person claim to be a Christian but have no compassion for a fellow believer?

Actually, the apostle John asked the same question:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him? How can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I John 3:17-18)

Has it ever occurred to you that you might be the answer to someone’s prayer?

James sums up this case study up with this bold proclamation:

“In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

John Calvin famously said it this way, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith this is alone.”

There is a type of faith that is actually a dead, lifeless, external faith that will not result in salvation. It’s a matter of all talk and no walk. Unfortunately, that kind of faith is very common today, especially in the churches of North America.

Here’s a question that I was asked as a baby Christian that I’ve never forgotten:

If you were put on trial for being a born again Christ-Follower, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Case Study #2 - the Invisible Christian

James then imagines a person presenting an objection to what he has presented so far:

"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.” (v. 18) 

This is the case of the invisible Christian. This person sees deeds as type of spiritual gift. Some have it and do “good works” and some don’t. They just have faith.

But that’s like saying you have the gift of breathing. James says that if we are truly born again, we will do good works. We won’t do these things to get God to love us more. They will flow naturally out of us as we seek to love God and love those around us.

I’ve had people say to me, “My Christianity is private.” Jesus didn’t see it this way:

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Your good deeds actually bring God glory and point people to Him.

That’s what James is getting at in these verses. He is talking about fruit, or the results, of our salvation. If a person is truly saved, what kind of behavior can we expect from them?

“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:18-19)

Faith is like calories. You can’t see calories but you can always see the results.

Remember that the apostle Paul said that becoming a Christian is a life-transforming event:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:21)

It’s like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly - a complete soul renovation.

Or as Warren Wiersbe has written:

“No man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same anymore than he can come into contact with a 220 volt wire and remain the same!”

Is your faith visible to those around you?

Case Study #3 - Demonic Faith

James now comes to one of my favorite verses in all the Bible:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.” (v. 19)

He starts with a statement that every Jew reading the letter would agree with - there is one God. That was the beginning of the Shema that every Hebrew child would learn from infancy and that adults would repeat twice a day.

James turns the corner on them with a vengeance and says, So what? Even the demons believe that!”

This individual has a lot of head knowledge but no heart change. Their theological knowledge is impressive. But James knew that even demons could agree with our doctrinal statement. They know for a fact that there is one true God and, when confronted by Jesus, the demons would shriek, “What do you want with us, Son of God?” (Matthew 8:29)

But their knowledge doesn’t lead to repentance. It actually leads to terror. How do we know? Because James says that they “shudder.” This word means , “when your hair stands straight up in fright.” This is where we get our idea of “goosebumps.”

It’s in the present tense which means it is something that is always true. The demons shake in fear when they think of God.

James writes that there is a type of faith that is just in your head.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“If there by a faith that leaves a man just what he was and permits him to indulge in sin, it is the faith of devils. Perhaps not so good as that for the demons believe and tremble while the hypocrite professes to believe God and dares to defy God and seems to have no fear of Him whatsoever.”

Question: Is your faith all in your head? You have a healthy reverence and awe of Almighty God?

Case Study Number #4 - the Patriarch and the Prostitute

James wraps up this section by given us two examples of real faith.

First, Abraham:

“You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” and he was called God’s friend. You seen that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (v. 20-14)

Again James realizes who his audience is and uses Abraham as an example.

Okay, this is where the controversy comes full boil. James says straight out that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. This seems to directly contradict Paul’s words about Abraham in Romans:

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter. If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about - but not before God. What does the Scripture say, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:1-3)

What is going on here? How about Paul’s words in Galatians:

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:15-16)

You see - the Bible is full of errors and contradictions. We might as well go play golf on Sunday mornings.

Do James and Paul really disagree with each other on how one is made right with God?


I want to make the argument that Paul and James do not disagree with each other. They just approach the same subject differently.

The emphasis is different. Paul is writing about the root of salvation. James is more interested in the fruit of salvation.

The perspectives are different. Paul is looking at salvation from God’s perspective. James is more interested in the human perspective. Paul is sees the fire in the fireplace. James sees the smoke from the chimney.

The terms are different. Words can have different meanings. The word rock can mean a stone or a verb to go back and forth, or a type of music.

Just as the same word can have different meanings, the word justified means different things in the writings of

James and Paul. To Paul, justified means how a person actually gets into a relationship with God. When God justifies us, He doesn’t do it on the basis of anything we do.

Paul wrote to Timothy and told him that God, “has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” (I Tim 1:9)

To James, the word justified means that the relationship will ultimately look like.

Both Paul and James refer back to Genesis 15:6 when “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” when God had promised to make his descendants more numerous as the stars in the sky. They both agree that is when Abraham began his relationship with God.

Thirty years later, in Gen 22, Abraham is asked to put his faith into action by offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice. His faith produced the fruit of active obedience.

When James said that his faith was made complete by what he did, he simply meant that Abraham’s faith went to another level. His faith grew in a way that it wouldn’t have if he had not been obedient. This whole episode of faith made his faith stronger.

Matthew Henry wrote: “Faith is the root, good works are the fruit, and we must see to it that we have both.”

James second example could not have been more different that Abraham. Abraham was the Father of Israel.

Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was respected. Rahab was a prostitute. Abraham was called a friend of God. Rahab was from a pagan nation. But, ultimately they both shared the same faith.

“In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction.” (James 2:25)

She believed in the one true God, the God of Israel, and her faith led her to hide the spies. In this one action, she risked her life and chose her side. But it was her faith that got her a spot in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11:

“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (Hebrews 11:31)

Dead Faith vs. Living Faith

James finishes this section with a summary statement:

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” )v. 26)

A faith that doesn’t express itself in good works is dead. It’s isn’t faith at all.

There are millions of people who attend church every week, know about the Gospel intellectually, and even live moral lives. But they are not born again. They are just people who have become very good at playing church.

Is that you? Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ is in you - unless, of course you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Do you simply know about Him or do you actually know Him? And does it show?

A missionary in China once told of Jesus for the first time to a group of people in a inland town. When he finished, someone said,

Oh yes, we knew Him. He used to live here.”

Somewhat surprised, the missionary tried to explain that Jesus had been on earth 2,000 years ago.

The man still insisted that he had met Jesus saying, “Not so, He lived in this village, and we knew Him.”

The crowd then took the missionary to the village cemetery and showed him the grave of a medical missionary who had lived, loved, served, healed, and died in that community.

Would anyone ever confuse you for Jesus?

Resume vs. Referral

I hope by now that you understand that we are saved by faith alone. There is no amount of good works you can do to save yourself. It is by grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

What are you trusting to get you into heaven?

Resume vs. Referral video