Summary: A challenge to anyone who professes to have faith in Christ.
It’s not what we claim to be as Christians, but what we are seen to be that really matters. Anyone can claim to have faith in Christ, but if that claim to faith is not backed up or authenticated by the things we do, then, says James, it’s nothing more than dead faith: an empty profession that has no foundation - a claim that has no life-changing effect on one’s life.
This passage, particularly the opening verse (v. 14) is a challenge to anyone who professes to have faith in Christ.
1. THE GENUINENESS OF FAITH (vs. 14-17)
- A claim to have faith is no proof of its existence.
- There is no benefit, no profit, and no advantage in claiming to have faith that does not show itself by action. It is of no benefit to us (since it cannot save us), and is of no benefit to others because it is an empty profession. (See 1 John 3:17-18 for explanation, understanding and develpment of this argument.)
- In His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus refers to "good deeds" (i.e. evidence) in connection with man’s "light" of faith. A genuine, saving faith will be made manifest by the things we do and by what we are.
2. THE FRUITFULNESS OF FAITH (VS. 18-19)
- Maybe James anticipates some disagreement (v. 18) between those who would emphasise the importance of faith alone or deeds alone, and who would fail to see the important relationship between them both.
- James ironically makes his point (v. 18b): "show me your faith without deeds" (you can’t!), "and I will show you my faith by what I do" (which is necessary for genuine, saving faith).
Jesus makes this clear in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15-17, 20). Real faith bears good fruit (v. 17); it is one of the hallmarks of faith in Christ.
- A mere intellectual belief in God is futile (v. 19). A mere acknowledgement that God exists is not real, savbing faith and cannot bear the fruit of good works.
3. THE EXPRESSION OF FAITH (vs. 20-25)
- James cites two examples: (1) Abraham, (2) Rahab.
(1) Abraham (Genesis 15:6) "believed God (i.e. had faith in God’s promises, vs. 4, 5, 7), and it was credited to him as righteousness."
- 40 years later, that faith was to be severely tested (Genesis 22).
- "His faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete BY WHAT HE DID" (james 2:22).
- "A person is justified (before men, concerning his claim to faith) by WHAT HE DOES, and not by (a claim to have) faith alone" (v. 24).
(2) Rahab (Joshua 2) believed that God was going to give the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. When the spies came to her home, it was her faith (in God’s promise to Israel) that caused her to ACT the way she did.
- the spies assured her that because of her faith and the ACTION that accompanied it, she and all those who were in her house when Jericho was conquered would be saved.
- In both examples, the faith of Abraham and Rahab was seen to be real because of what they DID!
- Faith comes first, but evidence of that faith must follow to authenticate and demonstarte that faith is real and genuine.