“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.”
IS FAITH ENOUGH?
Are we saved by grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8–9) or do we also need good works?
James does not argue that good works are required for salvation. Nor does he say that deeds are more important than beliefs. Rather, he insists that there are two kinds of faith—one legitimate and the other illegitimate; faith … made complete (v. 22) and faith without deeds (v. 20). Both are “belief” in one sense of the word. But legitimate faith goes deeper than “right thinking” to “right living.”
Confusion may arise, however, when we recall that Paul writes that we cannot earn salvation. He uses Abraham as an example of one who received God’s promise, not through human effort, but through faith (Gal. 3:6–12).
James also uses Abraham as an example, but his focus and emphasis are different than Paul’s. He skips over the futility of human effort to discuss the futility of deficient faith—faith that stops at the intellectual level. Even demons have that kind of “faith,” James exclaims (v. 19)!
James’s point, then, is that Abraham exercised authentic faith—demonstrated by his actions. Abraham’s deeds earned him nothing, but they proved his faith was genuine: Right faith led to right actions. If he had not trusted God, Abraham could never have offered his son—the fulfillment of God’s promise—on the altar (vv. 21–22). Paul uses Abraham to show that people are justified on the basis of real faith; James shows that Abraham’s faith was proven to be real because it worked (compare Gal. 5:6).
So then, we don’t need anything but faith—the right kind of faith—to be saved by God. And our behavior will show what our faith is made of, whether or not it is legitimate.
This blog post was adapted from The Quest Study Bible, which you can get this week for only $8. Verse-by-verse, this study Bible asks questions that most Christians ask, and then provides a biblical answer. This tool is priceless as you begin to study God’s Word.
Learn more about The Quest Study Bible.