What about James 2?
This chapter has been used by many to teach an array of false doctrines such as ‘salvation by works’ or ‘hyper dispensationalism’. Some, which are unlearned and unstable wrest these scriptures to their own destruction bringing upon themselves damnable heresies such as the belief that salvation is attained or kept by works. Others knowing the truth that we are saved from hell by faith come to this chapter and assign the whole book of James to a different ‘dispensation’; and thus lose the blessings God has for them in this book. Therefore, I believe God would have me explain this chapter to those who look for a better way! Thus, with the Lord’s help we will give a few introductory remarks and then look at the verses in this chapter that have been used to lead many astray.
Let me begin by making clear that this book is not just to be assigned to the Jews who will be living in the tribulation due to the first verse of the book saying ‘…to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad’. The reason we say this book is not just aimed to the Jews in the tribulation is because of the fact that this book was written directly to the Jews living in the first century; Jews who were living during the church age. As a matter of fact, those to whom James was writing are identified in Acts 8:1-4.
Acts 8:1-4 ‘And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.’
The Jews that were scattered abroad whom James was speaking to were part of the church as Acts 8 shows (see also James 5:14). These Jews were Jews who were saved from hell the same way as everyone else in the church has been saved from hell, by grace through faith! The Bible is clear, there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek (Romans 3), all are sinners, all must be saved by the grace of God through faith in the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the grave. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him. Thus, James cannot be teaching something contrary to the gospel of the grace of God. Otherwise, there would be contradictions in the Bible (which we know there is not) or James would have to be considered accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
Furthermore, just because James wrote to a certain group of people, Jews that lived during the first century, that does not mean we are not to apply it to our lives. Otherwise, if we use the reasoning that we should not apply a book doctrinally to our lives if it is not written to us directly, then we would not apply to our lives most of the Bible. E.g., we would not apply any of 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter; 2 and 3 John etc. to our lives, for none of them were written directly to us but rather to specific groups of people or individuals. That would be wrong, for the Bible is clear ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:’
So, yes! We are to apply the book of James to our lives. It is for us doctrinally and practically. It does not contradict Paul’s writings but rather compliments them!
Now at this point let me hasten to say that the book of James does not teach a man saves his soul from hell by works. Instead, it actually shows very clearly that no one can work their way to heaven (see James 2:10). James understands that none of us are good enough to make it to heaven by works. He understands that all of us are sinners (notice James 3:2, 8 and 9; 4:5). James understood that if we wanted to go to heaven then we had to be born again by receiving the gift of God
Actually, the Bible is very clear on the matter. No one has or ever will be saved from hell through their own works (e.g. Psalms 130:1-4; Romans 3:19-20; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-8). Furthermore, the Bible is also clear that no one is saved from hell by a mixture of faith and works
(see Romans 11:1-6; Galatians 2:16; etc.).
So what is James talking about in James 2?
James is simply showing us that real faith will produce real fruit. Faith will work! A man can say he has faith all he wants but if a man does not have any works to accompany that so-called faith, that man’s faith is vain (empty, dead, not real).
James is simply showing us that WHAT A MAN BELIEVES WILL AFFECT HIS BEHAVIOUR. Notice in James 2:14, 17, 18, 20, 24, etc. that he uses the word ‘works’ without using the adjectives good or bad. James is simply pointing out the fact that if you really have faith then you will work. In other words, if you want to see what a man really believes watch how he behaves. A man may say he has faith God is going to help him get a job but if he does not get off the couch and go look for one, then he really does not have faith; he is lying. That ‘faith’ is dead. It is not alive. It is not real. It is worthless.
Now with the above introductory remarks, let us comment on some of the verses in James 2 that some have twisted unto their own destruction.
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
That verse is simple to understand. He is asking the question, what good is a man saying he has faith when he does not have any works? Can faith save the man who says he has faith but does not have any works? The answer is understood as, NO! Faith will not help that man (the ‘him’ in the passage) because that man does not have faith. He says he has faith but he does not have faith, not saving faith. That man is all talk. He does not have any faith to save him for if he did then he would have works.
The Bible is clear, a man can be saved through faith without works. However, we know that faith that saves is faith that produces fruit (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 2:8-10;
1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Titus 3:5-8).
Now that is not to say that a person who is not doing right at a given moment is not saved, for that is not true (James did not teach that, James understood we still had the old nature, see—James 4:5). However, there will be a difference in him. He will have some change.
Alright, let us go to the next passage.
James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Here James gives the illustration of a man who says to a brother or sister that is in need to depart in peace and be warmed or filled, and yet does not do anything to help. He then uses that illustration to ask, ‘what doeth it profit?’ In other words he is saying, ‘What good is it? Did it help?’
The answer is obviously no, it was worthless chatter! Then, in the next verse, he uses that to point to the man who says he has faith but does not have any works.
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
He is simply saying that a man who has ‘faith’ but no works, does not have living faith. That man’s faith is dead. It is all talk. It is worthless chatter! He can say all he wants, but living, spiritual faith, produces fruit.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
The verse is clear. A man is trying to run James down saying something like ‘I have faith, I am spiritual, and you, James, are doing everything in the flesh, you have works. Your God is small and you have to do everything. I simply have faith.’ James responds with, ‘shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.’ James is basically saying, you can proclaim you have faith all you want but proclaiming and possessing are two different things. Shew me! Let me see it! You cannot show it without works! Furthermore, your faith is worthless, what good is it. Whereas my faith can be seen in everyday life.
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
The verse is clear. So what you believe there is one God, so do devils. So! The belief in one God does not mean anything. It is one thing to say you believe that there is one God; it is another thing to come to the one true God and put your trust in the gospel, receiving Christ as your Saviour.
Just because a man says he believes in God does not mean he is saved from hell, for the devils also believe and tremble. If a man wants to be saved from hell, then he must put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and then at that moment, that man is saved ‘THROUGH’ faith! And that faith WILL PRODUCE FRUIT!
James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Again, this verse is clear. He is talking to the ‘vain man’. The man is vain because he is empty. He does not have the Holy Spirit. He does not have any faith. He is a liar. He can say he has faith all he wants to but his faith is dead if he does not have works. He is vain! He is empty! He is all talk!
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
This verse is not saying Abraham was saved from hell by works. Rather this verse is saying Abraham was justified by works when he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar.
What does that mean? It simply means that Abraham was proven by works when he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar. The word ‘justified’ in this text means ‘proved’ (see Luke 7:24-35 for another place where the word ‘justified’ means ‘proved’).
Abraham was justified (meaning cleared of all his sins) in the sight of God by faith without works (Romans 3:19-4:8). However, he was justified (meaning proven) by works (James 2:21).
Romans 3-4 and James 2 are using the word ‘justified’ in two different ways. In Romans 3 and 4, Paul is using the word ‘justified’ in reference to being saved from hell, being cleared in the sight of God (see Romans 4:1-5 and notice the words ‘not before God’). Whereas in James 2, James has in mind the thought of someone showing others they are saved by their works (just look up the word ‘shew’ in James 2).
In Romans 3-4, Paul is talking about Genesis 15. This is when Abraham was imputed righteousness. That justification, that imputation, that bringing of Abraham’s soul into favour with God was by faith for him. Just as it is for us and shall be for every other person who shall live on this earth, that is if they get justified. A person cannot be justified by works and boast in the sight of God (see Galatians 2:16; James 2:10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-8; Romans 11:1-6).
The Bible is clear, if you want to be accepted in the beloved, then you must be saved by grace through faith, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. So in Romans 4 Paul is talking about the soul being justified (declared free of blame, brought into favour, accepted) in the sight of God. Whereas James 2 is not talking about that. James 2 is talking about something else.
When James speaks of Abraham in James 2, he is talking about the episode that took place some 20 + years after Genesis 15 (Genesis 15 is the episode that Paul was talking about). James was talking about the episode described in Genesis 22. It was in Genesis 15 Abraham was imputed righteousness, it was in Genesis 22 where Abraham was justified (proven) by his works. It was in Genesis 22 where Abraham demonstrated his faith by his works for all to read and know that Abraham was truly a man of faith. It was in Genesis 22 that Abraham was proven.
As a matter of fact, when James speaks of Abraham in James 2, he is talking about the episode that took place some 20 years after Genesis 15 (that is the episode that Paul was talking about). James was talking about the episode described in Genesis 22. It was in Genesis 15 Abraham was imputed righteousness, it was in Genesis 22 where Abraham was justified (proven) by his works. It was in Genesis 22 he demonstrated his faith by his works. It was at that moment that Abraham was proven. Look at the passage below. It was at that moment God knew Abraham feared God! Abraham had proven himself. Abraham and demonstrated his faith. Abraham had proved his faith. Abraham’s faith at that moment grew, it became complete.
Genesis 22:11-12 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
The Bible is clear, Abraham was imputed righteousness by faith in Genesis 15. This is when Abraham (his soul) was justified by faith in the sight of God. Then in Genesis 22, Abraham was justified (proven, he demonstrated his faith) by his works. It was in Genesis 22, where Abraham shewed his faith for all to read for the ages. It was there, in Genesis 22, that Abraham proved to God that he loved him.
James is talking about proving your faith, demonstrating your faith. Abraham was proven by his works. He was justified (proven) by his works. His faith wrought with his works (his faith served with his works), and by his works was his faith made perfect (that means complete, see–James 1:4). His faith was matured by his works.
That is what James 2 is about. James is preaching to people who are accusing James of preaching works, a fleshly religion, and living by works instead of living by faith. They are accusing him of putting too much emphasis on outward works instead of a spiritual walk. The people were probably accusing him of legalism, of preaching human effort instead of living by faith. That is why he addresses them all through the book as he does. Read the book with that mindset and it opens up.
James starts the book showing them he understands they have to be saved by faith and not works (James 1:17-18), he shows them that he understands that if you are just guilty of one sin you are guilty of all and that is why none can be justified (that is declared innocent in the soul) in God’s sight by works, he then smashes them about their dirty loose tongue, basically saying to them that though they say they are following the truth they better take a look at their life through the mirror of God’s words and rethink it, then he hits them more with this type of thinking the rest of the book. In chapter 2 James responds to his attackers with ‘okay, show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.’ James is basically saying they are nothing but foolish talkers. If a man has faith, true faith, it will not be alone. Faith that saves is faith that produces fruit. Just like Abraham had. Abraham was not justified (proven to be a man of faith and accepted to be the father of faith) simply by saying he has faith, or as James put it, ‘by faith alone’, in other words by faith by itself. Abraham was justified (proven to be a man of faith and accepted as the father of faith in the sight of men) by his works, his works that wrought with his faith, his works that justified his faith. James is asking them what good is their faith if they are not working. They do not have spiritual, living faith, they are not spiritual, the faith they claim to have is actually dead faith. This is what he is talking about. Notice in the next passages that Paul agrees that saving faith will produce fruit. He does not say it might work, it might change, it will work, it will change.
Galatians 5:6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
2 Thessalonians 1:11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Now that is not to say that a person who is not doing right at a given moment is not saved, for that is not true (James nor Paul taught that). However, there will be a difference in him. He will have some change. James is dealing with people who are going around running their mouth about living by faith instead of living by works. He warns them not to be many teachers, he warns them to shut their mouths running people down who do not agree with them, and then he tells them that they are just a bunch of talk. He is not saying they have to work to be justified (in the sense of being cleared of all wrong doing so you can go to heaven). He is saying that if they have the right faith, the faith that saves, they will produce fruit. He is saying to them basically, ‘okay, you say you are spiritual and that you are walking by faith instead of the flesh. Shew me some works then. I want to see your faith. Is it any good or is your faith good for nothing?’ He is telling them that fruit/works will justify their faith (demonstrate their faith) and if they do not have any works then they do not have any real/spiritual/living faith. They are just talk. Again, Paul agrees, just look up in his letters on how many times he speaks about works and working and such.
What I am basically saying is that Paul has in mind ‘in the sight of God’, James has in mind ‘shew me’. I cannot see your faith, if you are going to be justified in my sight (demonstrated, proven, accepted as a man of God), then I need to see some works. Those works will not bring your soul into favour with God. The only way to be justified in the sight of God is by faith, not works. Works are the by-product of the right faith. Works demonstrate (justify) the faith. Works justify (shew the faith) but faith is what imputes the righteousness, nothing else.
All right, let us continue looking at the next few verses in James.
James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
When James says ‘Seest though how faith wrought with his works’, he is simply saying Abraham’s faith worked with his works. Abraham’s faith influenced his works.
When James says ‘and by works was faith made perfect’ he is simply saying that Abraham’s faith was made perfect (complete, his faith was matured by his works, see James 1:4 for a bible definition of the word ‘perfect’) by his works. The faith and the works walked hand in hand. What he believed affected how he behaved and vice versa.
James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
This verse is actually a key to the whole chapter. James himself says Abraham was imputed righteousness by believing (James 2:23). Yet James also says that due to Abraham’s works, Abraham was called the Friend of God (see James 2:22-23 together). Now who called him the friend of God? Men called him the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7). When Abraham sacrificed his son he proved his faith to all to read for the ages to come and thus was called the friend of God. If Abraham would have only been imputed righteousness and not did anything for God, not willingly given his son Isaac, he would not have been justified in the sight of men, and he would not have been called the friend of God by anyone. No one except God and maybe a few others would have known he was God’s child. But because he worked, he was justified and called the friend of God.
The Bible is clear, in Genesis 15 Abraham’s soul was justified (cleared of sin and imputed righteousness) in the sight of God. Then, many years later, in Genesis 22, God tested Abraham to see what was in his heart; and Abraham passed the test with flying colours and was thus justified (proved and accepted into a place of special fellowship and blessings) by his works. The works did not save his soul rather the works proved he loved God and thus brought him into favour and fellowship with God and man. Faith brought the relationship whilst works brought the fellowship.
Now let us go to the next verse in James.
James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
He is simply saying that a man is proved by his works, not by ‘faith’ only.
James 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
Rahab’s faith was proven when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.
Rahab had already believed before the messengers came. Then her actions proved her belief. See the passage below.
Joshua 2:9-11 ‘And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.’
Alright, let us go to the next verse.
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
He ends the chapter where he started. Faith means nothing if you do not have works. In fact, faith without works is dead. It is not living. Dead faith cannot save anyone or anything because it is not alive and working. Just saying you have faith means nothing. A man may say he believes (has faith) but if his behaviour does not match his so-called belief, then he is a liar. E.g. if a man, who is in his right mind and does not have any desire to harm himself, says he believes a glass of water has cyanide in it and then picks it up and drinks it, he lied. The man did not really believe the water had cyanide in it, he only said he believed it. That belief was dead. It was not alive. It was not real. That man’s ‘faith’ was a pretence.
Conclusion: In James 2, James is not bringing forth a new doctrine or another gospel. Rather James is identifying the faith that saves. He emphatically declares unto us that faith that is alive is faith that works. Yes, a person is saved from hell by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and not by any kind of works that is performed before or after a person is saved. A man is justified (cleared of their sin and imputed righteousness) in the sight of God by faith, and not by works. However, works will justify a person (prove a person and cause that person to be accepted into a special place of fellowship and blessings) to both God and man. Moreover, what you truly believe will manifest itself in your behaviour. And though a man may say he has faith, if he does not have works he is lying.
There are many out there who have turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. They go around complaining on preachers who preach standards saying they are legalist. They use great swelling words, take portions of scriptures and quote them out of context, yet my friend, I say with James, shew me your faith without your works, and I will shew you my faith by my works. Dear friend, I cannot see your faith, if you are going to be justified in my sight (demonstrated, proven, accepted as a man of God), then I need to see some works. Those works will not bring your soul into favour with God. The only way to be justified in the sight of God is by faith, not works. However, works are the by-product of the right faith. Works demonstrate (justify) the faith. Works justify the faith but faith is what imputes the righteousness, nothing else. Even James himself says Abraham was imputed righteousness by believing (James 2:23). However, if you want people to know you as a friend of God then it requires works (James 2:22-23). What do people think of you and me? Do they think of us as friends of God? Let us shew our faith by our labour of love!
Galatians 5:6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.