Devotional commentary for October 30-November 5
2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
After effectively illustrating the quality and the nature of the faith that any Christian should have, James outlines the conceptual foundation for his exhortation in the verses we are considering here. After reviewing the second chapter of James' Epistle, many argue whether James contradicted faith-based salvation by advocating redemption by works. However, one can readily perceive the true message by observing the text within the entire context of the Epistle.
The essence of James’ exhortation is that Christians should not hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with partiality. In that case, he is certainly referring to the nature and quality of the faith of a Christian who has already confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Here, James is declaring a fundamental truth about Faith. A genuine faith leading to salvation is also a fruitful faith typical of a redeemed life. He candidly confronts us regarding a real-time and a real-life evidence of the reality of our own faith.
James' question is quite simple. Should faith which leads to salvation be dead or fruitless? His question can be viewed as a double-edged encounter. Unproductive faith is: either devoid of any spiritual value, or is, an empty profession. In other words, if faith does not produce the character, attitude, and the commitment of the Completer and Author of our faith—the Lord Jesus Christ, then it has no appreciable value or effect. At best, it is an empty profession. True faith which leads to salvation also generates righteous and profitable actions and attitudes authored by Jesus Christ and executed by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
15If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
James draws our attention to a real situation we might encounter as we go on with life. Suppose there comes to us a destitute brother or sister in need of daily food and other basic necessities. He asks, what good is it if we just respond with good wishes? However true and heartfelt, what good would empty declarations accomplish in meeting any need, or in reflecting the quality and nature of the believer's faith in God and one's obedience to the Lord?
James declares that unless the claim to faith is proven by an observable real-life fruit of the Spirit, its testimony does not go much beyond the words used to express it. The poor state of a destitute person provides the occasion for the blessed to share the Lord’s bounty. Likewise, the absence of a tangible Christian action constitutes a fruitless or lifeless faith.
2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
James simply declares that faith without works is dead. His conclusion does not concern the false confessions of unregenerate claimants. He is exhorting struggling believers who needed a spiritual cure for their faltering but genuine Christian faith. A fruitless faith is empty from within. It is inanimate and lacks vitality. It is deprived and stands alone by itself.
James does not in any way suggest that works provide life to faith. Rather, faith produces worthy works. Accordingly:
- If faith remains without its natural fruit, then it is no longer functional and is, therefore, dead!
- It becomes defunct and spiritless and is, therefore, dead!
- It is inert and devoid of life and is, therefore, dead!
- Without its outcome, faith cannot have a viable testimony and is, therefore, dead!
- Its testimony is nonexistent and is, therefore, dead!
- It cannot extend God’s grace to others and is, therefore, dead!
- It cannot reflect the testimony of our Lord and Savior and is, therefore, dead!
When faith is fruitless, it becomes faceless and cannot be seen or witnessed. It is dead. It continues to live its dead existence only in the empty words of the unmoved believer.
2:18 But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
Here we have a scenario in which someone with fruitful faith challenging someone else with a fruitless faith, to demonstrate one's claim to faith without a tangible evidence. Even though good works can be generated by anyone with a generous disposition—Christian or otherwise—genuine faith must necessarily give rise to God-honoring and God-glorifying good works in the life of a believer who is delivered from the bondage of sin and condemnation. A faith that is pleasing to God is necessarily fruitful.
19You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
James assesses the value of an empty profession of faith with a shocking appraisal. He commends one's acknowledgement of faith in God, granted that it is not an empty profession. But if it is, its distinction falls within the ranks of demons because they too acknowledge God and tremble before Him.
It seems that James is concerned that there might still be some holdouts unresponsive to his exhortation on faith proven by works. He calls them foolish and impels them to recognize that faith without works is lifeless. It lacks the vibrancy of Jesus Christ. It is devoid of the fruit of the Spirit. It is an empty profession of mere words. Profession of faith is a good start. But action covers the distance. Talking reveals intentions. But action gives real evidence. True faith is also practical faith. We believe in a real God. There is none like Him. We must serve Him with real, meaningful, and significant actions which openly showcase the testimony of His redeeming Grace in the lives of His children.
Last week, we said in our Devotional Commentary , "We believe, therefore, we speak." Is that all? The Epistle of James tells us in no uncertain terms that, if all we do is believe and speak, then our faith is devoid of meaning and significance.
James considers a situation and exposes the vanity in empty words. Suppose an individual comes to us seeking our help with the basic necessities of life, and if all we do is express our best wishes, what good have we done? We might even mention God and His providence. We might sincerely suggest that one should eat enough and stay warm. We might encourage the needy to have faith and pray. What practical solutions do our empty words offer to those who come to us in need, if all we do is merely express our thoughts couched in the best of intentions?
True and practically viable faith reflects Christ-like character in the lives of all confessing believers. Such confessions glorify God and bless others. While the Christian works of a faithful believer attest to the reality of one's faith, the absence of Christian deeds, in effect, suffocates the spirit of the New Man and undermines the effectiveness of one's faith. Faith is the means by which all godly works are initiated, carried out, and completed or fulfilled. If our faith is empty, then we are not fulfilling God's purpose to which we are commissioned.
A believer who fails to express one's faith through a meaningful and significant Christian behavior and observable action is guilty of an empty, fruitless, and lifeless faith. Such individuals do not reflect a living and dynamic faith and therefore, do not please God and cannot enjoy the benefits of a genuine faith. Such a person’s life is devoid of any testimony capable of glorifying God and His Son Jesus Christ. Such an empty life squanders the faith of Jesus Christ instilled in us by the Holy Spirit.
Taking our spiritual cue from James’ teaching, we must examine our hearts before our Lord and pray that He would heal our faith. We can humble ourselves before our Savior and genuinely ask for His healing, only when we acknowledge that a faith that does not reflect the testimony of our salvation in Christ in a meaningful and significant way is, in effect, a denial of the Lord’s death and Resurrection by which we are saved. It does not mean we are not saved or we could lose our salvation. But it is a conduct of disobedience which smothers the testimony of God's redemption and the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is a spiritual liability.
We must examine ourselves, lest our faith is found empty and lifeless. Such spiritual malady should never be left to fester and degenerate into a debilitating complacency. Then we will have no fear that our fellowship with our Father might be undermined by a fruitless faith. We believe, we speak, and we act, because in Him we live, and move, and have our being.