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.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (ESV)
In Rom. 5 and Titus 2v14 we read that believers are eager to do what is good. See also Mat. 5v48 and Rom. 12v1).
There are different but proper emphases on the words that Paul and Peter used: faith, justification and works – words that are used in different contexts. James is referring to a man’s thought processes. Paul is referring to a man’s life and his conduct. The faith that James condemns is not the faith that Paul commends. The use of justification: James uses it as vindication (v24) where the conduct showed they had faith in God. In James’s sense the believer is authenticated, while Paul says the sinner is absolved. James speaks of works as a result of salvation, but Paul is concerned with Jewish reliance on the works of the law. James is saying about works what the whole Bible teaches. Paul and James are in complete agreement. Paul wants us all to know that man is not justified by observing the Law, because our works are tarnished by sin – we are justified by Christ’s perfect work alone.
We see the following in this passage:
- The worst case scenario (v15-17):
This example is a hyperbole of a believer who ignores the needs of those closest to him. What good is his faith? Faith without action is dead. Christianity needs to be in your heart, hands and relationships and must affect the lives of people around you.
- The most alarming scenario (v18-20):
Even the demons have faith and believe that there is one God, and they shudder! What good is a profession of faith without a change of life? Think of Judas and all he witnessed! Yet he betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ. Judas was a “believer” with a dishonest heart and he had the faith of demons. Demons have an orthodox confession of faith and a religious world and life view. Demons also believe that God is one and they shudder (break out with goose bumps). How does the faith of a demon differ from saving faith? They do not love God and theirs is a faith without repentance. The same can be said of a Christian who does not have good works.