A dead faith.

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.  (Jas 2:15-17)               

 To answer the question that James put forth in verse 14, he postulates this hypothetical situation.

Let’s not argue whether ‘naked’ means ‘nude’ or ‘just not enough’, the situation that James is painting is of a brother or sister who has a need, not a want! 

taken from ubdavid.org

Then this wonderful brother with faith, seeing the need, is naturally concerned with the plight of the needy brother. He says “I hope that you get things worked out, I hope that you are warmed and filled.” Did you catch it? The emphasis?  ‘says’, not “does.”

While talk, as in counseling and encouragement can help, in this case, talk is cheap. Well wishes do not help!  Does such speech clothe the brother? Does it feed the sister? The answer is an obvious “NO!”  Confident that his readers will understand his point, he concludes “so also…” (in the same way) a faith that exists by itself, separate from works, is dead.

Dead faith!

Think about that. What is a dead faith? One that doesn’t act? In James’ words, “one that does not have works.” Worse, it is one that cannot save!

 I am always amazed at the way the Bible ties things together. James has just talked about love which he ties to the treatment of widows, orphans, and the poor brother. And now he talks about the faith of an individual in showing that love. It has to act. Then he goes on to talk about needs.

Notice that James did not say if you see a brother or sister who can’t pay their cable bill, their leased car payment, doesn’t have a new iPhone or PlayStation. No, he talks about food and clothing.  Paul said in I Tim 6:8 “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. Jesus mentioned Food and Clothing in Matthew 6:25-34.

It is a world of difference between providing needs and wants. I would say that needs are an obligation of the Christian whereas wants are in the category of grace. If you can, and if you want to, you may provide the wants of another Christian or someone else for that matter. But if you can and if you see the need, you are obligated to provide the needs. (Perhaps you don’t by yourself but you still take care of it)

If you do that, you show faith. And your faith lives:

 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  (1Jn 3:17)  

As I discussed in our last post, so many think that not earning your salvation is the same thing as not needing to do anything once you have it.  Oh, they may not ‘say’ that but their actions betray it.  They are very different concepts. God choose to offer his grace, we obey the Gospel and now we are obligated to live a certain way. Even so, he gives more grace (later on in James) to the humble.  

What conclusions do you draw from this so far? Can faith that saves exist apart from works? Do you have works that show your faith. If you are still not convinced, James will continue to talk about this….


About Steven Sarff

If I were to offer any one piece of advice to one wishing to serve God, it would be to put Hebrews 11:6 and Acts 17:11 into action and let God guide you to grow in the grace and knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ.

Posted on December 14, 2011, in Christianity, Faith, James and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Faith without works is dead, indeed. Our works are a demonstration of our faith. Faith is not just mental assent. I could be standing in the middle of a street about to be hit by a car, and you warn me that a car is coming. If I were to say, “Okay, I believe you.”, and I don’t move out of the way, my lack of action clearly shows that I don’t believe what you are saying. Faith will definitely take action, and if we exercise our faith, we will obey the Word of God and do what it says as it is preached and taught to us. Good post!

  2. Great post!:-)

    “God choose to offer his grace, we obey the Gospel and now we are obligated to live a certain way.”

    You are right, we are obligated. But most importantly I believe that if we are sincere when accepting Christ as our Savior, we will WANT to! God knows our hearts and He knows those who come to Him in prayer and pray the words of salvation with no intention of changing. In your post you asked can a saving faith exist apart from works? Again I go back to the heart. If we are genuine in wanting Christ as our Savior than I believe the desire to do “works” is there. The Holy Spirit has come into our hearts and He will give convictions of the heart to do good things and to stop doing the bad things.

    So when you ask can there be a faith that saves apart from works? I would say no. If the desire for good works isn’t there, perhaps we should look at how genuine we were in our salvation prayer. Did we accept Christ as our Savior along with conditions? with strings attached? If not sure, then we have to search our motives. The Bible tells us that faith without works is dead. So if we are genuine in wanting a saving faith, then we will do the good works from a willingness within ourselves, not because we “have to”.

    • Hey you are correct about pointing out the ‘want to’. I could have brought that out more. when I spoke of obligation I was responding to my perception of James’ imperative. That God wants a certain type of people (I peter 2:9-12 among other passages) is evident. We were not that type in our sin but we can be in Christ. Of course, we have to continue in his kindness (Romans 11:22).

      You went back to our original point of salvation. I don’t disagree that this passage can be used to talk about our coming to Christ in the first place since faith is how the righteous will be justified (Romans 1:17) but it seems that the context is best used (my opinion) to talk to those who are already Christians since that is who James is talking to. His point is to the saved that they are obligated to live a certain life (2:12) but as you did point out the desire to do so is important because God isn’ satisfied with rote worship, he wants our heart, mind, soul, strength.

      Since you brought it up (and you weren’t the only one) maybe I should take this passage as it fits to a person who is coming into Christ for the first time. Future blog. Stay tuned. 🙂

      • Lest I be misunderstood to imply that we need to be a certain kind of people in perfection….that is not what I mean at all. We will strive for perfection and this because of gratitude. all that brings out the want to.

  3. “While talk, as in counseling and encouragement can help, in this case, talk is cheap.” Simple yet excellent way of using a modern saying (so to speak) to explain what scripture has said for 1,000’s of years about a faith that does not act.

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