James 2: Genuine Faith
James continues to explain the results of genuine faith. Thus far, James has told us genuine faith endures trials, understands temptation, and is a doer not a hearer only of God’s Word. Hearing God’s Word, reading God’s Word and talking about God’s Word is not a substitute for doing God’s Word.
We will study the three types of faith in this chapter, but first James gives us a virtual test to see if we are prejudiced. James sets up a scenario we can all understand. Here are two people who come into your meeting: one wearing fine clothes and jewelry- looks good, smells good, talks good. The other is a poor man, in shabby clothes, does not look good, and is not clean, does not smell good or talk good. Which do you want sitting by you? Which do you want to get to know better? Truth be known- we usually entertain the rich one and endure the poor one. Feeling sorry for the poor person is not the same as treating them equally.
James then goes on to give us some more to think about: God chose the poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom. We tend to view the world in terms of the ‘haves and the have nots’. Of course racial prejudice is the most obvious form of prejudice despite the fact that Paul says- we are one in Christ and there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.
What about the rich Christian? We always like to point out those and in fact they are highly valued. Why is that? Well, we think, since they have more they can do more for the church. Yet Jesus was more impressed with the widow who gave her mite than the rich Pharisee who gave a large offering. The way we behave toward people says a lot about what we believe about God. We are prone to view people based on their past and present circumstances rather than their future potential.
How did Jesus see people? He looked at Peter and saw a rock. He was not one at the time and it would take time, but God looks on the inside at the heart not the exterior. He looked at Levi, a hated tax collector, and saw Matthew a faithful disciple who would write the Gospel of Matthew. He looked at Zacchaeus a rich despised tax collector and saw a little man with a big heart. If you had looked at me during a season in my life, you would have seen a drunken fool. But Jesus looked at me and my future and my potential. When we see a fellow believer we must realize Jesus Christ lives within him/ her. When we see a lost sinner, we must realize Jesus died for them. I wonder if the church today is looking for people to help us, the church; rather than looking for people the church can help.
Want to know how the rich and powerful saw Jesus? Listen to this statement made by the Herodians: “Teacher, they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” (Matthew 22:16) They realized Jesus was a friend of sinners, tax collectors, and what they would consider the poor and unimportant people.
Why did Jesus say to his disciples it is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven? Simple math tells us the reason. Those who have more- trust and need God less. Those who have less- trust and need God more. Now do you see why Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I find it interesting and sad the suicide rate among the rich is higher than suicide among the poor. Remember the church of Laodicea? They thought they were rich and in need of nothing- Jesus said: ‘you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked…’
James wants to get our attention so he says- ‘listen- aren’t the rich exploiting you? Are they not the ones dragging you into court? Are they not slandering the noble name of Him (Jesus) to whom you belong? ‘It is something I have seen time and time again in business- people will give free goods to the rich who can most afford it, in order to find favor in their eyes. Yet will not give anything free to the poor who need it the most. (Think of Scrooge: ‘are there no work houses? Are the prisons not in operation?’ Christmas? Bah- Humbug!))
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” When you did it to the least of these – you did it unto Me.
James then refers to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself as the royal law. Who is one’s neighbor? This is what the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke 10. They had both agreed the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, strength and soul. (May I remind you what Jesus came as – He gave ups his riches for our sakes and became poor. I often wonder if I had lived at that time and been a Pharisee, would I have paid any attention to this poor carpenter turned evangelistic rabbi?)
Now in reply to the lawyers’ question ‘who is my neighbor?’ Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The answer is found there as to who our neighbor is- it is anyone who needs help that God places in our path.
Verse 10 tells us: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Does this mean a liar is as condemned as a murderer? Look at the 10 Commandments as a chain made up of ten links. In order to get into heaven, one must be without sin- perfect, Jesus said as my Father in heaven is perfect. This means I am hanging onto heaven by this ten link chain. If I break one of the links I have lost my hold on heaven. I have violated the will of God and have not kept the whole law. Try as I can- I cannot keep the law and the chain to which I cling will break and I will fall. We all fall short of the glory of God.
Now James comes to a very familiar section of his letter which describes three types of faith. Here is the question which will lead you to examine your faith: “What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?” James then gives us an easy-to-understand illustration: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’; but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” Martin Luther said we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Ephesians 2: 8 &9 explain we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. The next verse 10 tells genuine saving faith is accompanied by good works that God has ordained we walk in.
Faith is a key doctrine in the Christian life. The sinner is saved by faith, as we just quoted from Paul’s familiar verses in Ephesians 2. We are to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) We are told in Romans 14:23- whatever we do apart from faith is sin.
Hebrews 11: 1 tells us “Now faith is the being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) In that same chapter, Hebrews 11, we read of men and women who acted on God’s Word and obeyed Him, no matter the consequences. So we might say faith is not just believing in spite of evidence or lack of evidence; but faith, is obeying in spite of the consequences. In Hebrews 11, the ‘Faith Hall of Fame’, their faith resulted in action.
Here is the first type of faith: Dead faith. One of the most terrifying and tragic verses in the Bible comes from the Lord Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Not everyone that says unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Remember what Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer- thy kingdom come, thy will be done.) “Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers. (Matthew 7) If one does NOT DO THE WILL OF GOD; THEY WILL DO EVIL.
People with dead faith substitute words for works. They know scripture, so does the devil. Their walk does not match their talk. Jesus wants to feed the poor, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit the prisoner through us- His Body, the Church. The priest and Levite who passed by the wounded man on the roadside in the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10, had knowledge of God’s Word, but did not put it into practice. There was not a visible demonstration of their faith. WE ARE NOT WHAT WE SAY- BUT WHAT WE DO.
Many have intellectual faith. But faith without works is dead. And can this faith save anyone? The scriptural answer from Jesus Himself is no- depart from me you evildoers.
When one is saved- genuine faith will result in works that accompany this faith. Faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God (Romans 10:17) Faith in Christ brings new life where there is life, there is growth and fruit. Faith without works is dead faith. ‘He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the son does not have life.” (I John 5:12)
James challenges this person to show him their faith without deeds and he will show you his faith by what he does, his deeds.
Here is the second type of faith: Demonic faith. This faith is a shocker. James is saying you “believe in one God- intellectual faith. Good- even the demons believe that and they shudder.” When you realize the demons and the devil believe in the existence of God and the deity of the resurrected Christ and heaven and hell and notice what they do- they shudder, they tremble. This faith is both intellectual and emotional. The fears they show by trembling reveal their emotions. A person can be enlightened in their mind, realizing there is a Creator. They can be stirred and touched in their emotions, but not changed. Remember if we are truly saved, have saving faith we become a new creature. Paul said – ‘we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has ordained before we should walk in.” (Ephesians 2:10) We have heard James clearly describe two types of faith. The first involved the intellect, the mind. Mental assent to the truth of God’s existence. The next type of faith, James said is possessed even by the demons is intellectual faith that stirs the emotions. But this faith cannot save.
The third type of faith is: Genuine Saving Faith which involves the whole person- mind (intellect) emotions and will. The mind, the will and the emotions are the ‘heart’ of man. Salvation comes when we receive the Word of God with faith. (See Hebrews 3: 15-4; 2) James said it is able to save our souls when engrafted with meekness. This faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2: 8&9) It can received or rejected. John 3:18 tells us why mankind rejects this gift. The demons believe there is one God, know it for a fact; they also tremble, fear the one who can send them into the abyss. But they do not do the will of God.
James uses two examples that are extremes: Abraham, the revered father of faith for Jewish people; and Rahab the Canaanite prostitute, also the mother of Boaz. Both revealed their saving faith with the works they did. Abraham in offering his son Isaac on the altar. Rahab by risking her life in hiding the spies and sending the enemy in a different direction. Do you see the works? Do you see the acts and behavior that were an act of the will? Both of them heard and receive the message of God, Rahab had heard about what the God of Israel had done to Egypt and Abraham had heard God’s promise to bless him with many descendants through his son Isaac. Therefore Abraham believes even if he sacrificed his son on the altar, God would raise him up from the dead.
James makes his case: “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith made complete by what he did.” James says he was credited righteousness. (KJV uses the term- counted for credited.) Both mean the same- a financial term meaning to put into one’s account.
We are like Abraham and Rahab were- we had empty spiritual bankbooks before we were saved. We were poor in spirit, we were bankrupt. When you and I by faith believe God’s Word and receive it- we are saved. The term used by James is we are counted or credited with righteousness. It is gift, not of works. We are declared righteous by faith. We are justified. Justification is an important and necessary action. Justification is an act of God, whereby God declares us righteous on the basis of Christ’s finished work at Calvary. It is a once and forever act. It took place for me on September 16, 1977. It was a private transaction just between me and the Lord Jesus. So if this is a private transaction – how can we be sure it is genuine? Let Paul tells us the steps which we will also confirm by as statement from the Lord Jesus. Paul writes in Romans 10: 9&10: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart one believes and is justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” And our Lord Jesus tells us: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. “(Matthew 10) Genuine saving faith results in public confession that says I am a Christian. I want to tell the world about my Savior.
The justified person has a changed life because he/she has a new life within them. This person will obey God’s will. Do they sometimes not obey God’s will? Of course and Abraham’s story shows the journey of spiritual maturity when he sometimes leaned to his own understanding and did not obey God. There were consequences- but Abraham was learning as we do it is always best to trust the Lord and leave the circumstances to Him.
Here is the epitome of saving faith: “you see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:22) Abraham was not saved by faith plus works. He was saved by a faith that works. This is genuine faith.
We are justified and thus counted righteous before God by faith. Our works demonstrate our faith. The mind understands the truth. The heart, the seat of our emotions, desires the truth in its innermost parts, and the will acts upon the truth resulting in good works which God has ordained we should walk in.
Genuine saving faith leads to action. James tells us in very clear words the answer to the rhetorical question he asked us: Can this faith save you? (That is a faith without works)
His answer: ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so is faith without works dead.”
And a dead faith cannot save you.
Are you a little bit or a lot worried about your faith now after studying these types of faith?
Let me ask you some questions you must answer in your heart of hearts:
- Was there a time in our life when you honestly realized you were as sinner and admitted it to yourself and God?
- Do you realize you cannot save yourself?
- Do you truly understand the Gospel that Christ died for our sins, and rose on the third day and now resides in heaven at the right hand of God?
- Have you trusted the Lord Jesus for your salvation?
- Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?
- Have you believed in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confessed with your mouth before others?
- Has there been a change in your life?
- Do you long to please the Lord?
- Do you share Christ with others?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139)
I like what Peter wrote and to me it describes how I feel about the Lord Jesus: “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of our souls.” (I Peter 1:8, 9)
The Bible tells us we love Him, because He first loved us. When we fall in love with our spouse, and they with us- it makes us feel wonderful. When you fall in love with Jesus who loves you and gave Himself for you – it makes you feel wonderful. I love Him because of the way He makes me feel. Consider these emotions a believer experiences:
- Loved- I am loved unconditionally and eternally by the Lord.
- Feeling clean and free- form I am completely forgiven, my chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
- Feeling valued: fully pleasing to Him; I am His treasure and He takes pleasure in me.
- Feeling safe & secure: I am totally accepted in Him
- Feeling whole: I am complete in Him; I am a new creature.
For further study/verses concerning fruit bearing and works see the following:
Matthew 3: 7.8
Matthew 7: 21-27
Matthew 25: 34-40
John 15: 2, 5, 6
2 Peter: 5-8