James 2:14-26 – Faith Without Works Is Dead

Christian MölkJames Leave a Comment

Jas 2:14

  1. The Greek word “ergon” can be translated as “work”, “action”, “deed” or “achievement”. In the New Testament, this relatively neutral word is often used in connection with the Law of Moses. Paul often goes against the Pharisaic idea that as a Jew one becomes righteous before God by performing “works of the law”, and stresses the importance of believing that one is saved not by keeping the Law of Moses but by believing in Jesus (Gal 2:16, 3:2, 3:5, 3:10, Rom 3:20, 3:28).
    1. But if Paul often stressed the importance of not believing that it is the works themselves that lead to righteousness, James stresses the other side of the coin, that righteous works are a result of believing in Jesus.
    2. Since faith leads to righteous deeds, James questions the notion that one can confess Jesus as Lord while living a life completely devoid of any righteous deeds.

Jas 2:15-17

  1. To illustrate his point in verse 14, James gives an example in verses 15 and 16. If a church member becomes like a homeless person, with neither clothes nor food, and the rest of the church only says nice words but does not help in practice, then they have an empty confession and the nice words mean nothing in practice.
    1. The empty words to a homeless parishioner become as meaningless to the homeless person as a loud confession becomes to one who believes that it is possible to be saved by faith without works. A living faith produces righteous deeds because it is genuine and authentic, but a faith that produces no righteous deeds reveals that it is dead.
  2. James’ reasoning is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

Jas 2:18-24

  1. James continues his argument that faith and works are connected, by bringing in an imaginary person who argues against James and says that it is possible to have faith without any good works.
    1. James replies to his imaginary opponent that in that case he should show James a faith without works. Mere rabbiting of empty words and lofty confessions is not saving in itself, unless it flows from a living faith in the heart.
      1. To prove his point, James explains that even the evil spirits “believe” that “God is one”, but they are not saved because of it.
  2. As an example, Jacob uses the patriarch Abraham. Anyone with a Jewish background would probably agree that Abraham was a righteous man who was saved. But Jacob’s point is that he became righteous by not only having a high confession, but by acting in accordance with his confession. Abraham’s deeds “interacted” with his faith, and in this way his deeds proved that he actually had faith.
  3. Both James and Paul teach righteousness from Genesis 15:6 in a seemingly contradictory way:
    1. “And Abram believed in the LORD, and he reckoned it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
    2. We maintain that man is declared righteous by faith, without works of the law. ” (Romans 3:28)
    3. You see, then, that a man is recognized as righteous by works and not by faith alone. ” (James 2:24)
  4. First, I believe that the apparent contradiction between James and Paul is not really a contradiction, but rather two sides of the same coin. The righteousness that Abraham received by faith was demonstrated by his works. It was not the works that led to righteousness, but they were a result of faith.
    1. Paul argues that Abraham was justified by faith, not by works of the law.
    2. James argues that Abraham’s righteousness was demonstrated by the manifestation of his inner faith through outward deeds.
  5. Secondly, it should be noted that Paul writes “works of the law”, and James writes only “works”.
    1. What Paul goes against is the idea that one must keep the law of Moses in order to be righteous. What James opposes is the idea that one can have faith without works. So they are talking about two completely different things.
  6. Thirdly, James is not arguing against the “faith” that Paul describes, but a “dead faith without works”. After all, even Paul said that “we have a faith that works in love” (Gal 5:6). So both Paul and James seem to agree that genuine faith leads to good works of love, the very thing James is trying to argue for in this chapter.
Share & Print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *