“A Dead Faith That Does Not Save”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 2.14-20
James 2. One cartoon I saw this week shows a church building with the sign: 3rd Avenue church drive-through. It shows cars driving up to the church like they would if going through a fast food restaurant drive-through. A church worker, just like a drive through attendant, leans out the window and hands the people driving a vehicle their order. She says, “there you go, sir. Three medium hymns, one liturgy lite and a small sermon, hold the exhortation.”
Another cartoon shows a church sign and it reads …
The Lite Church
24% fewer commitments, home of the 7.5% tithe, 15 minute sermons, 45 minute worship services. We have only 8 commandments-your choice. We use just three spiritual laws and have an 800 year millennium. Everything you wanted in a church … and less.
It doesn’t take long to realize that this is really going on in our churches today, although they don’t advertise it as such.
And that’s because many churches are practicing today what’s been called easy-believism.
Easy believism is that belief and practice that what is required for salvation is simply tipping your hat to the facts or simply mentally agreeing to the facts of Jesus’ person and work and then simply to recite some sinner’s pray in a repeat-after-me format. It’s more of a formula and often people who recite this prayer are considered to have eternal life apart from how they may go on to live their life. They may live very sinful lives after reciting this prayer, but yet people don’t question whether or not he was saved because he recited the sinner’s prayer.
But the truth is according to Jesus in Matthew 7 …that not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Simple verbal confession of Jesus’ Lordship isn’t enough.
As John the Baptist preached …
Matthew 3:8 “… bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Someone who is truly saved will live a life that shows he’s repented, that shows he has taken up his cross with Christ, that shows that he’s cut off his hand and plucked out his eye…his life will need to show that the power of sin has been broken, that his chains have fallen off!
And so my life is to be unique in Christ.
And in James 2:14-26 James is tackling this very subject: What if someone comes up to you and says they have faith, but his life doesn’t show it; in other words, he doesn’t have any good works?
The issue is what is true, saving faith? Is there a false faith that does not save and a true faith that does save?
James is answering that question here…Let’s read…
James 2:14–26 14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and 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? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 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.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
faith is at issue
Notice how James is discussing faith… the issue is, end of verse 14, what kind of faith saves?
Verse 17…A certain faith can be dead… “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. ” The kind of faith that doesn’t have works is dead; it doesn’t save.
Verse 19…this same faith can be demonic, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Some people’s faith can be the same faith as what the demons have. The kind of faith that demons have does not save.
Verse 20. this same faith can be useless. “Faith without works is useless.” The kind of faith that doesn’t have works is useless; it does not save.
Verse 22: But there is a certain kind of faith that can be perfected or completed. “You see that faith was working with his works [Abraham’s works], and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.” The kind of faith that produces works is complete and it saves.
And verse 26, faith without works is dead. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” The kind of faith that doesn’t have works is dead; it does not save.
So you can see James is speaking to two different kinds of faith: one is a dead faith that does not save and the other a true faith, a faith that saves.
So, I’d like to preach this morning on “A Dead Faith That Does Not Save” from verses 14-20. If we take heed to James’ teaching here, we will be sure to guard our church against a false response to the gospel.
Now, this is a highly controversial passage that will take some thoughtfulness as we go through it.
Intro: Faith that does not produce good works doesn’t save (2:14).
Paul does not contradict James
James introduces his point in verse 14 with two questions that, in the original language is clear: he wants us to respond to with a negative answer…
James 2:14 14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? [What’s the answer? It’s of no use. Keep going ] Can that faith save him? [Answer: No]
EXP: What’s going on here? Someone is making a claim to faith. He claims he trusts Christ. We don’t know if he has faith. All we know is that he says he has faith. Look at it again verse 14 “what use is it my brethren if someone says he has faith but he has no works?” We know he’s claiming to trust Christ, but we don’t know if he’s saved.
We also know, as James says, he does not have works; he does not have righteous deeds in his life. He claims he has faith, but his life shows no works. That kind of faith is useless, it cannot save him.
EXP “the”: Allow me to get technical for just a moment as I know some of you have a different version … : the new American Standard has “can that faith save him” as does all the other modern versions except the NKJ. The King James and New King James versions have simply, “can faith save him?”
In the original Greek language there is the word “the” in front of the word faith. So it would read … “Can the faith save him?” And the way that word “the” works in the Greek language in this case is that it points back to the kind of faith that James is talking about. What kind of faith then? The kind of faith that does not have works. “Can that faith save?” No….
And so we translate it, “can that faith save him?”
EXP: And so on the surface, it seems to many people that James is teaching that faith alone does not save. You can see this more clearly in verse 24 …
James 2:24 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
That’s not what we’re used to hearing. Some say then that salvation is not by faith alone, it’s also plus works… faith+works=salvation. If you only have saving faith, you cannot be saved. You must also have works; works earn your way to heaven too.
But we know what the apostle Paul says in Romans 3:28 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
James 2:24 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Paul … Romans 3:28 28 ….a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
James a man is justified by works….
Whoah? What do we do? Seems like a contradiction!
And this seeming contradiction was why Martin Luther seemed to distrust James, especially his teaching on justification. Luther wrote in 1522: “Therefore the epistle of James is a right strawy epistle [James is an epistle of straw] in comparison with them [that is, with John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter], since indeed it has no evangelical nature to it.” He also wrote … 
“Many have mightily labored to reconcile James with Paul, just as Philip (Melanchton) has done in the Apology (to the Augsburg Confession), but not with real success. These are at odds: faith justifies, faith does not justify. If there is anyone who can bring these into harmony with one another, I will set my [doctoral] biretta on him, and let him scold me as a fool.”
I won’t claim we’re going to scold Martin Luther as a fool this morning, but we will clearly see the harmony today and throughout the rest of James 2.
Look … Paul is focused on faith and works before conversion: You cannot earn your salvation by doing good things.
But James is focused on faith and works after conversion: If you make a claim that you trust Christ for salvation, your life will show it…by good works.
Paul argued against working your way to heaven; James is fighting the easy-believism church who wants to live how they please after simply profess Christ.
Works can’t bring you eternal life, but works are necessary after salvation.
Paul taught this too Ephesians 2:8–10 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Grace, salvation, and the faith is all not from us, it’s a gift from God, none of it is a result of works. Works don’t earn you eternal life. But once you trust Christ, you were created for good works to live in them.
James has the same burden. You remember James 1 verse 18 …
James 1:18 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
God is the one who brings us forth; He’s the one who saves us, causing us to be born again.
But James also says in verse 22 … “prove yourself doers of the word, not just hearers!”
And now in James 2:14 … someone can claim to have saving faith, but if he doesn’t have works, he hasn’t proven himself to be a doer of the word … “Can that kind of faith save him? Can the kind of faith that prayed the sinner’s prayer and doesn’t do what Jesus says be a real saving faith? Can you call Jesus Lord and not do what He says and still be saved? Answer: No. True disciples of Jesus are saved; they bear good fruit and follow him.
TRANS: That’s the reconciliation of Paul and James. I think you’ll see that more as we work through the passage and into next time as well. Like the illustration about the rich man and the poor man, James gives an illustration about a useless faith…verse 15 …
An Example of a Faith that Does Not Save (2:15-16)
James 2:15–16 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and 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?
So here you are at church on a cold winter’s day … and you’re all dressed up in nice warm clothes, you actually had to pick out what you were going wear…but then in walks a brother or a sister who is so poor he or she doesn’t have clothing or doesn’t have enough food for today.
And in your glee, with your full stomach and warm clothes, you look upon the impoverished believer and with true intention in your heart as you part ways after the service, you say, “Well, go in peace. Try to stay warm eat well.” And you think to yourself, “Boy, I hope the guy makes it.”
Proverbs 3:27–28 27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in your power to do it. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.
“Well, go in peace. Try to stay warm eat well.” And you think to yourself, “Boy, I hope the guy makes it.” But you didn’t give him what he needed? What use is it, what good is your faith if you do this? None. If you do this, you have a useless faith, a dead faith…verse 17 …
James 2:17 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
Just like it’s no use wishing someone with no food and poor clothing to be warmed and filled, so also the kind of faith that has no works is also dead; it doesn’t save.
Someone who does the kind of thing James is talking about claims faith with his words, but denies it in his actions, namely, their giving to Christians in need. This is hypocrisy: claiming one thing and living another. Talking the walk, but not walking the walk.
ILL: It’s like the child who, after their dad prays with the family, says, “Dad, Jimmy had his eyes open during prayer.” That’s hypocrisy. Or it’s the pastor who, after preaching a sermon on patience, gets angry at the restaurant when the fancy ketchup won’t come out of the glass bottle. Or it’s the church, overlooking the sin of an elder but condemning layman. Or it’s the televangelist who preaches against debt and tells you that if you give him money through your credit card, God will get you out of debt.
We like to think about that hypocrisy …
But James hits closer to home when he says it’s like you saying you love people, but you’re unwilling to help a poor brother. Right there in front of your eyes, you can see he needs help…but you just wish him well.
John says … 1 John 3:17–18 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
If you see a brother out of a job in our down turned economy, or a family in dire straights, do something.
APP: Now, it just so happens that today we’re going to have kind of a spontaneous love offering. We’re preaching through James and this need happen to come to the forefront this week, so we’re thankful to be able to apply James’ teaching here. If you aren’t prepared to help today, feel free to be in contact with me or one of the men.
Now, just because you may donate or give money or whatever, …that doesn’t make you a Christian. But helping poor believers is a sign of love for them and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is a sign that we are believers.
TRANS: At this point, James brings in an imaginary objector verse 18…
Objection Answered: Faith is shown by works (2:18)
James 2:18 18 But someone may well say, [the word ‘well’ is in italics and is not in the original. So let’s go back … But someone may say…] “You have faith and I have works.” [End quote …that’s the end of the objector’s point. Now James responds…] “show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
EXP: So somebody says, “Ah who cares. You have faith, I have works, what’s the difference…I mean, you like to talk theology, I prefer the more practical side of things, what’s the difference; we’re all Christians here.”
But James has no patience for that and so he says, “show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
“Show me your faith without works.” Ok…how is he going to do that? How is he going to show his faith without works? How can he prove himself to be a doer of the word if he’s not doing anything? He’s not bearing fruit that shows he’s repented.
Go ahead, make my day and show me your faith without works. Ya can’t do it.
True saving faith can’t be separated from good works, so you can’t say “someone likes theology someone else likes practicality.” No, the two go together. Faith will work; faith will produce good works.
James continues his response to this objector in verses 19-20.
James 2:19–20 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
Quite the strong words.
They believe that God is one, that there is one God, just like Deuteronomy 6:4 4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!
Well, the demons believe that, and they shudder because of the future judgment of the one true God upon their lives. Demonic faith does not save. Just believing that there is one God, or believing that the God who is … is the God of the Bible…that’s a starting point, but just because you celebrate Christmas doesn’t make you a Christian.
Demons even know it takes faith to be saved; demons know that for humans to be saved from sin’s power, it takes repentance. Demons, who have been alive since creation, know the Bible quite well, actually. But they don’t know it so as to be saved.
In the same way, humans can know enough about the truth to be so afraid that they shudder, they shake, they tremble because of their coming judgment. That would bring you to repentance as a human being. But instead, the blindness of the heart deceives them… “Oh, everything is ok…you have faith and don’t worry about the works, salvation is by faith alone.”
Faith saves, but the kind of faith that saves will bring with it good works. Saving faith is never alone, it produces works. But it is the faith that saves, not the works. But the works are required to verify the faith.
ILL: There was a song some years ago on the contemporary Christian music scene entitled Screen Door by Rich Mullins…some of the lyrics go like this …
But I really think you oughtta
Take a leap off of the ship
Before you claim to walk on water
Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine
Ironically, Mullins died when when he failed to wear his seatbelt and was ejected from his Jeep.
But his point stands: you know how useless a screen door is on a submarine: very useless, it’ll sink the ship, and cause the death of all inside.
It’s a dead faith!
Those who fail to recognize this are foolish fellows as James says. There are people who are deceived thinking they are on their way to eternal life, but if you look at their lives, they live no differently than those who don’t know Christ, and sadly there will be many in that day saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not preach, give, do miracles in your name?” And Jesus will say I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness. You see, they didn’t practice righteousness.
And James is again focused on helping those in need. Will you see a brother or sister in need and not help them? We’re not talking about movies, music, and the like. James is talking about your active kindness, the compassion you have, the verbal and physical help you give to people who need it, free of charge but it costs you something.
Hear Jesus words and act on them is Jesus’ point. Trust in Him, repent, and bear fruit in keeping with that repentance.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 2.14-20
Now, the simple gospel is this … believe these facts …
Christ Jesus, the Lord of all, as the OT Scriptures foretold, took the penalty of eternal separation from God because of your sin so that you don’t have to suffer that penalty.
Christ rose from the dead, proving to all that He is the Lord of glory and He appeared many times to many people.
The simple response is this: Trust Him like a child would trust his dad when his dad tells him to jump off the table and he’d catch him. Trust Him.
And express that trust and ask Him to save you. Now, when he saves you, your life will change and you’ll produce good works. You’ll help people, you’ll love the brethren, your life will demonstrate that the power of sin over you has been broken.
You remember Christ’s parable of the soils. The sower comes and scatters his seed. The seed is the word of God and the different soils represent the conditions of different people’s hearts.
And some seed falls along the road, but because that path is well-worn and hardened, the seed doesn’t take root and birds come and eat it up… This is the devil coming and taking away the word of God from their hearts so that they will not believe and be saved.
And then some seed falls on the rocky soil. And as soon as the seed grew up, it withers away because it has no moisture. These are they who when they hear the word, receive the word with joy but there is no firm root in themselves and Jesus even says that they believe for a while, but in a time of temptation they fall away. They believed for a while. What kind of faith was that?
Was that the faith that produced fruit? No. That was a dead faith. James says that kind of faith cannot save him. That faith produced no fruit; it produced no good works. No care for the needy, no encouragement for the downhearted, no help for the sin sick soul, and no warning to the living dead.
And this is why it is very important to do good works after you have trusted Christ. It will verify your faith. It will show to you and to others that you are the real deal.
Sing: 503 Savior like a shepherd