Faith: It’s What We Do [James 2:14-26 Sermon Video & Text]

Faith: A Lifestyle

This past New Year’s Eve, I was asked to preach a brief sermon during our annual Watch Night Service (New Year’s Eve) at Alpha Baptist Church. Seven ministers were asked to preach for seven minutes each — all on the topic of “Faith: A Lifestyle.”

I had previously written a paper on this often controversial passage (James 2:14-26), and I was very eager to share. Though I was the sixth preacher, time had already gotten away from us. I finished just before midnight.

Please find the sermon video, text, and sources below. Unless otherwise indicated, the translation of the Greek text is the author’s. Please leave a comment or reach out to me if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

I look forward to, Lord willing, teaching a Bible Study on this subject in the near future.

Video

Text

Faith: It’s What We Do. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Ps 19:14, NASB).

Faithfulness: An Appropriate Response to Favor

You ever do someone a big favor, but the next time you see them, they act like they don’t know you? Have you ever given so much of yourself to others, but when you want others to give of themselves to you, no one is anywhere to be found? After all you’ve done for them, shouldn’t people respond appropriately?

In the first-century, people who had money and prestige – who were called “patrons” – would do favors for people who were in need – who were called “clients”. This unmerited favor was called charis, which is usually translated as “grace”.

In response to the grace of the patrons, clients were to respond with gratitude, public praise, and devotion. This was called pistis, which is usually translated as “faith” or “faithfulness.[1]

In Scripture, these terms are used describe how God – our Patron – has given us amazing favor – Amazing Grace.[2] After all God has done for us, shouldn’t we respond appropriately in good faith – with faithfulness?

The Only Kind of Faith That Works, is Faith That Works

But the question James asks is: how can someone claim to have faithfulness if they do not act faithfully? There is much that could be said about this passage, some of which I hope to save for a future Bible Study, but the overall message of James 2:14-26 is this: The only kind of faith that works, is faith that works.[3]

He begins, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have “faith” but does not have works? Can such “faith” save them?[4] James addresses both questions with two examples of fake “faith.”[5]

Fake Inhospitable “Faith”

In verse 15, he says, If a brother or a sister is poorly dressed and lacking daily food 16 and one of you (all) says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does not give them what is necessary for their body, what good is it?

“Go in peace” was a common Jewish blessing.[6] This person has provided the words of a blessing without the act of a blessing.[7] The other person is still cold and hungry; it does them no good.[8] Therefore, James says, 17 In the same way, also, “faith”, in itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  

He continues, 18 But someone will say, “You [the opponent] have faith, and I [James] have works.”[9] This objector is trying to separate faith and works,[10] but they are, essentially, two sides of the same coin.

James responds 18b Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works. He is challenging his opponent to do the impossible: to try to prove one’s faith without works – works of godly obedience.

Fake Disobedient “Faith”

In verse 19 he says, You believe that God is one, you do well! Even the demons believe that – and shudder! As it’s been said, there is a big difference between belief that and belief in.[11]

It is not enough to believe that there is one God[12] – even the demons believe that![13] It is not enough to believe that Jesus is God – as we read in Mark (Mk 1:24, 3:11), even the demons believe that! We have to believe in Jesus Christ – which entails faithful, obedient works.[14]

True, Obedient Faith

Now after providing two examples of fake “faith”, James provides two examples of true faith.[15]

In verse 20 he continues, Oh, you want to knowyou foolish person – that faith without works doesn’t work? 21 Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works having offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith was working together with his works, and by his works his faith was made complete. And the Scripture was fulfilled, the one saying, “Abraham believed in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by “faith” alone.

Now, by “faith alone,” James is talking about the fake “faith” he has already mentioned.[16] In contrast, he mentions Abraham – who was the father of all Jews and the prime example of godly faithfulness.[17] Even his faith was made complete – or brought to its full significance[18] –through his works of obedience.

True, Hospitable Faith

In verse 25 he continues: And also, in the same way, was not Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she welcomed the spies and sent them out a different way?

Now Abraham was a man of wealth and prestige; Rahab was a lowly prostitute. This suggests that regardless of your social standing, you can and should have faith that works.[19]

Clarifying Contrast

In the first example, the person in need is met with words instead of hospitality. In this last example, Rahab is willing to risk her life (by committing treason) to provide hospitality.[20] The contrast clarifies that true faith produces works of mercy and compassion for our brothers and sisters.[21]

The middle two examples contrast demons – who believe that there is one God, and yet do not obey God – with Abraham – who believes in God, and therefore obeys God.[22] True, saving faith produces obedience.

James concludes in verse 26: Just as the body without the spirit [or “breath”] is dead, so “faith” without works is dead.

James vs. Paul, James vs. Jesus?

It might seem that James is saying something different than Paul or Jesus, but in Romans 1:5 Paul emphasizes that he was sent to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

And even Jesus, in Matthew 7:21, says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (NIV).

Conclusion

My brothers and sisters, it’s not enough to believe that Jesus is Lord; we must believe in Jesus as Lord (cf. Rom 10:9). We should respond appropriately to God’s favor – to God’s grace (charis) – with good faith (pistis). Work-less faith is worth-less faith.[23] True, saving faith produces godly works of mercy and obedience. The only kind of faith that works, is faith that works.

In Scripture, faith is not only a noun [pistis] (something you have), it’s also a verb [pisteuō cf. Jn 3:16 (“believe” = verb form of pistis)] (something you do).[24]

Faith is what we do. Even when we’re going through. Faith is who I am, we should faith Him while we can. In 2019, may we all be able to say that: “I vow to faith you, through the good and the bad. I’ll faith you, whether happy or sad. I’ll faith you, in all that I go through. Because, faith is what we do. ‘Cause we owe it all, to you.[25]

Footnotes

[1] “The client was now a “friend” of the patron, but not a peer. The client was expected to reciprocate with loyalty, public praise, readiness to help the patron (as much as he could) and, most importantly, gratitude.” Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 83.

[2] “We see that when Paul explained our new relationship with God, he used something everyone understood: the ancient system of patronage.” E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 83.

[3] Cf. Gk text of Jas 2:20. “James’ choice of the word here creates a pointed play on words: ‘faith that has no works does not work.” Moo, 111.

[4] Author’s translation (used throughout this sermon). “In the AV, the clause is translated ‘Can faith save him?’, which suggests that James is denying that faith can save. But the Greek word for faith (pistis) has the article in this clause, and shows that it is referring back to the faith just mentioned: the faith the person claims to have. James is not saying that faith does not save: he is saying that the faith this person claims to have, a faith that has not works, cannot save.” Douglas J. Moo, James: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 104.

[5] “…the first two illustrations are negative (what faith is not); the second two are positive (what faith is).” J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 107.

[6] “Go in peace.” This common Jewish form of greeting, farewell and blessing also emphasizes confidence that a person’s wishes will be granted (Judg 18:6; 1 Sam 1:17; 20:42; 29:7; 2 Sam 15:9; Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; 10:5; Acts 16:36).” Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 231. “Go in peace,” in the ancient world was sincere only when it accompanied some demonstrative act such as giving a gift or alms.” Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 130.

[7] Richardson, 130.

[8] “The implied answer is “No good, none whatsoever.” McKnight, 232.

[9] “The best option, barely ever considered, may be that the entire clause, “you have faith and I have works,” is the opponent’s statement rephrased by James from his own side. On this view the “you” (σύ) could refer to the opponent/speaker, while the “I” (ἐγώ) refers to James himself, thus making all of v. 18a the opponent’s statement but taking the pronouns literally rather than as referring merely to “someone” and “another person.”

Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, James, vol. 16, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 134.

[10] “James, then, uses the device of the imaginary objector to further his argument for the inseparability of faith and works. Any division between the two is unthinkable, indeed impossible. Genuine faith cannot exist without works.” Moo, 110..

[11] True story: A policeman pulls over a car that was swerving all over the road. The driver happens to be a recent parolee with two strikes; he has no intention of going back to prison. So, when the office asks for his license and registration, he pulls out his gun and points it at directly at the officer’s chest. Now, the officer had seen bulletproof vests stop bullets in live-fire demonstrations. He believed that his bulletproof vest could stop a bullet. But now he was going to have to believe in his bulletproof vest to stop a bullet. Because by the time he drew his own weapon, the driver would be able to fire at least one round. After all was said and done, the officer survived. From J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), Kindle Locations 91f.

[12] “They believe that God is one, just as does any professing Jew or Christian. The confession of the oneness of God, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4, was part of the Shema, a confession of basic doctrine that the Jew recited twice daily.” Moo, 110. Cf. Dt 6:4-9, etc. cf. McKnight, 239. “The Shema, a later liturgical rendition of not only Deuteronomy 6:4–5, but also including 6:6–8: 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41, supplemented evidently in the first century with the Ten Words (Exod 20:1–17; Deut 5:6–21), was a daily confession.”  McKnight, 240.

[13] “and they know that the one God is YHWH, the God of Israel (see Mark 1:24; 3:11; Acts 16:17; 19:15)” McKnight, 242.

[14] “James just says works, and into that one word he packs all that should be distinctive about the person who believes and is saved.” Motyer, 109. “And, in general, Paul and James mean the same thing by ‘works’: actions done in obedience to God.” Moo, 104.

[15] Motyer, 107.

[16] “For James “faith alone” was a crass avoidance of the necessity of demonstrating faith.” Richardson, 142..

[17] “Abraham, one of the most revered figures in Israel’s history, was referred to frequently by Jews in support of all sorts of views.” Moo, 111. “Since Abraham is the “father” of Israel, appeal to Abraham is not only first but also perhaps the weightiest argument James might find.” McKnight, 245. “This incident, then, became the summary act of obedience in Abraham’s life of faith. Abraham’s pistis, his faith, was faithfulness.” McKnight, 250.

[18] “faith was perfected in good deeds Js 2:22.” William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 996.

[19] “She was a “famous sinner” in contrast to “father Abraham” (v. 21). Joshua 2:1–21 tells the story of hospitality in crisis.” Richardson, 142. “But what James seems to emphasize more clearly, by pointedly calling Rahab a harlot, is the difference between Abraham and Rahab; Abraham, the widely heralded hero and ‘father’ of Israel, is juxtaposed with the pagan woman of loose reputation. But both the patriarch and the prostitute are declared righteous on the basis of works that issued from their faith.” Moo, 121.

[20] “It is not without significance that James sees Rahab’s works in her hospitality.” McKnight, 257.

[21] “In the two A-sections James contrasts the armchair philanthropist of verse 16 with the active and personally risky compassion of Rahab.” Cf. Mt 25:45. Motyet, 109.

[22] Motyer, 112.

[23] Cf. Gk text of Jas 2:20. “The word behind “useless,” argē, combines “non” and “working” to be both a play on words (“works” that are “workless” are worthless).” McKnight, 243..

[24] In the Greek text of the New Testament, faith is not just a noun – it’s not just merely something you have – it’s also a verb – it’s something you do. John 3:16, more literally says, For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever faiths in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life.

[25] Lyrics from William Murphy’s familiar Gospel song.

Sources

Image from: https://faithlife.com/6414779/bulletins/483276

Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Blomberg, Craig L., and Mariam J. Kamell. James. Vol. 16. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

McCartney, Dan G. James. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.

McKnight, Scot. The Letter of James. The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011.

Moo, Douglas J. James: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 16. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2000.

Motyer, J. A. The Message of James: The Tests of Faith. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.

Richards, E. Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Richardson, Kurt A. James. Vol. 36. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, Kindle Edition, 2013.

About @DannyScottonJr 168 Articles
Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student