Using Your Tools
Passages: James 2:14-26
Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
The Church @ Hamilton
Key Goals: (Know) Understand that it takes both deep faith and hard work to rebuild a life. (Feel) Feel compelled to work out your faith. (Do) Actively demonstrate your faith through works.
Sham: something that is not what it purports to be; a spurious imitation; fraud or hoax.
There are few things in this world more frustrating than thinking something is real and finding out later that it was actually a sham. Occasionally it is funny, like when someone posts a sensational news story that turns out to be fiction. But often, finding out something is a sham is painful, like when you discover a piece of jewelry you thought was valuable is actually a fake, or when you realize a friendship was not real. Some have painfully discovered after years that their “good” marriage was a lie. Jesus was concerned about shams. He warned us in Matthew 7:21–23 that, if we are not careful, even our faith in him can turn out to be a sham. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
How do you know if your faith is genuine? These people thought they were going to heaven, but instead they had a sham faith. James is going to walk us through an essential element of authentic faith, because no one ever rebuilt their life based on a mirage. Our entire passage this morning is a warning from James that if our faith in Jesus Christ is not transforming every part of who we are, it just may be a sham. Let’s go to the text. James 2:14–26
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
The implied answer to this question is no. James is confronting the mindset of someone who claims to be a believer yet his or her lifestyle, actions, and attitudes are not Christlike. For James, works are not an “added extra” to faith, but are an essential expression of it. Remember back in James 1:22 when James warned us that true Christ followers are not only “hearers” of the word but “doers” as well? Now he is taking the next logical step, and revealing to us that Christ followers not only have faith, they also have works. He paints a picture of what he means in verse 15.
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 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?
Again the implied answer is, “It’s no good.”
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
“It’s no good.” It is not true faith. It may be correct theology, but if it is not transforming the way we act, it is not true faith—it is empty faith that is unable to save; it is dead faith. When the person who says they have faith but the faith is not accompanied by works stands before God at the judgment, they should expect to hear, “Depart from me I never knew you.”
James’ example of works—helping to feed and clothe someone in need—echoes a parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. Listen as I read it for you.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
James is echoing his brother’s teaching. Jesus had the expectation that faith would be demonstrated by and followed up with practical good works. Look, neither James nor Jesus in these examples was talking about us selling everything we have and moving to Africa. Their examples were simply about doing good and proper things for people in need. Clothing naked people (Jm 2:16), giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick or visiting those in prison (Matt 25:39). These are not unrealistic actions. Faith is not just a mental exercise; it is an act of the will far beyond simply acknowledging the facts of who Jesus is. Look at verse 19.
19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Faith has to be more than a mental assent to the facts, because demons do that! In fact there are several places in the gospels where demons made amazing confessions of faith: In Mark 1:24, a demon said to Jesus, "I know who You are; the Holy One of God!" In Mark 5:7, another demon said to him, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" These demons knew exactly who Jesus was, but no demon was ever going to heaven. They have knowledge but no saving faith. James wants us to see that an intellectual knowledge alone is not faith. At this point, James hopes everyone reading this is on the edge of their seats thinking, “Okay, if that isn’t saving faith, what is?” He gives us two examples of people who had genuine saving faith, and these two people could not have been more different.
Example One: Abraham
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
There are two words we need to key in on in this passage: active and completed. These words are critical for our understanding of what is being said and what isn’t being said. Let me be clear, no one has ever been saved by “good works.” Ephesians 2:8–10 tells us this specifically. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So, good works do not save; faith in Jesus Christ saves. But works has an active and completing aspect with faith. Faith is as incomplete without works as works is without faith. Listen to Ephesians 2:10, right after we are told that salvation is not a result of works. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Abraham’s submission and willingness to obey God made his faith knowable and visible. We know he had faith because he acted on it—we could actually see his faith in action.
Example Two: Rahab
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
This story comes from Joshua 2. Rahab was a gentile prostitute—the last person you would expect to be an example of faith and works. God was going to destroy her city, and she believed YHWH could and would do it, even to the point of putting her life at risk. She hid the spies, trusting that if she obeyed God, he would save her. He not only saved her but he gave her a husband, and she became the great grandmother of King David! The key here is that it was her faith expressed in action. If she had believed and not acted or acted and not believed, none of us would have ever heard of Rahab.
Verse 26 sums up the entire section: For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. Genuine saving faith is believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ in such a way that it transforms what we think, who we love, and how we act. This faith is inseparable from good works because good works answer the question: what is salvation for? We are saved for good works (Eph 2:10).
The Rebuild: This entire series is built on the premise that the book of James will help us rebuild our lives and that it is filled with practical tools for us to restore, recreate, and restructure our brokenness. This passage helps us do that in a very specific way by giving us clear examples of what “work” that accompanies faith looks like. Let’s take a close look.
1. Giving what is needed. The first example James gives of a “work” is in verse 15 when a faith-filled person would have “given what was needed” to the hungry and naked person. The Scriptures are clear: faith in Jesus Christ transforms the desire of a person to give. You can be a giver and not have faith in Christ, but you cannot have faith in Christ and not be a giver. New Testament believers’ faith was tangible and visible in the way they gave, shared, cared for the sick, fed the poor, directed gifts to other churches, and sent out missionaries (see Acts 4:32-35). They gave generously even out of their poverty. It wasn’t a burden; it was a visible, tangible expression of their faith!
Calculator: Over the years I have had many discussions with guys about giving. It is clear from Scripture that the most basic expression of faith in giving is a tithe, which is biblically 1/10 of a person’s increase or 1/10 of your income. Almost everyone tracks with me until I pull out a calculator and say, “Here you go. Take how much you make, divide by ten, and that is what you should minimally be giving.” It’s all just theory until you see that number. If we do not have enough faith in God to give a tithe, what does that say about our faith?
2. Offering a life to God. The second example of a “work” was Abraham offering Isaac. That was a very special circumstance that God was using to reveal how he was going to send his son to die in our place. But the “work” here is an important example of a man who placed obedience to God above everything he loved. In real life, good works often look like right priorities:
· Putting integrity over getting ahead
· Putting personal godliness over entertainment
· Putting proper discipline of our children over our child’s temporary happiness
· Putting our spouse’s needs ahead of our own
3. Receiving messengers. The last example is when Rahab chose to hide the messengers. In that moment, she chose God over everything else in her life. With this act, she betrayed her people, her former gods, and everything she knew. Joshua 2:11 tells us why she did it: “for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She had faith, and because of her faith she was willing to leave her old world behind. The good works to which God is calling you may look less like becoming a missionary and more like leaving your old world behind. Stop clinging to old sins, habits, and ungodly relationships. Have the faith to step away and step deeply into a new relationship with Christ.
Giving without fear expresses faith. Positioning God first in our heart expresses faith. Leaving our old life behind expresses faith. These are all tangible expressions of a person who has put their faith in Christ.
© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV.
 Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 121.