What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless. Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Separating Faith from Works (2:18-26)
(Read v. 19) What is the significance of the “shuddering demons who believe in God?” Three things: First, James is trying to get us to see that beliefs have implications. Second, a mere verbal profession of faith is insufficient and shamefully demonic. [Incidentally, demons are ahead of most in society today since demons at least accept the fact that there is one God and that Jesus is His Son (cf., Mark 5:6-10).] Third, a passive profession yields death.
Sidebar: A Spurious Faith?
Read John 2:23-25, 6:60-66, and 8:31-59. What kind of belief/faith is John demonstrating? Read Acts 8:13-24. Based upon Peter’s response to Simon, is there any reason to conclude that Simon believed unto salvation?
(Read v. 22) James is not saying that we are saved by faith or by works. Nor is James saying we are justified by faith and by works. Rather, James is saying that we are justified by faith that manifests, or results in, or produces works. Works are the fulfillment of faith, just as follow-through is the fulfillment of a promise. Anyone can make promises, but keeping promises is what counts. This is James’s perspective and should be ours when presenting the true Gospel that saves.
(Read v. 26) Body – spirit = death. Beliefs cannot be separated from behavior. All behavior is grounded in belief. For example, if I show up on time to a meeting, it is because I believe that being on time is important. If you remain in school and finish your degree, then you’re showing that you believe getting a degree is valuable. In the same way that it’s unimaginable to have a painting without the paint, so too a person cannot have faith without works. Faith is to the paint as works are to the painting. The one gives rise to the other. Or consider: Just as the hand animates the utility, function, and purpose of a glove, so too works animate the utility, function, and purpose of faith.
At the end of the day, the logical connection between faith and works is, for James, the connection between heaven and hell. “Many will say to me on that day…” Actions really do speak louder than words!