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.

James 2:14-26

This is the second of three posts on the intersection of faith and works.

Paul versus James
Both are saying the same thing but have different vantage points. Paul’s perspective speaks to where justification begins, whereas James’s perspective speaks to where justification ends. When Paul claims that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28) he is arguing against those (Jews) who claim they do not need faith because their works are sufficient. James, on the other hand, argues that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24) because works are the product of faith, or the culmination of faith. We are brought into a relationship with Jesus by faith alone (Paul) and our faith demonstrates its authenticity by our works (James). Therefore, Paul and James compliment rather than contradict one another.

Inactive faith cannot save nor can it justify (v. 14, 24). “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone” or “We are justified not without, and yet not by works” (John Calvin).

The final post speaks to the dangers of a spurious faith.

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6 Comments

  1. “Paul’s perspective speaks to where justification begins, whereas James’s perspective speaks to where justification ends.” Well put! I like that comparison.

    Do you have the reference for Calvin’s quote?

  2. Hi Carl and thanks for the comments.
    I do not have the reference for the Calvin quote. I’ve seen it in many commentaries and it’s all over the web, yet no one seems to note the source. Hum…..

    If you know of it, please do let me know.

  3. Now I’m itching to find the reference but sadly am out of town. I’ll start with his commentary on James and his Institutes.

  4. Okay…last quote “We are justified not without, and yet not by works” found in the Institutes here. Otherwise, I found no reference in any of Calvin’s commentaries on the first quote.

  5. Note from Dr. Karen Maag of Calvin Theological Seminary via my good friend at Baker Books:
    “The first quotation ‘It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone’ comes from Calvin’s Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, with the Antidote, in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol. 3, p. 152.

    The second quotation, ‘Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works…’ comes from the Institutes, Book III, Chapter XVI, section 1 (p. 798 in vol. 1 of the Battles ed.)”

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