James 2:14-26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks 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 good is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your 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 do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is useless?
What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (2:14)
James uses the term what use is it, my brothers, to ask a rhetorical question to highlight or emphasize his point. James asks if someone says he has faith, but he has no works, can that faith save him? Faith is an assurance and confidence in what is believed in based on the knowledge of that particular object. Faith is not blindly hoping for something or someone, but rather knowing and trusting with complete certainty. Rather faith is based on knowledge of something that can be known. It is putting faith into something or someone. The Christian faith it is not blind at all since it is in an all-powerful and holy God. Instead, Christianity is built upon the knowledge of God who is the creator of the universe and all of humanity itself.
The major issue here is in the fact that one is merely claiming to have faith. They are giving nothing more than a verbal affirmation of a belief that consists only of the framework of their mind, but has not yet affected the nature of their will and produced proper actions. James makes it clear that faith is not just some head knowledge alone, but true faith is manifested in the fact that it produces appropriate actions consistent with what one claims to profess. James here asks the question for his audience to ponder and think about to come to their conclusion as he states can such faith save him?
Faith does not just begin and end at a mere profession of Christ. Good works in one’s life then must evidence it. These works are not done as a way to earn salvation, but rather out of gratitude of a heart that has been changed by the power of Christ that made one a new creation in Christ. Good works are to be done out of the overflow of the heart that has been redeemed by the power of God through Christ. The answer to James question, as he will explain in the following verses, is faith without works is not true saving faith.
If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet do not give them what is necessary for their body, what good is that? (2:15-16)
James has just got through asking the question as to whether or not faith that has no works is a saving faith or not. James now is going to give an example to answer his question as to whether saving faith is one that produces no good works. James gives them a hypothetical situation of a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food. It is clear that the individual is without clothing and daily food, in other words, the individual did not have the essentials of life. The Jews would have known from the Old Testament about the importance and the necessity of showing hospitality. It was written in Leviticus 19:9-10, “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.” James does not describe how this brother or sister got into the condition in which they found themselves but merely gives the reality of the condition.
James unfolds the progression of the situation and says one of you says to them, go in peace. Now the problem with what is happening here is that the Christians who were saying go in peace, be warmed, and filled, was content with just lip service. The problem is that what they were saying to the individual needed to be supported by actions. True faith would not just have said go in peace, because how could this person honestly go in peace when they were daily worrying about how to keep warm and be fed. There would have been daily anxiety and fear of not knowing where the next meal would come from or how to keep warm. Real faith not only expresses kind wishes to the individual in need but takes action to see those needs come true.
These believers saying be warmed were telling the individual to do something that they were unable to do on their own. This individual they were telling to keep warm would benefit nothing from their merely good wishes. Real faith would not just make good wishes to keep warm but seek the resources to help the individual to keep warm. The whole point of the person coming to these believers was to try to get warm, and mere lip service does nothing without being accompanied by actions that would have enabled the individual to be warm and fed.
One more time we see that simple words are meaningless in this situation, for how can one be filled if he has no means of which to be filled. You will note that the word “be” is used twice in this passage when James says be warmed and be filled. The emphasis on the word is put on the one coming to them to be fed and clothed. This was suggesting that it was in power of the one who was hungry and needed clothes to be able to do these things. However, they cannot in their current situation because they have no means by which to do so. Here again, real saving faith in this context would seek to get the individual the food that they needed or try to get them filled in some way.
It is for this reason that James says and yet do not give them what is necessary for their body, what good is that? James has given his readers a compelling example. Kind words and best wishes ring hollow when they are not supplemented by physical aid when he is capable of helping materially. In fact, this is ridiculously inadequate and does nothing but generate more heartache and pain for the one suffering. (See Proverbs 3:27-28) The result is, one with this so-called faith which does nothing to bring any kind of a relief to those in need, nor at least moves others to demonstrate their faith, is worthless. Anyone, who says, “go in peace,” while offering nothing to this destitute one, leaving the helping to others, would be known as one who has no love or kindness about him. In addition, this faithless one would bring reproach on God and Christianity. Those from outside of Christianity looking in, would ask themselves, “Who would want to be a part of such a religion?”
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. (2:17)
James is now connecting his example of what he has just said on how it relates to faith. It is pointless to say peace and keep warm and well fed when one takes no action to help alleviate the situation. The fact that one does not act in accordance with his words, therefore, proves his words to be dead and false. To just claim to have faith but has no works, is dead in itself. The word that James uses for dead is nekros, which means “inactive, inoperative.” (Vine 1996, 148) This believer’s mere lip service to faith without the outward expression of faith through works is inactive. James is making it clear that without works, his faith is dormant and dead and, therefore, proves that he truly does not have faith. Jesus himself said that many would be judged for the supposed claim of faith without works on judgment day with the parable of the sheep and the goats. – Matthew 25:31-46.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. ” (2:18a)
James now is going to deal with a statement that he foresees being raised because he said faith without works is dead. James makes the statement, will say you have faith, and I have works. Some may claim that they do not need any faith to do good works. This was the issue with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day: it was all about knowing the law of God and interpreting it, but they never applied it to their lives. In fact, Jesus said to them in John 5:39-40, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that witness of me, and you are unwilling to come to me, that you may have life.”
James twice uses the word show, signifying the fact that the only way true faith is authenticated is by works. James says show me your faith apart from your works, in other words, faith without works is impossible because faith is only known through works. Faith is not divided separately between works and faith, but rather they are inseparably linked together. James asks the reader here to show them faith without works because he knows that it is impossible to do. Anybody could claim that he believes in God and yet have a wicked and evil heart and still be able to affirm verbally that he loves God. That is as far as it goes with just a verbal affirmation that produces no evidence of faith being true although they can deceive themselves into thinking they do have faith. It is for this reason that James says I will show you my faith by my works because works are the only way to evidence the authentication of faith. Good works cannot save you; one does good works because it is an evident demonstration of who he is, a truly born-again Christian, with a genuine faith.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (2:19)
James here exposes the reality that having no works is, in fact, a pseudo-faith. James is going to compare the so-called believer, who allegedly has faith as he is without works to nothing more than the faith of a demon. This would have been a strike at the heart of those, who would have been reading his letter, comparing their faith without works to that of a demon. James says you believe that God is one. James then tells these believers if they believe that God is one, then the do well. However, James is going to make it clear that just merely to believe that God is one is not enough if good works do not accompany it because demons also believe and shudder.
Demons are Satan’s fallen angels who serve as his agents against humanity to seduce, tempt, and destroy mankind. James tells his audience how the demons are just like them concerning their belief in God in the fact that the demons just like them, believe that God is one. Every Jew in the days of James would have had the word of Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 embedded in their hearts. This passage was referred to as the Grand Shema and would have been quoted on a daily basis through prayer and petitions by all Jews living in the days of James. It reads in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 “Hear, O Israel! Jehovah, our God, is one Jehovah! You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” This was perhaps the essence of all the spiritual life of every Jew to love God, who had chosen them as his people. He was to be praised and honored in this way because he was the one and only true God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all humanity.
James states that the demons also believe that God is one and is no different from any believer that claims the same thing. However, what the demons lack is actionable evidence that there is something beyond their belief, i.e. a genuine faith. We know from several other parts of scriptures that the demons know and believe in God. In fact, they knew that Jesus Christ himself was the Son of the highest God. The demons clearly evidence their understanding of who Jesus is in the Gospels. – Mark 5:6-7; Mark 1:23-24; Luke 4:40-41.
It is interesting to note that here in his passage James uses the word shudder, which is the only time that this word is used in the entire New Testament. James is making it clear that not only do the demons believe in God, but also it causes a great disturbance and fear among them because they know his power and authority that he has over them. The problem with the demons is that their belief in God consists of just an awareness of his existence and his great power, never drawing close to him. They shudder out of fear because of the authority that they know God has over them, but that is as far as it goes for them. Even though they know God’s great power, they continue to serve Satan.
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is useless? (2:20)
The man spoken of here in verse 20 of chapter 2 applies to any Christian, male or female. This man has not taken in “the knowledge of God” by way of his Word. (Jam. 1:18, 21) Both his mind and heart are empty because no genuine faith exists there. The demons even fared better than this man did because the “faith” or belief that they possess at least generated the emotion of fear, which caused them to shudder, tremble uncontrollably at the thought of God’s great power and authority. However, those demons and Christians such as this man, lack genuine faith that would move them toward salvation, it was categorically having no action, i.e., unproductive.
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 together with his works, and by the works the faith was perfected; 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. 24 You see that a man 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.
Was not Abraham our father (2:21a)
James here now does something very significant to argue his point about faith and works by stating was not Abraham, our father. James makes his argument from the Old Testament scriptures using Abraham, who the Jews considered the father of their nation and perhaps the most respected man in all Old Testament history. The Jews took pride in their ancestry and could trace their lineage back to Abraham as the Father of the Jewish nation, which is why James says “Abraham, our father.” The Jewish nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, and that nation stemmed from the seed of Abraham, which God promised would happen.
The Jews highly esteemed their ethnicity and the father of their nation because they were God’s chosen that came through the lineage of Abraham. For this reason, the Jews looked at Abraham as the most prominent figure in their history, since he was the father of their nation. It is because of this that James would select Abraham to make his point that faith and works must exist together for it to be true saving faith. James purposely used one of the most significant men in Jewish history to make his point. This way, the Jewish audience he was writing to would be more apt to listen and take heed to what he was saying.
justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? (2:21b)
Here James says that Abraham our father was justified by works. However, Paul wrote, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified.” (Rom 3:20) How is it that these two were not contradicting one another? In Romans 4:2-3 Paul writes, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Paul is here quoting that exact same verse from Genesis 15:6 that James refers to in verse 23 of chapter 2. This verse that both are using was about Abraham’s faith some 35 years before he ever attempted to offer up his son Isaac. This is the same event that James is referring to here in verse 21 of chapter 22. Thus, how are these two inspired New Testament authors in harmony?
If we look at the context of Genesis 15:1-6, we find that Abraham was declared righteous because of his trust in God’s promise to make his offspring number like the stars of the heaven, even though Sarah was decades past being able to have a child. Therefore, how is it that James can say that works justified Abraham? Abraham’s actions confirmed what God already knew was true of him. By Abraham’s action, he proved, confirmed, demonstrated, beyond question that his faith in God for decades had been and was still real, i.e. genuine. Abraham evidenced that he had a living faith, not a dead one. It was not Abraham’s works in and of themselves that made Abraham righteous, but rather his works were a result of his genuine faith, which God confirmed by declaring him righteous by way of this pronouncement or verdict.
You see that faith was working together with his works, and by the works the faith was perfected; (2:22)
James is calling his believers attention to Abraham’s faith stating you see that faith was working together with his works. Abraham’s faith was authenticated not because he believed intellectually but was authenticated in the fact that he was willing to follow through with the act of sacrificing his son. It for this reason that James says by the works the faith was perfected. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, and yet it was the very son, which God promised would bring him his descendants. Therefore, if Abraham was to offer up his son then how could he bring about descendants if he was dead?
Abraham would not have been sure how this would happen either, but he truly trusted God enough to follow through with the act of killing his son. Abraham believed that God would somehow allow descendants to come despite whether or not he sacrificed his son, and he was willing to trust God at all costs. Abraham’s act of attempting to offer up his son authenticated his faith in God, which was evidenced by his actions of obedience. The word for perfection means complete or finished. Abraham’s faith was complete in the fact that works, which made his trust in God complete by his actions of obedience, accompanied his faith.
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. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (2:23-24)
James says, and the scripture was fulfilled that says Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Here James is referring to Genesis 15:6 about Abraham. In Genesis 15:4, God had told Abraham that he would provide an heir and many descendants from his seed. Then in Genesis 15:5, to confirm his promise, God asked Abraham to go out and count the stars. In the same way, the stars were too numerous to count so would Abraham’s descendants be through the promised child. Despite being old and against all the odds, it says in Genesis 15:6, “Then he believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Abraham had not seen his son and the child was not even conceived in the womb at this point. However, Abraham still believed God would carry out his promises. Since Abraham believed, what God said was firm and trustworthy, he was willing to kill his son, and as a result, be declared righteous in God’s sight. The word righteousness here, as stated before, carries with it the idea of being right, moral, and just.
Abraham not only believed in God but was also willing to put that into practice by killing his son; he was declared right in God’s sight. God declared him right in the fact that Abraham acted upon his faith through his actions. As a result, he was also called a friend of God, which is the only time in the Bible where someone is called a friend of God. Abraham was first called a friend of God in Jehoshaphat’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:7, “Did you not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham thy friend forever?” Isaiah also makes mention of Abraham as a friend of God in Isaiah 41:8, “But you Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham my friend.”
Abraham’s belief and actions were working together in a real, genuine faith and Abraham became a friend of God. James reaffirms the argument that he has been making by saying you see. James wants his readers to have a focused view of what he has been talking about in regards to faith and action. He has just offered Abraham as his example that faith is justified when accompanied by works. As a result, these Jews would have a hard time arguing against their forefather. Faith and works must go together, they are inseparably linked, and we cannot have one without the other. For this reason, as James says a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
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? (2:25)
In the same manner that Abraham’s faith was evidenced by his actions, was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works. The story of Rahab is found in the Old Testament book of Joshua chapter 2, shortly after Moses died, and Joshua took over in leading the nation of Israel. It would be Joshua, who would guide the nation of Israel into the promised land of Canaan. However, to get there many obstacles would be in their way and that through the power of God they would have to overcome. One of these major obstacles would be conquering the city of Jericho.
The problem is that Jericho had very thick and high walls that surrounded their city, and it was nearly impossible to penetrate. Joshua summoned two men who were to go and spy out the city and come to report to Joshua what they had seen and learned. When the spies got into the city, they went to the home of a prostitute whose name was Rahab. The king of the town somehow caught wind that the spies had come into town and were at Rahab’s home, and he sent to have them killed. Rahab knew that the king wanted to kill the spies and so decided to hide them on the roof of her home under stalks of flax. The king’s officials arrived at the house, but Rahab told them that the spies had already left. The king’s officials went off trying to find the direction of the men to kill them.
When the king’s officials had left, Rahab asked a favor of the spies found in Joshua 2:8-14, “Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” Therefore, the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the Lord gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”
The spies told Rahab that they would indeed spare her life if she tied a scarlet cord in her window. The scarlet cord was what Rahab used to let the spies down out of the city to spare their lives. Rahab could have just told the spies to get out of her house and never have let them in. Because she feared God and believed in the God of the spies, she took the risk of letting the men stay in her home. Rahab’s belief in God was authenticated in that she received the messengers and sent them out by another way. It would be a direct result of the action of Rahab saving the spies that would help in giving Joshua the victory over the city of Jericho.
For the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (2:26)
When a person (a soul) dies (beyond clinical death), there is no longer any animating force or “spirit” within any single cell out of the body’s one hundred trillion cells. Many of us have seen the animation video in science classes at school, where the cell is shown to be like a microscopic factory with an enormous amount of work taking place. Therefore, no work is taking place within the lifeless body, as all of the cells that were animated by the spirit are dead. The body is not good for anything. This is the similarity that James is trying to draw as a faith that lacks works is just as lifeless, producing no results and of no use as a corpse. The literal eye cannot see faith; however, works is an evident demonstration that faith can be seen. When one has is not moved to good works, it is all too clear that this one has no real faith. Alternatively, any Christian that is motivated to good works possesses a genuine faith.
- [vs 14] Do the faith/works that Paul was talking about contradict the faith/works that James discusses? How did Jesus touch on faith and works?
- [vs 15-16] What point is James making here in verses 15-16?
- [vs 17] Why is faith if it has no works, dead in itself?
- [vs 18] How can we know that a person has genuine faith?
- [vs 19] Why do the demons believe and shudder over belief in God and how should that impact us?
- [vs 20] Why are we foolish if we do not believe that faith without works is useless?
- [vs 21] What does Paul say about Abraham being declared righteous?
- [vs 22] How was faith working together with Abraham’s works? How did the works of Abraham perfect his faith?
- [vs 23] How do we know that Abraham had faith in God all along? How did Abraham become God’s friend?
- [vs 24] Why is it that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone?
- [vs 25] How does the account about Rahab add to the conversation of faith and works?
- [vs 26] Why is a dead body a good analogy of faith without works? How do the works of Christians evidence that they have a genuine faith?
 Or “benefit”
 This chapter is from the CPH Christian Living Commentary by Brent A. Calloway
 Thomas D. Leas writes, “We have no room for some people to emphasize faith while others stress deeds. You must have both. Genuine commitment to Jesus Christ demonstrates its presence by deeds. Faith produces works. You can’t have one without the other.” (Lea 1999, p. 287)
 “Verse 21 concludes that Abraham showed his righteousness by his willingness to offer Isaac on the altar. KJV translates “justified” instead of niv’s considered righteous. Paul uses the same Greek word in Romans 3:28; 4:2, 5; and 5:1 (“justified”) to describe the righteousness God credits to a believer through faith in Jesus Christ. James uses the word to describe the righteousness we show to others as we obey Jesus.” (Lea 1999, p. 289)
 Or completed
 Quoted from Gen. 15:6
 Or breath
 Was God tempting or testing Abraham? Andrews writes, “God does not tempt us, but he does allow us to go through temptations. As we know from Abraham, God can test us, but never tempt us with sin … The Greek word (Peirazo) can be rendered either as ‘tempted’ or ‘tested,’ and it is the context that determines which word should be chosen. In the case of Satan with Jesus in the wilderness, it should be rendered ‘tempt.’ However, in reference to God, in some very limited cases in history, he has put some to the test, i.e., Abraham, even his Son.”–Hebrews 2:18.
 An analogous situation might be a wealthy father testing his daughter’s fiancé. The father offers the fiancé $50,000 to leave his daughter. This test will tell the father whether the poor fiancé is in love with his daughter, or after the father’s money. Keep in mind, God never intended for Abraham to offer his son up, as he foreknew what Abraham would do in such a situation decades before even. Let us adapt apologist William Lane Craig’s words to this situation. ‘God had morally sufficient reasons for permitting the test, which he placed on Abraham.’