In the second chapter of his letter James presents a magnificent treatise on faith. Actually, he defines faith. In so doing, three times he identifies “dead” faith: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (vs. 17). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (vs. 2:20). “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (vs. 2:26). Clearly, James describes faith that is not coupled with works, faith that is not active, as dead faith!
Faith is essential to our salvation. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Many people would equate faith with belief and agree that belief in God is necessary to be able to look to Him for His blessings. Many would also agree that believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior is essential to be able to come to Him for salvation. Indeed, Jesus stated, “…for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24).
Yet according to James, Faith is much more than just believing. True faith, as taught in the New Testament- saving faith, as some would put it- is faith that is active, obedient, openly dedicated. As James puts it, true faith is faith that works. It’s difficult to misunderstand; three times within ten verses in the same immediate context James states that faith without works is dead!
James uses three examples to illustrate his point- one of service, one of obedience and one of action. He emphasized that true faith is exemplified by actively helping the poor and destitute, not just trying to encourage them with spiritually high sounding words (vs. 14-18). He then noted the example of Abraham in faithfully obeying God by offering Isaac as a sacrifice to God (vs. 21-23). Finally, he pointed to the action taken by Rahab in hiding the Israelite spies in Jericho (vs. 25).
While simple belief is absolutely essential, James emphasizes that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (vs. 24). He makes, in effect, a blunt statement that the demons have enough faith to believe in God, the point being that they’re still demons, unsaved and, by their very nature, in opposition to God. Just believing did not save them, nor will belief alone save anyone (vs. 19).
Signs point to the presence of things. Rabbit tracks indicate the presence of rabbits. Nurses regularly check the vital signs of patients, because those vital signs indicate good health or the lack thereof. A pulse shows that life is present. No heartbeat indicates that the patient is dead.
The message from James is that works are the vital signs of true, strong faith. The nurse sounds the alarm if her patient has no pulse, no heartbeat, no blood pressure. The lack of works in the life of a person who claims to be a Christian should sound an alarm that his faith is near death, that he is dying spiritually. Just believing is indicative of spiritual health. Belief alone is dead faith!…
Gary L. Hutchens