Faith That Works (part 1)

By Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church, Founding Pastor

This past weekend, several people asked me questions about the nature of faith and works. I was asked, “If we are saved by faith and not by works, then why did you talk so much about our need to do good works?”

James 2 speaks to us about the relationship between our faith and our works. What follow is a 3 part series of blog posts to answer the question,  “Is my profession of faith real?”

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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 person 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James 2:14-26 (ESV) 

Faith without work… is futile. vv. 14-16

(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

The obvious answer to the question is “No!” When we come to faith, we get a new life. If being a believer doesn’t change your life, you aren’t a believer. The problem isn’t that you lack works but that you lack saving faith.

Here is a person who looks like he has real religion. He shows up at church and says all the right stuff.

(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?

Our words can’t address the hunger or cold issues that someone we know might be facing. A person of genuine, saving faith cannot actually ignore the poor. It’s unthinkable. Something is desperately wrong with us if our faith allows us to ignore needy people.

Words without works are worthless. Profession without possession is pointless. Repeating words never saves a soul. (Amen) Rattling off a little prayer will not save you. Words without works are worthless. Profession without possession is profitless.

faith without works is futile… is fatal. vv. 17-19

(17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (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.

Someone is arguing that faith and works can be separated. James says, “No. Faith can be shown only through righteous deeds.” 

It’s like the man is saying, “There’s the works way to be saved and the faith way to be saved.” If you think you can choose one or the other you don’t understand the gospel. If there is no change in your life, then there’s no saving faith. If there is no transformation in you, then there is no justification for you.

19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder!

“God is one” is the Jewish Shema from Deuteronomy 6. Jewish people quoted it every day. He’s saying, “Big deal that you believe that. The demons believe that. And it makes them afraid because they know they have never submitted to this one God.”

Today, James might say, “You believe the Apostles Creed? You chant it every time you’re in church? You do well. But even the demons believe that.

No matter how many times you say the Apostles Creed, if there are no works then your faith is no better than the demon’s faith.

And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. Luke 4:41

 Suppose some demon were to try to join Cuyahoga Valley Church as a member. We could question him:

  • “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He is the Messiah?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He is holy?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He was born of a virgin?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He died on the cross?” “Yes I do.”
  • “Do you believe He was raised from the dead?” “ Yes I do.”
  • “ Will you work in the church?” I will be glad too. I will be a staff member if you will let me.” “I will be glad to preach.”

See, the Bible says Satan is transformed as an angel of light. A demon could pass all of these tests, but he doesn’t have saving faith. “Demon, I have asked you a number of questions, let me ask you one more question. Will you bow the knee to Jesus Christ and crown Him King and Lord of your life?” “No, I won’t.”

Churches are filled with people who have gone through a little routine, who have gone through a little theological exercise. And they think because of their profession they have possession. But they have never bowed the knee to Jesus Christ and made Him Lord. They are going to miss heaven by eighteen inches. They have head knowledge,  but not heart knowledge. 

Some might be thinking, “Well, I am saved because I know the plan of salvation.” You are not saved by the plan of salvation. You are saved by the Man of Salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. The demons know the plan but they have never bowed the knee to the Man.

faith without works is futile, fatal… is foolish. vv. 20-26

(20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Next we’re going to meet two figures in Jewish history. James chooses two people from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Abraham: Someone who’s respected, the father of the Jews. Rahab: Someone who’s despised, a gentile prostitute. They both were known for their faith. James says that the proof of their faith is their works. And in that sense, they are justified by their works.

This might sound shocking to some of us. But he’s talking about the fruit of faith.

(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.

In Genesis 15:6, the Bible records that Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness. That’s when he was saved. That’s when God said, “Abraham; I’ve put you in My book. You are righteous.” Why? Because of faith. Abraham believed God. He put his faith in the coming Messiah. He believed in God.

Now, 30 years later – 30 years after his faith was imputed unto him for righteousness, 30 years after God said, “You are saved; you are righteous – 30 years later, Abraham offered Isaac on Mount Moriah. That wasn’t when he got saved. That’s simply when he showed he was saved. His willingness to offer Isaac did not save him. It was not the means of his salvation. It was the mark of his salvation. It was not the root of his salvation. It was the fruit of his salvation.

“Completed” (Gk. eteleiōthē) often means “bring to maturity.” Full-grown and genuine faith is seen in the good deeds it produces.

(24) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life.

 (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?

 In Joshua 2 we see the story about Rahab. She uses Old Testament word for Gods saving love.

Rahab the prostitute believed the stories of God’s saving work for the Hebrews (Joshua 2:8–11). So, at some personal risk, she hid the Jewish spies from her own people, then lowered them on a rope so they could escape (Joshua 2:15). Thus she became a model of faith completed in works.

Rahab preferred the honor of God and the good of His people before the preservation of her own country. Her former acquaintance must be discarded, her former course of life entirely abandoned.

What do we learn from both Abraham and Rahab? Saving faith says, “Lord, you can ask me to do anything for You.” That kind of faith demonstrates that we are in a right relationship with God.

(26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The work that a human body does doesn’t make the body alive. The work that a human body does reveals that the body is alive. Without life the body can’t work. So, a body without works is dead. No corpse can work his way into life. He just can’t do it. He is dead. He has got to receive the life before he works. But once the body is alive, it can work.

So, are you alive? Do you have new life in Christ? Well, I think so. How can I know? You say you have faith, but you have no works? Your faith is a dead faith.

But if you have works, it’s proof that your faith is alive and real and active.

faith without works is futile, fatal, and foolish

2 Corinthians 5:10. If we are saved by grace thru faith, why does God judge our works? He judges our works to test the authenticity of our faith.

  • Faith is the root of salvation. Works are the fruit of salvation.
  • Faith is invisible, the root beneath the ground. Works are visible, the fruit above the ground.
  • Faith is the foundation of our faith. Our work is the building that is built on that foundation.
  • Faith is inward. Works are outward.
  • Faith is the provision of our salvation. Works are the proof of our salvation.
  • Faith is the means of our salvation. Works are the marks of our salvation.