An entire warehouse for his boats, high-tech fish tracking radar, the best rod money can buy, and only the most premium of bait and tackle. Every year his fishing license would be updated. John had it all! However, John never went fishing. Sure, he showed pictures of his warehouse, and all the contents, to lots of people; he even had his license handy to show anyone who asked, but John never went fishing. In fact, John would only look at all of his gear, dust it off, but never once was it touched. He didn’t even know if the motors on the boats worked! How useful is that? To have a warehouse full of stuff that is never utilized or even touched? To update a license every year that is never used? What does it profit?
A very similar question is asked in the Bible: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works” (Jas. 2:14a)? 1 What good is it, what does it profit, what is the point of having faith if it has no works? He then asks, “Can faith save him” (Jas. 2:14b)? Notice how James has brought to light two important truths:
That there are to types of faith, one with works and one without, and;
That this is a question dealing with salvation.
Notice words in James 2:14-16 such as saved, justified, righteous, and friend of God in verses 14, 21, 23, and 24. What James does for us in the next several verses is to give us several qualities of what is “real” faith, and what is “saving” faith.
Quality #1 – Faith Cares (Jas. 2:15-16).
James asks another question! What good is it? What profit is it when a brother or sister has no food or clothing, and yet they are sent away without the basic necessities of life? How is that beneficial? Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The point is clear. My brothers and sisters are in need and I can help them! I have a heartfelt desire for their well-being. I care about them! James shows that a faith that does not care enough to act is useless.
Quality #2 – Faith is Co-Dependent (Jas. 2:17).
Faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Good, useful, faith is NEVER alone! James makes it clear that if faith is independent it would be dead. Does anyone want a dead faith? Faith is never independent. In fact, it is co-dependent upon two other pillars – Grace and Works. Consider for example the life of Noah. In Hebrews 11:7 we find that Noah was saved by faith. However, that is not the whole picture. Genesis 6:8 says, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Grace and faith are necessary, but alone, and together, they are insufficient without works. Consider First Peter 3:20 with Hebrews 11:7 to see that grace, works, and faith worked in harmony in Noah’s life! Faith is co-dependent on grace and works (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 2:8-10).
Quality #3 – Faith is Visible (Jas. 2:18).
Someone will say you have faith and I have works – one has faith, one has works – it’s all the same right? James’s response is simple: Prove you have faith without doing anything, and I will prove my faith by my works. Real, Biblical, God-honoring faith is not invisible! Our faith must be seen in our actions, because if God is the only one who knows that we are a Christian, there is something fundamentally wrong with our lives! Faith demonstrates itself in action (Mt. 5:14-16; Jn. 17:20-23; 1 Cor. 10:31; Phil. 1:27; 1 Pet. 2:12).
Quality #4 – Faith is Multi-Dimensional (Jas. 2:19).
What is the difference between the faith that demons have and the faith that we have? It is WONDERFUL to believe God is the one and only true God…but is THAT enough? Demons believe, and yet shudder and cower at the presence of Jesus (Lk. 8:28-30), but those who want to be pleasing to God should not have to cower before Him! The real difference is that demons have knowledge of God, but knowledge is all they have. Their faith is one-dimensional. They believe and cower instead of believe and glorify.
Faith is defined as belief, but it is MORE than belief. Faith is understood as knowing, but it is MORE than knowledge. One preacher has rightly said that is possible to be “as straight as a gun barrel” doctrinally, and just as empty inside; full of blanks, making a lot of noise, but being of no real use. The greatest command is still to love God with our WHOLE being, not just our thoughts (Mt. 22:37-40). If faith was so one-dimensional, the Bible would be several hundred pages shorter and cut down to one statement – John 3:16. However, there is so much more! Faith is so much more than mere belief! James demonstrates for us beautifully that faith cares, depends on grace and works, is visible to all, and is deeper than our thoughts, penetrating every aspect of our being.
James closes his discussion by giving two examples of real life people who had God-honoring, working, Biblical faith in verses 23 through 25. First you have Abraham – father of the faith, father of the Jews, the one in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). By his works his faith was made complete. Then you have Rahab, known by religious people as being a harlot and a liar. James focuses on her positive characteristics and her apparent turn-around, in that she received the spies and sent them out another way to safety. What does the father of the Jewish faith and a harlot have in common? They had a faith we can emulate; a faith that is justified by God. May we all have a faith that works!
1 All Bible quotations are taken from the NKJV, unless otherwise stated.