Some might try to use these verses in James to say the Bible contradicts itself. That these verses contradict that salvation is a gift of God by grace through Jesus Christ. Scripture makes it clear that salvation is through grace. Grace cannot be earned, otherwise it would not be grace. James is not saying that salvation is by works, he had just finished saying that trying to keep the law at all makes one accountable to the whole law and that we are to speak and act as those judged by the law of liberty. We are supposed to take seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves. (James 2:8-13).
Verse 14 reads,
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
Does James really mean faith doesn’t save us? Absolutely not. Ephesians 2:8-9 is very clear.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Our works do not save us. What James is saying is that our works demonstrate our faith. Real faith, just like real love is tangible. It is demonstrated by actions. He uses the example of meeting someone in need. Faith as lip service doesn’t do anything for the person. But faith proven by meeting their needs glorifies God to them. Verses 15-17 say,
“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? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Our actions do not save us, our actions reveal our spirits. Our behavior says, we belong to God, we believe He will meet every one of our needs, and that we want what God wants. It is through love and faith in action that people will see God and know we belong to Him.
How can we show someone our faith without showing them how we have stepped out in faith? I can say to you all day, “I believe in God. I follow Jesus. I am filled with the Spirit.” But without action, there is no proof. I may as well tell you, “I believe in Santa Claus. Buddy the Elf is my mentor, and putting maple syrup in coffee will bring you a happy life.” Just speaking my faith sounds just as ludicrous to the world. Verses 18-19 put it this way,
“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. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
How do we know Abraham had faith? Because he declared it or because he proved it by nearly sacrificing Isaac? He knew God would save Isaac and he obeyed the Lord in that faith. If Rahab had said to the spies in Jericho, “I hope you get out safely! I’m on your side”, but hadn’t hidden them and allowed them to escape her faith would have been worthless. (Verses 20-25).
Faith does no one any good if it is not expressed through action. It is by the way we live our lives that people see the power of God. Faith enables someone to give the only money she has to buy a meal for a hungry family. They see the love of God expressed, He is glorified. She knows that God will provide her with her needs even though she no longer has money. That is faith exhibited. To say, “I have faith that God provides all my needs” but then not give her coat to the cold and homeless woman on the corner shows she doesn’t really believe God will take care of her.
God will not leave you high and dry. He wants you to do good works for people. He will provide everything you need to be charitable. 2 Corinthians 9:8-12 says it this way,
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”
Do you believe in God? Good on ya! So do demons. But demons at least exhibit their faith through their fear of the LORD. Is your belief manifested in action? Do people see your faith? Do people receive the fruits of your love? I challenge you today to make your faith plain to people. Ask the Lord for opportunities to express His love through your faith today. Take those opportunities regardless of the cost. God will give you everything you need to be a doer of the word. It may not be financial or material, it may be in using your gifts, or abstaining from something. Whatever it is, be faithful and do what it is God has granted you to do.