The last part of James chapter 2 teaches us about various kinds of faith… and we thought faith was something we already understood and often take for granted. James wants to let us know that faith is more than just the things we believe about Jesus. “Faith” and “belief” are the same root word in the original language of the New Testament. Faith can be described as a verb rather than a noun, and we generally translate the word “believes” because is seems weird to say, “Everyone who faiths that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God” (1 John 5:1).
Here is a brief overview of this section on Godly Faith (James 2:14-26): James contrasts having only head faith with having head, heart, and hand faith.
- Two examples of having only head faith (James 2:14-20)
- In regard to the destitute (James 2:14-18): Head faith by itself is empty faith and attempts to minister to the poor by pious words not accompanied by works.
- In regard to the demons (James 2:19-20)
- The fiction (James 2:19a): “Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God?”
- The facts (James 2:19b-20): “Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”
- Two examples of having head, heart, and hand faith (James 2:21-26)
- Abraham (James 2:21-24): He proved his faith by his willingness to offer up his son Isaac.
- Rahab (James 2:25-26): She proved her faith by protecting the two Israelite spies.
Here is the meat of what James is teaching us about faith:
Faith is certainly an essential element in the Christian life:
- Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)
- We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8)
- Believers are challenged to walk (live) by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
- When you think about it, whatever we do apart from faith is described as sin (Romans 14:23)
It is important to realize, however, that there are different kinds of faith, but only one that is truly “saving faith.” In James 2:14-26, we find James discussing the different kinds of faith, with an emphasis upon faith which works toward salvation. According to Warren Weirsbe, let’s take a look at three kinds of faith.
Dead Faith (James 2:14-17)
This kind of faith substitutes words for actions. People with this kind of faith know the correct Christian vocabulary for prayer and sound doctrine, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their “walk” does not measure up to their “talk.” Is only an intellectual faith. In one’s mind, he or she knows the doctrine of salvation, but they have never really submitted themselves to God and trusted in Jesus for salvation. They know the right “words,” but they don’t back up their words with their “works.”
James gives an illustration: a poor believer comes to you without proper clothing or food. Dead faith notices the person but does nothing to meet their needs (James 2:16). These are two basic needs for anyone addressed elsewhere in Scripture (1 Timothy 6:8, Matthew 6:31, 32, Genesis 28:20). Believers are called to help (Matthew 25:40), and this help is an expression of love (Galatians 5:6, 1 John 3:17, 18, Luke 10:25-37).
So the question is, can this faith save someone? The answer is, “no.” Three times in this passage, James emphasizes that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 20, 26). So, any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life
and good works is a false declaration: a dead faith; a faith that has reached only the head. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence that he has everlasting life.
Check your own faith:
- Does your walk measure up to your talk?
- Do your works measure up to your words?
Demonic Faith (James 2:18-19)
James reminds us that even demons believe in God (there are no atheists or agnostics here). Isn’t that a shock to know that even the demons have faith?
- They believe in the deity of Christ (Mark 3:11-12)
- They believe in the existence of a place of condemnation (Luke 8:31)
- They believe that Jesus will be the Judge (Matthew 8:28-29)
So, what sort of faith do the demons have? We saw that the man with “dead faith” was “touched only in his intellect” so perhaps the demons are “touched in their emotions” (note that they “believe and tremble”). This is probably only one step above a “dead faith” (it involves both intellect and emotions). Maybe the location of this faith is in the heart.
Does this faith save anyone? James is again saying, “no.” A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and still be lost. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life (James 2:18). Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for him. This is a true statement: you first receive the life, then you reveal the life (Ephesians 2:10). James 2:20 brings an image to barren or idle faith, like money drawing no interest.
Do you have this kind of faith? You do if you just believe the right things and feel the right things. Perhaps if your service to God does not go beyond intellectually embracing the right doctrines and emotional experiences (just attending services).
Dynamic Faith (James 2:20-26)
We know from other passages that such faith is based upon the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Dynamic faith involves the whole person and leads to action.
- Dead faith touches only the intellect: the head understands the truth.
- Demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions: the heart desires and rejoices in the truth.
- Dynamic faith involves the intellect, the emotions, and the will: our hands lead us toward action.
James illustrates his points in two well known character from the Old Testament: two people who could not be more different from one another.
- Abraham was the father of the Jews; Rahab was a Gentile
- Abraham was a godly man; Rahab had been a sinful woman, a prostitute (side note: oddly enough the word can also be translated “innkeeper” so she really ran a guest house). The word in James 2:25 actually means an immoral person.
- Abraham was the friend of God; Rahab had belonged to the enemies of God
So what did they have in common? Both exercised saving faith in God.
- Abraham demonstrated his saving faith by his works (James 2:20-24). He was justified before God and his righteousness was declared; he was justified before men and his righteousness was demonstrated.
- Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her works (James 2:25-26). She is even listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:31. She believed God’s Word and knew the city was doomed (Joshua 2:11) yet she responded with her mind and heart, and also her will; her hands went into action. Even with her limited information about God, she was a giant in dynamic faith and one of the first soul winners in the Bible.
The emphasis of this passage that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:20, 26). “Faith only” (the only time this phrase is found in the Scriptures) cannot justify anyone (James 2:24). Perfect faith brings out good works in us (James 2:22).
It is important that each professing Christian examine his or her own heart and life, and make sure that they possess true saving faith, which is a dynamic faith. Satan is the great deceiver and one of his schemes is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit (lesser or limited) faith is true faith, then he has that person in his power.
How often do we profess to know God but our actions deny him (Titus 1:16)? We need to carefully maintain good works (Titus 3:8).
Application: It is time for evaluation and examination. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our personal faith:
- Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
- Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come? Have I ever been seriously worked up over my sins?
- Do I truly understand the gospel, that Christ died for MY sins and then rose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?
- Did I sincerely repent of my sins, making the decision to turn from them? Do I hate sin and love God? Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?
- Have I trusted Christ and him alone for my salvation by responding to the commands He has given?
- Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works, or are my good works occasional and weak?
- Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
- Do I have a desire to share Christ with others? Or am I ashamed of him?
- Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me?
- Am I ready for the Lord’s return? Or will I be ashamed when he comes for me?
To be sure, not every Christian has the same degree of faith; those who have had more time to grow should be stronger in faith, but for the most part, this spiritual inventory above can help a person determine his or her true standing before God.
May our prayer be similar to that of the Psalmist:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
When you take a look at the American church today, it appears that those inside the church have a lifestyle quite similar to those outside the church. The question arises about how to be in the world but not of it (John 18:36, 17:14, Philippians 3:20, James 4:14, 1 Peter 5:10).
So, the age old debate goes on, can a true Christian be carnal? We first define the term “carnal” which is translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly.” Check out this passage:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
According to Paul, there are three classifications of believers:
- The Natural Man: has not received Christ.
- The Spiritual Man: is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
- The Carnal Man (or man of flesh): is supposedly saved, but shows no evidence of life transformation.
Notice Paul is addressing the readers as “brethren,” a term he uses almost exclusively to refer to other Christians (male or female). We can assume then that Christians can be carnal. The Bible is clear that no one is sinless (1 John 1:8), so every time we sin, we are acting carnally. The goal of the believer is to sin less this week than we did last week.
The key here is to understand that while a Christian can for a time, be carnal, a true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime. We are all sinners, no one is perfect. Think about how many church people today have abused the idea of a “carnal Christian” by saying that it is possible to be saved and then go on to live the rest of their lives in a completely carnal manner? They reason that since they have their “fire insurance” they can live as they please, after all, “once saved, always saved.” But how can there be no evidence of being born again or being a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Such a concept is completely unbiblical. We are to be changed, not living our lives the same old way we did before Christ.
- James 2:14, 26 make it clear that genuine faith will always result in good works.
- Ephesians 2:8-10 declares that while we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, that salvation will result in works.
So, can a Christian, in a time of failure or rebellion, appear to be carnal? Yes. Will a true Christian remain carnal? No (Hebrews 10:26).
Since eternal security is found Scripture, the carnal Christian is still saved. Salvation cannot be lost, because salvation is a gift of God that He will not take away (see John 10:28; Romans 8:37-39; 1 John 5:13). No one wakes in the morning wondering if he is saved or not, like salvation slipped away in the night. We can be secure and assured of our salvation. Paul reminds us that the even carnal Christian can be assured of salvation:
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15)
The question is not whether a person who claims to be a Christian and lives carnally has lost his salvation, but whether that person was truly saved in the first place (1 John 2:19). W. A. Crisswell once said that “the faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.” It makes sense.
Christians who become carnal in their behavior can expect God to discipline them (Hebrews 12:5-11) so they can be restored to close fellowship with Him. God’s desire in saving us is that we:
- Become progressively grow closer to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2, 8:29).
- Become increasingly spiritual and decreasingly carnal, which is a lifelong process known as sanctification.
What about bearing fruit? Beliefs determine actions. So, we can determine if someone is of the faith by looking at the results of faith in their lives (not just those who claim to have faith). What we have to ask ourselves when judging something is whether it bears good fruit or not. It’s not about how popular, socially acceptable or how politically correct the person is. Actions speak louder than words. These questions can be helpful when judging fruit. When properly applied, does it lead to:
- More good or more evil?
- More closeness or distance from Jesus Christ?
- More light or more darkness?
- More truth or more error?
- More peace or more confusion?
- More happiness or more misery?
- More friendship or more animosity?
- More love or more hate?
We live in a world that exchanges the truth for a lie and says evil is good and dark is light (Isaiah 5:20). Until we are delivered from our sinful flesh, there will be outbreaks of carnality. For a genuine believer in Christ, though, these outbreaks of carnality will be the exception, not the rule. We are not to judge others, but we can encourage others to move toward higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church.
Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church to help instruct the new church on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One topic he addressed is the problem of division among the Christians in Corinth. For whatever reason, these believers were not getting along, and were dividing up into little cliques rather than living as the unified church of Jesus Christ. Take a look at this passage:
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
One of the central factors for their disunity in Corinth was the tendency of these new and therefore immature believers to bring into the church elements of their culture that were inconsistent with the Christian life. For instance, in their previous “pagan” experience they were led into “religious mysteries” by a special person designated as a spiritual guide. They strongly identified with this mentor as their doorway into “the divine.” For others, certain Corinthian converts may have studied with a certain philosopher whose teaching and personality defined their intellectual and moral lives. So it felt natural for the Corinthian Christians to identify themselves according to the one who introduced them to Christ, perhaps Paul, Apollos, or Peter. But they must have been extremists because they seemed to define themselves in terms of the old human mentoring relationship, which was threatening the unity of the Christian community in Corinth.
Are we so much unlike them? For some people, denominational identity (or nondenominational identity) says who we really are as Christians. For others, it is our theological position or perhaps the teaching of our favorite theologian. Denominational or theological distinctions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are harmful when they threaten our unity in Christ. If I let my identity as a Baptist become so elevated that it threatens my relationship with Methodists or Presbyterians, then I am falling into the same Corinthian trap. We have our theological differences based on interpretation of Scripture, but our identity in Christ brings unity. My identity as a Christian is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to this essential fellowship, through which we are bound to others who have put their trust in Christ.
On Facebook, they give the opportunity to display one’s religious preference. On questionnaires there may be a question asking the same. How often do people use the word “Christian” when asked their religious preference, rather than Catholic, Baptist, or nondenominational?
How do you define yourself as a Christian? How important to you are denominational labels? Have you ever identified so thoroughly with some Christian leader that it threatened your relationship with other believers? How can we be unified in Christ when we who have put our faith in Jesus differ theologically?
Have you ever thought about the awesome power of God, and that we have the power to stop him? A few things that God cannot do: believe in Jesus for me; make me love and obey him; but also consider this:
And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. – Mark 6:5-6
Jesus did few miracles in his hometown “because of their unbelief.” Unbelief blinds people to the truth and robs them of hope. These people missed the Messiah and the blessing of seeing him work in their midst. Perhaps they were all too familiar with Jesus since they knew him as a boy.
At King’s Grant, are we going to miss the blessings of God? Do you enter the sanctuary with expectation that God is going to do great things in the lives of those attending and participating? Do you look for and see God at work in your life and in the lives of those around you? Do you know personally people who seem to have a special connection with God, and therefore you are drawn toward them? Do you have the faith to see Jesus for who he is? 1 John 4:14 tells that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Pretty point blank on who Jesus really is.
How does your faith measure up? If you can’t see God’s work, perhaps it is because of your unbelief. Believe, ask God for a mighty work in your life, and expect him to act. Look at life and the Lord with the eyes of faith. Let Jesus be amazed at our faith, not our lack of faith.
That is so far from what we read in Luke 2:52!