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)