Bible Study – JAMES chapter 2 v 24 – Faith that Works Part 3 Faith through works - an explanation of verse 24

Reading James 2

I promised last week that we would come back to James chapter 2 and verse 24 for further clarification and explanation of what James is saying here in his letter to Jewish Christians about faith and works.

Last time we identified what are the basic elements of faith.


I need to know the content of the Gospel before I can respond to it.


I need not only to know but I must also agree with the terms of salvation in the sense that I agree that the Message of forgiveness of sins through the substitution of the Lord Jesus Christ for me on the cross - is true! I agree that there is only One God, One saviour - that I am separated from Him and that he died for me.


I need to have a personal trust in, reliance on, and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ as my saviour and Lord. This response to the Gospel message is life changing as I seek to bring my life into obedience to His will.

The person who says “I am a Christian because I believe” regards faith as no more than the 1st two - Knowledge and agreement. And James, almost in a sarcastic way says “You are to be congratulated. You believe that there is a God - well done! You are orthodox in your belief.”

But then he says this “Even the demons believe all this!” They have no choice! These things are true. They believe that there is One God - the One who created them! All the demons believe it! There is not a single atheist, polytheist, pantheist or agnostic amongst all the demonic host! Did you know that? They may have persuaded billions of people that God does not exist - but they believe it themselves - and they TREMBLE - literally SHUDDER!

After this James points us to 3 examples of Faith in action.

1st Example of Faith - Abraham.

To show the correct relationship between faith and works he writes

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

We are very familiar with Abraham and his act of faith with regards to his precious son Isaac. He is the measure and the model of faith for every man and woman.

It was his faith that led him from Syria to Canaan. He became a pilgrim of faith in the land that God had promised to him by a covenant. We asked - What does James mean that Abraham’s faith was made perfect in v 22?

It is the idea of COMPLETENESS.

23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

2nd Another example of Faith - Rahab v 25

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

Rahab is in a sense a contrast to Abraham. His faith was tested right throughout his life. But Rahab’s is known for only ONE work of faith. We find the story of Rahab in Joshua 2 v 1 - 24 and 6 v 22 - 25.

The remarkable thing about these 2 people is this - that they enjoy the same blessing - justification by faith!

There was a third example that we did not mention last time -

3rd Example - the Human Body v 26

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

The body is analogous to the faith and the spirit analogous to works.

If the body has no spirit - then there is no life. And James divides man into 2 main elements for this illustration/example - a material - body - and an immaterial - spirit. (Of course this does not mean that James is denying the trichotamous nature of man implied in

1 Thessalonians 5 v 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James is describing the vital component of a human body which we all have - and the other vital component our divinely given breath - spirit. The body as we know has no independent life without the spirit. Without the spirit the body is a useless corpse.

Even so faith without works is dead. And as we thought 2 weeks ago it is possible to have what is called DEAD FAITH. That is a faith that is lifeless and useless apart from works.

But saving faith is an active faith.

Now we need to get down to the reason why we have to spend a little more time on this. Look again at verse

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

This statement from James seems, at first reading, to disagree with the Apostle Paul who writes in several places that we are justified by faith alone. Here are some of his words -

Romans 3 v 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3 v 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Romans 4 v 13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Galatians 3 v 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Romans 2 v 13 For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Now I have quoted from Paul because he was using Abraham as an example of faith and justification by faith.

But we need to remember who was writing first!

James wrote his letter long before Paul was involved in missionary work and began writing to the churches! James’ doctrine, based as it was on the Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, predates Paul’s classic statements on Justification by faith alone.

Paul was clear in his teaching that Abraham was justified before God by grace alone through faith alone. Was he disagreeing with james? Did he know what James had written, also under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of the same saviour the Lord Jesus Christ whom they both loved? I am certain that he did. And Paul would have known how it would appear. Therefore we today can look at these concepts in the word of God in the New testament and believe with all our hearts that BOTH are true - and it is up to us to work it out - how they are both true.

On the one hand James tells us that

by works a man or woman is justified, and not by faith only. - faith without works is dead also.

On the other hand Paul tells us in

Ephesians 2 v 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Romans 5 v 1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Are these opposites?

Are these contradictory?

Is there a disagreement?

Are we likely to find any disagreement in the infallible word of the Living God?

No we are not!

So whenever there is an APPARENT discrepancy in the scripture that we are studying - we say two things -

1. It is an APPARENT discrepancy - it appears to be a problem - but it is not a problem. And

2. We are obliged with the help of the Holy Spirit, to work out what is OUR problem because it is not a problem with scripture - it never is!

This is where the German theologians went wrong in the 19th century when they in unbelief began to criticise the text of scripture. They started in the wrong place. They assumed that God’s word was not infallible and then set out to prove it - thereby demolishing the faith of many and founding a movement called liberalism. And what devastation it has brought.

Verse 24 is NOT full frontal attack of Paul’s inspired doctrine of Justification by faith alone.

Rather James and Paul are addressing exactly the same topic - namely the place of works in justification.

It is no coincidence that both James and Paul appeal to Abraham as an illustration for their doctrine.

They quote the same passage in

Genesis 15 v 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

James quotes it in v 23 -

23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

Paul quotes it in

Romans 4 v 1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Both James and Paul use the same vocabulary - faith, works, justify. Both are clear and unambiguous.

But James says

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

And Paul says in

Romans 3 v 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Both say that faith is essential to justification, but they APPEAR to take a different position on the role of works.

Do we add works of obedience to the grace of God in order to obtain salvation?

Absolutely not! James does not say that.

Is it only a question of simply believing by faith and then wait for heaven?

Absolutely not!

There have been many different attempts amongst the theologians and Bible believing philosophers to solve what seems to be a problem.

Here are a few.

1. Some ask if there is a difference in the KIND OF WORKS being described by both men.

Is Paul thinking of the works of the Law whereas James is dealing with the works of love?

That could be helpful - - except the fact that the Law says that we should love the Lord our God and our neighbour as ourselves! They come to much the same thing.

2. Some writers try to modify Paul to agree with James. They suggest that justification can be thought of as a process that takes place throughout a believer’s life and which is finally decided on the day of Judgement. At first one is justified by faith alone. But later works are an addition to faith. So the end result is 2 justifications - and initial admission in a right standing with God, followed by a final vindication in the judgement.

But this does not square with Paul’s insistence that Grace alone through faith alone secures our souls now - and guarantees God’s final verdict on Judgement day - that we are NOW declared righteous through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 8 v 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

3. Some others, and that more recently, have taken justification right out of the category of salvation and have made it A CHURCH MEMBERSHIP issue. This is the so called New Perspective on Paul movement proposed by N T Wright. But that is a serious misreading of Paul and can be safely dismissed.

4. Another approach has been to recognise that James and Paul are addressing 2 different audiences and therefore 2 different understandings of faith. Paul has been writing to Gentiles and teaching against Judaisers who insist on Gentile converts being circumcised and made Jewish. Paul considers the Jewish rites to be a work of the Law added to faith. He declares that belief, faith is counted for righteousness not works of religion. Writing to Titus and the Gentiles in the churches that Titus ministered to Paul wrote this -

Titus 3 v 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

By contrast james is writing to Christian Jews some of whom thought that works were unimportant - their faith did not affect their conduct. He reminds them of Abraham whose initial declaration of belief Genesis 15 led the patriarch to his subsequent act of obedience - genesis 22.

What then are we to think about it?

Both men are saying the same truthful things in a different way with different emphases.

Paul sees faith as salvation. James sees 2 kinds of faith saving faith and professing faith.

For Paul justification is by faith.

For James justification is faith that works - a genuine faith that manifests itself in post conversion works.

When James asks the question in v14 of our passage -

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

He is really asking the question can THAT faith save him? Can a merely professed faith save a man or woman? Can a dead faith save a person? Can a faith that has not demonstrated good works save a manor woman?

The original grammar of the Greek expects a Negative answer - No - that kind of faith cannot save!

But it does not mean in any way that we are justified by works! Both men speak AGAINST works of the Law as being a means of being saved! Obeying the law as an attempt to be saved is not valid - it will not work!

James says that Christ’s obedience to the Law is our justification - with the view that we will then, once saved, bring forth works that will show in our lives.

There is no disagreement then between Paul and James.

And to underline that we can quote Paul again from Ephesians 2 that says

v 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

But then Paul follows that text with the next verse - which agrees with James -

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Some one has written that James and Paul are not face to face fighting each other - they are back to back fighting opposite foes.

One is fighting legalists who say salvation is through obeying the law; the other is fighting nominal professing Christians who are neither use nor ornament, having no works to prove their faith.

One day a lawyer came to Jesus and wanted to JUSTIFY Himself. He asked Who is my neighbour? Luke 10. He wanted to check with the Lord that obeying the Jewish law was all he needed to do to be right with God. So the Parable of the Good Samaritan followed with its familiar application. It was not a priest nor Levite that helped the wounded traveller - it was a Samaritan. The Samaritan put his faith into action. It was a practical faith. What did the Lord say in conclusion?

Go and do thou likewise.

You will justify yourself by showing that real faith dwells within your heart.

Corrupt human wisdom produces corrupt human actions. Divine wisdom taught by the Lord Jesus Christ produce right actions resulting in obedient lives. James tells us that Abraham is shown to be righteous by his works, and not simply by his faith.

May these thoughts and this attempt at explaining these things help us in our lives to allow the joy and wonder of our being justified by faith in Christ, translate itself in joyful good works for the Lord and obedience to His Holy will day by day.

The Lord Jesus Christ has done all there is to do to secure our place in heaven.

But having believed that with all our hearts we follow Him in obedience to show the difference that he has made! May it be so for each one of us!