James 2:14-17


Bible Study Notes
The Role of Faith and Works
James 2:14-17


The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.

Intro. - The relationship of faith to works is one which has caused great controversy in the church throughout its history. Even today, this issue is seriously debated.

The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by faith apart from works. By this we mean that we are not saved by believing the gospel plus doing good deeds (cf, John 1:12; 3:16-18; Acts 10:42,43; 16:31; Rom, 1:16; 3:28; 4:5; Gal, 2:16; 3:11; Eph. 2:8,9).

As we come to consider this section in the letter of James, we can be sure that he is not saying that we must do good deeds in order to be saved. This would be in direct conflict with other portions of God's Word.

James is dealing with a different issue altogether. His concern is with those who profess to believe in Christ as Savior: Do they have to manifest their faith in their conduct? His claim is that if their faith is genuine, saving faith, it will result in a changed life. Works are a necessary result of saving faith.

The importance of works in the believer's life has been stressed by James in 1:21-27. In James 2:14-26, faith and works are mentioned together ten times.

2:14 -
James begins by asking two rhetorical questions to emphasize that faith which does not result in works is useless.

What use is it (ophelos, "use," "profit," "benefit," "good") - The context is salvation.

This person is saying he has faith hut he has no works. Both says and has are in the present tense and may indicate a persistent or continuing condition.

This person regards himself as a Christian because of his agreement with certain facts relating to Christianity. James does not dispute his claim to faith (cf. v. 19), but he states this in hypothetical form ("may be saying"). He is not agreeing that the claimant actually has faith.

Can that faith save him? - This second question focuses attention on the real issue, which is salvation. Can you be saved by a faith that does not result in works? The rhetorical question (me) requires a negative answer.

The definite article with faith may be translated "his faith" or "such faith" or "that faith." Also, the context indicates that he is talking about faith that does not produce works.

save (sosai) - The reference would be to our spiritual salvation - past, present, and future. Any attempt to make this refer to physical salvation (Hodges) seems to be a distortion of the clear meaning of the passage.

2:15 -
James now gives an illustration of the ineffectiveness of faith that does not result in works.

The picture is of a fellow Christian who has need of the bare necessities of life: food and clothing.

2:16 -
The response to this serious need is to give a statement of desire for their needs to be met, and then to do nothing. This response may have come from a misuse of Matthew 6:25,31,33.

Go in peace was the common expression of the Jews. In a similar situation today we might respond by saying, "The Lord bless you" or "I'll pray for you."

what use is that? - repeats the question that began in verse 14. That kind of response and goodwill is of no value. It accomplishes nothing.

This situation is similar to 1 John 3:13-18.

2:17 -
In the same way, faith without works is dead. It accomplishes nothing if it is "by itself." The absence of works shows the faith is dead, just as a lifeless tree produces no fruit.

dead - There has been some attempt to say that the fact that the faith is dead means that it was alive at one time. This misses the whole point. We must pick up on the point of comparison being made, not develop seemingly logical deductions to prove preconceived ideas (cf. Eph. 2:1,5; Col. 2:13; Heb. 6:1; 9:14).

The background for James' discussion here may well be Matthew 7:15-23.

John the Baptist had emphasized the same thing in his ministry to Israel (cf. Matt. 3:7-10). This emphasis pervades Paul's ministry also (cf. Rom. 2:5-10; 6:17,18; 8:12-14; 1 Cor. 6:9,10; Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14).

Paul had warned the Galatians about a gospel that is not really the gospel (Gal. 1:6,7). So there is a faith that is not really effective for salvation. It is mere assent to certain facts of the Scripture, but it has not led to a faith in Christ that transforms the life.

You need to honestly look at yourself in light of what James has been saying. Does your life manifest the character of God in what you do? There is a tremendous danger in stopping at a mere recognition or acknowledgment of certain truths. Have you come to believe that Christ died for you personally? What evidence is there in your life?

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

Tony Capoccia
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