James 2:18-20


Bible Study Notes
Saving Faith Produces Works
James 2:18-20


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. - There are two basic and important facts which must always be kept in mind when studying the matter of faith and works as related to salvation:

  1. Salvation is always by faith apart from works.

  2. Salvation by faith always results in works.

James is concerned with emphasizing the second of these two points. If you have saving faith, there will be works in your life. If there are no works, then you faith has not been a saving faith.

Questions like "How many works?" or "What about barren times in a life?" really do not affect the basic issue. The fact that there are some unbelievers who appear to be believers or some believers who seem to be living like unbelievers does not change the basic truth that true faith changes the life and results in works.

Judas was part of the inner circle of twelve during the earthly ministry of Christ, yet no one seemed to recognize that he was not truly a believer (cf. John 13:21-30).

The wheat and tares grow together and it is not always possible to distinguish between the two (cf. Matt. 13:24-30).

When Christ comes many will be surprised when they are excluded from His kingdom. They have been self-deceived (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).

But Jesus did say, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20).

This principle of not pushing every Scripture to the wall is seen in the Old Testament as well (cf. Ps. 33:18,19; 34:10-14; 37:25). This is clearly seen in the Book of Proverbs which states as fact things which are general principles.

The fact that a true believer will produce good works does not mean we have to be able to discern or see these in every single situation. Sometimes we will be fooled or just will not know.

James now proceeds to show that agreement with a good doctrinal statement does not mean a person has saving faith.

This section has occasioned much discussion, but all commentators are agreed on the basic teaching of the passage.

2:18 -
This verse considers what might be raised as an objection to what James teaches in verses 14-17.

I think the preferable - and simplest - view is that the objection is expressed in 18a: "You have faith, and I have works."

The difficulty is in identifying who is meant by "You" and "I." It may be that the objector is simply stating the two contrasting positions without trying to specify James in particular ("one has faith and another has works"). This would not be a normal interpretation of the words, however. The view I prefer sees the "you" as referring to some of James' readers and the "I" as referring to James himself.

The important point is that someone is challenging James by saying that faith and works can exist separately. James challenges the objector to demonstrate his faith without works. Faith is not a tangible entity and can only be seen in its results. James offers to demonstrate his faith by (out of) his works.

2:19 -
James now demonstrates that it is possible to have faith without salvation. If your faith has not led to works, then you do not have saving faith.

God is one goes back to Deuteronomy 6:4. All the Jews adhered to this great doctrinal statement. The problem is - so do the demons! In fact, the demons' faith is great enough to cause their hair to stand on end. They are in awe or terror of the living God (cf. Mark 1:24; 5:7; Acts 16:17).

In spite of this faith that God is one, everyone knows the demons are not saved. This clearly shows that you can have faith in a good doctrinal statement and not be saved.

A writer who argues against the importance of works following salvation comments:

There is no question here of 'this kind of faith' versus 'that kind of faith,' or 'faith which leads to this rather than to that.' The issue is simple faith in the divine offer (Hodges, p. 18).

However, it is clear that the demons have faith! If they are not saved, it must mean that there is faith which does not lead to salvation.

According to a poll conducted by the Princeton Center, 64 percent of those who were classified as unchurched said they believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

2:20 -
are you willing to recognize - This question implies an unwillingness to face the facts which are obvious.

you foolish fellow (or "O vain man") - He needs to recognize the seriousness of being in the same position as the demons.

faith without works is useless - The word useless (arge) has the idea of "barren," "sterile," or "ineffective." The point is this kind of faith cannot produce the needed salvation (cf. v. 14).

Jesus taught a very similar truth in John 8:33-47. These Jews believed God is One and were confident in their position as descendants of Abraham (cf. v. 33,39).

Note the response of Jesus to their claim in verse 39: "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham."

He says their father is the devil and they do his deeds (cf. vv. 41,44).

John develops this emphasis in his first epistle (cf. 1 John 2:3-5,29; 3:6-10,14,15; 4:6-8,13).

Although Luther struggled with James 2, he recognized the biblical nature of faith in other contexts. For example, he wrote:

Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith. It is quite impossible to separate works from faith as to separate heat and light from fire.

Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote: "There will be enough fundamentalists in hell to have a convention."

For salvation you must believe the facts of the gospel. If you have truly believed, your life will be transformed. Where works are deficient or lacking, we need to heed the exhortation of Paul to the Corinthians:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5).

Peter wrote:

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things you will never stumble (2 Pet. 1:10).
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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