The Beginning of the Faith and Works Discussion

James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”

This verse starts the most controversial section of James (it runs through verse 26). The reason for the controversy is the tension between faith and works. James appears to be preaching works-based righteousness, while Paul preaches righteousness through faith alone. However, Paul and James are in complete agreement. Paul emphasized the purpose of faith: salvation. James emphasized the results of faith: a changed life. More on that tension later.

James doesn’t say this person has faith, merely that they claim faith. He also doesn’t say the person doesn’t have faith, only asks us to look at the fruit of their life. Jesus also said to look at the fruit of a person’s life. However, we are not to be self-appointed fruit inspectors. As we build relationships with people, we may be permitted to examine another’s life and offer advice and opinions. Of course, insight is to be delivered in grace and love and always with the motivation of repentance and reconciliation.

James is also saying it is ridiculous to say you have faith and then turn your back on the opportunity to demonstrate it. As the song goes, “Trust and obey…” As we work with the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) are made evident. We also live out the Great Commandment (Love God, Love Self, Love Others) and the Great Commission (Go, Make Disciples).

Salvation was a multi-faceted concept. It could mean either deliver from sin or evil. In this case, it means to save from the deadly outcome of sin. Sin destroys relationships. First and foremost, our relationship with God. If we say we have faith but don’t demonstrate it, it is disobedience, and fellowship with God is broken. As a believer in Jesus, our eternal destiny is secure, but when we sin, there are still earthly consequences. 

Some questions to consider:

-Do you claim faith? Where are your deeds?

-How can you cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in your life?

-Are you looking to your works or Christ’s work for salvation from sin?

-Are you working to stay in God’s good graces (for what you get) or working to show God’s glory?

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

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