Works without faith: Just as dead

bible.jpgThis passage always seems to get people into discussion mode:

James 2:14-26 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

 The key to the understanding is on the equivocation with the word “faith.”  In the “faith without deeds [or works] is dead” line, “faith” is inauthentic faith.

Said another way, real faith will lead to real works – i.e., good works done for God’s glory.  Inauthentic faith will lead to no works or works done for self-glorification.  Either way, inauthentic faith isn’t faith at all.

But if you do good works but don’t have genuine faith, then you are just as spiritually dead, because the works aren’t really “good.”  They are done for your glory and not for God’s.  Works without faith is just as dead.

Romans 3:10-11 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.Romans 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

But there is good news!

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Real faith is acting as if what you say you believe is really true (I think I’m paraphrasing Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason there).

0 thoughts on “Works without faith: Just as dead”

  1. This always makes for hearty debate. It usually follows a “chicken or the egg” line of argument, but I don’t think it should be which is first. On the whole, one can say that faith indeed comes first, but to say one believes but no manifestation is ever apparent seems mere lip service. It’s also an area where stands against false teachings come into play as well. And it is also an area where Dan Trabue would ask one of his favorite posers, can one totally believe one is right, but be totally wrong in reality, and thus lose one’s salvation? It’s actually a reasonable question, though he uses it to justify a false teaching he can’t otherwise support.


  2. Reminds me of a time long ago when my wife and I were in considerable financial straits. We went to our church, which was one of those huge mega-churches and grudgingly asked for assistance. We were told they would pray for us, but no one offered to help with anything tangible.

    Perhaps the prayers helped, as we obviously survived, but I couldn’t help lamenting the fact that prayer is answered by God’s people hearing His call and acting upon it, but if God’s people pray, but don’t help any other way, how is God to answer such prayer?


  3. Neil, faith without works is probably one of the most misunderstood scriptures when it comes to the “once saved always saved” saying. I do believe that once saved always saved, but evidence of that salvation is your works!

    To become saved based on His grace alone doesn’t mean “I’m saved so now I can do whatever I want and God will still accept me into his kingdom!” But just the beginning of a journey becoming more and more like Christ!

    Yep, great topic for discussion!

    And Mark, is this a Megachurch that denies monetary help while asking you to tithe 10% of your earnings? It sure does sound like a church of faith with no works!


  4. As ususal, very good point Neil.

    This goes to people saying they are “good” because of what they do, when in essence, the WHY you do it is essential. We do “good” deeds because of the “good” that is in us from Christ Jesus, which we have by our faith.


  5. When I was a new Christian in college, I was confused by the whole idea that we are saved totally apart from works, yet faith without works is dead. My Bible study leader explained it this way: James is talking to believers, who may be tempted toward complacency (among other things) in their walk. (Aren’t we all)? It’s an exhortation to put some feet on that faith – faith is dynamic and active; not passive and static. As stated above, if the faith is a genuine, sold-out to Jesus saving faith, it will work itself out in love.

    As much as I hate the “social gospel”, social justice is a big part of God’s heart. Mark’s experience above is just plain sad. That should never, ever happen — not in any church.


  6. Neil,

    Very clear explanation of a “hot button” topic. too many people think they can do enough “good things” to merit God’s grace. When in fact God gives us grace so we can do truly good things.

    To me, the key to that whole passage has always been verse 19–“You believe God is One! You do well! Even the demons believe and tremble!” So many people today are like I was before I got saved: They believe in the existence of God. They believe in the fact that Jesus was His Son. They believe the crucifixion was an actual event. They believe in fact that He rose from the grave and will return one day.

    See the pattern? They believe in a set of facts. Their faith is in believing these facts. And therein lies the problem–even the demons believe the facts. The demons have a form of faith. But what good does it do them?

    I believe what James (or, as Sinclair Ferguson says, “Jay-uhms”) is saying is that you can believe all you want–but what does your life look like? Do we live a life that puts God–and His commandments–first? John wrote in his first epistle, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1st John 2:3-5).

    Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!


  7. Yes, Carlotta, that particular Mega-Church was located in the most affluent suburb in the area, and boasted, among it’s members, Professional baseball and Football players, Owners of huge new car dealerships, CEO’s and upper echelon Officers of several different major Corporations, etc. In short, They had, collectively, more than enough resources to practice what they preach, but apparently, didn’t have the motivation. Yes, it is sad.

    At Christmas time, the church reached out in a Christmas spirit of Christian altruism, and delivered gifts to the Public housing projects nearby, in which, due to unfortunate financial circumstances at the time, I was a resident. The gifts consisted of cheap little toys and candies from Wal*mart for the kiddies, and a 10 dollar Wal*mart set of dishes for each family.

    I’m sure the members of the church that participated felt good about themselves that Christmas.


  8. Both faith and works are necessary for salvation. Faith without works is dead, but works without faith is dead as well. The heresy that faith alone will save you is called Protestantism (no offense intended, but as it denies a major dogma of the Catholic Church, it is defined as a heresy) and the heresy that says works alone is Pellagianism. Faith is necessary, but it alone is not sufficient. You need both faith and works.


  9. The Reformation happened for a reason. Catholics teach a false doctrine that God’s grace enables you to do good works such that you can then be saved. That is not biblical.

    If you have real faith, you’ll have works, but the works can’t save you.

    Perhaps you could explain just how many good works it takes to save you? And if you have real faith but not enough works are you not saved? Can you see how you become the key variable and not Jesus?


  10. One of the thieves crucified on either side of Jesus asked Jesus to forgive him, whereupon Jesus replied, “Truly, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

    What works did that thief do to get into Heaven?


    1. None. The idea is that if someone truly believes, then they will freely commit good works on their own initiative, expecting nothing in return. The thief on the cross truly believed, so if he was let free, then he would have done good works. Therefore, he was saved.

      Atheist here, by the way.


    2. People seem to use that example a lot. I do have a question about the use of this example though. At that point in time Jesus had not died or risen from the dead. How could God’s plan of salvation for us apply to the thief on the cross before Jesus had even died for our sins? Certainly it was an extremely unique situation, was it not? And when you think about it, Jesus is God. Can’t he forgive who he wants to? We live in a very different time than the thief. We have the Bible- God’s word. We are commanded to follow God’s law to the best of our ability. Certainly we are not saved only by our works- but aren’t they necessary to show God and others around us our faith?


  11. Mark—
    The works that result from faith are fruits of a transformed nature. Had the criminal been pardoned and lived, be confident that if Christ was willing to accept him into paradise, you would have seen plenty of fruit (works) from his faith in Christ.


  12. Hey neil,
    I am currently a Sophomore in Bible College and i just wanted to say i enjoyed the thoughts and i know the comments date about a year ago but i just wanted to note this has helped get some of my thoughts clear for a sermon i am preaching in a couple weeks. I am preaching it at a non-denominational church that has people from every background you can think of. This is what made me a little nervous doing this passage because of the whole works saves background. But when doing expository preaching (which is my first expository sermon) you can’t go wrong, as long as you don’t read into what’s not there. But anyways thanks for the clarity in this and it came across as helpful preparation advice.
    God bless,


    1. Hi Garrett — thanks, and blessings to you! I prayed that your sermon would go well and that people’s hearts and minds would be receptive to it.


  13. when there are divisions and strife among you,arent you behaving like mere men.maybe no one was told by the spirit to give you anything in the mega give and say as led by God.
    jesus himself said..i can do nothing but that which the father said.Abraham did what the father told him.not what he thought would impress the father.

    in the book of acts,the apostle would come back with a good report and the church would answer in UNISON.TOGETHER.

    brothers and sisters,we are all of the same body.whether protestants/catholics or sda….what matters is this.what is ur belief concerning Jesus as the son og God,if he is,then you will be led by the spirit in what to do (otherwise known as works) and what to say,and this will be out of the love of God that is in you and God will give you the grace of Jesus Christ.

    since we are surrounded by so many witnesses,nonbelievers included,why do we fight about issues such as these in public and websites? God is not an author of the book of ACTS-christians had all things in common.the enemy is not in the house,he is without.

    check these out…….
    hebrews 5:11-14
    We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

    check this out.hebrews 6.6 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,[a] and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites,[b] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.(EVEN WORKS IS LISTED HERE).

    the key to understanding is geared towards the gospel of the Glory of jesus christ ,and jesus was only in Glory after resurrection and this glory is best exemplified in the book of acts and any of the first 4 gospels that document his life immediately after resurection from death..

    and the KEY is jeremiah 31.31-35,hebrews 10.8-12,hebrews 10.16-20.

    they all say the same thing which is:
    The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
    32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
    when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to[a] them,[b]”
    declares the Lord.
    33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
    34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
    declares the Lord.
    “For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

    THE Covenant is sealed by the blood of christ and since no one will tell you to know God who will?
    the HOLY SPIRIT,thats why God himself will write in your heart.YOu will become like MOses and his terbanacle which was a simple tent,But God was there.

    and God is Love,and where Love is,works relating to love come naturally,they are not even thought obey and do as instructed by God himself.

    Blesss you,lets be One for we are not mere men.

    we are Gods representatives and should concentrate on “whatever is of Good report”

    may the grace of our lord jesus christ,the love of God and the fellowship of the holy spirit be with you all now and forever more,AMEN


  14. This is an excellent statement. I heard.a woman blast Joyce Meyers because she explained, “I tithe, I gave my 10% and nothing happen.” She wanted to tell Joyce on how she was just a phony… And here you see that it is true.

    She gave because “Joyce” said to give. She gave with no faith. She tithe not believing that God would bless her for being obedient to the word of God. Her works were there, but her fith was not….hence works without faith (in God) is just as dead. Works she be forvGod and faith s made for God….all we need spiritual discern. I would not call ths false teaching. It’s aligns with statement.

    People do things with an expectation from man, and not the power of want God is going to do…


  15. well? take 3 cities, one very faithful, and very sinful , 2nd no faith at all, but very good and humanistic, morally and ethicly.
    3rd one just faithful and and obey commandments for sake of salvation.
    Which one of cities will be saved ?
    thank you


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