“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” ~ James 2:14
Explanation of the Text: Reading Matthew, one comes to chapter 7 verses 16-18 which read: “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” These verses are in the context of how to recognize false teachers, indicating that one will recognize them because they will not bear fruit (which implies that disciples of Jesus Christ will). Likewise, reading in John 15, Jesus again addresses the topic of bearing fruit, but this time in the context of genuine believers. Specifically in verse 8, Jesus calls on those who profess faith to bear fruit in order to prove that they are indeed a disciple of him. In each instance, Jesus is addressing a rampant issue (one that is still a problem today) in which there are a greater number of people who profess faith in Christ than the number of people who actually follow Him. There is major difference between claiming to have faith and actually having it.
Noting here in James 2:14, James asks two questions in regards to faith. The first question is what good is it if someone has faith, but has no works? The second is, can that faith save a person? The wording of the second question implies that the answer must be no. It should be noted that when James asks what good is faith without works, he does not say that a person has a true, genuine faith, instead what he says is that the person claims to have faith, as indicated by the phrase, “if someone says he has faith.” Like Paul, in this type of context, James is referring to a false faith, which would be a type of faith in which both Paul and James would not regard as genuine. Likewise, the works referred to in this verse are not different than Paul; James was bringing forth the idea that acts of charity will fulfill the law of love, while Paul was combatting against the legalism of the law in which works were performed out of unwanted requirement rather than willing obedience; each of them is speaking in regard to being obedient to God.
Examination & Application of the Text: Following the flow of the letter, James has just spent the first half of chapter two addressing partiality and the need to love one another as evidenced through acts of mercy (James 2:8 & 13). Having just called on believers to love one another, James begins this particular section telling believers that true faith will be evidenced by action. Therefore, if they are truly believers in Jesus Christ, these believers should be loving one another as evidence of that faith, among doing the other commands that Scripture outlines. Faith is more than a mere profession, as James goes on to explain the final verses of chapter 2.
Because James is referring to a false faith, we can make the connection that he is saying those who do not have true faith do not have works and likewise those who have a genuine faith have works. This section should be a time of self-examination. As James asks the questions in this particular verse, ask the same question to yourself. What good is your faith? Is it pointing to a life in Christ or is it pointing to a life in self? Before you do anything, you must determine where your faith is at and what it is showing. As you go through the day, perhaps it would be best to take each step and evaluate it, simply determining what your daily lifestyle is reflecting. Then at the end of the day you can determine if one knows you are a Christian by your behavior and action. If not, then you now have a beginning point to work from. Use this to create some specific goals that will guide you towards Christlikeness. If you find that consistently throughout the day that you are angry or frustrated with people, then determine some practical steps based on Scripture that will help you with that. Then, go forth and do it. You cannot be conformed to the character of Christ if you don’t put into action what you learn.
Praise God that He has given you this opportunity and trust in Him to work out those changes you need to make.