Faith Without Works (James 2:26) ~ A Daily Devotion for January 29, 2014

“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” ~ James 2:26

Explanation of the Text: The use of the word ‘for’ found at the beginning of this verse indicates that it is connected to verse 25, suggesting that with the understanding of the example of Rahab, the logical conclusion can then be found in verse 26. James concludes that a faith without works is dead, just as the physical body apart from the spirit is also dead.

This conclusion first off suggests that there is something more to the body than the material part, but also an immaterial part, which is the spirit, and that these parts cannot be divided.[1] In following that same logic, James is suggesting that faith and works are also indivisible. Indeed, faith without works is dead. If something is dead, it is unable to respond or do anything on its own. Faith that is not evidenced by works is just as the verse says. It is dead and unable to do anything. James has issued a final call….for an active faith, become a person of action.

Examination & Application of the Text: In preparing today’s devotion, I came across the following article that is relevant to today’s text. This article, written by Pastor David Murray, was written on the premise that there is no contradiction between Paul’s claim that one is justified by faith and James’ claim that one is justified by works. The following not only explains there is no discrepancy, but also gives insight to use towards application of pleasing God.

David Murray writes the following:

High Stakes
The stakes are very high here, because it’s not just a minor matter about the number of soldiers in Israel’s army; it’s about the most important matter of all – how sinners are saved.

Can these opposing statements be reconciled? I believe they can, and the key is to understand that although Paul and James both speak of justification, they are speaking about two different kinds of justification.

This isn’t some kind of verbal trickery, making words mean just what we want them to mean depending on what we want to believe. No, words only have meaning in relation to other words. We need to look at the surrounding words to figure out what each word means. The surroundings make all the difference.

For example, if you’re fishing in a boat and someone says, “Will you get off the net?” you look around your feet to see if you are standing on the landing net. But if you’re sitting at a computer and Dad says to you, “Will you get off the net?” you’re looking for the “Close Browser” button. Same word, but different surroundings make the word mean something completely different.

Surroundings
So what are the surroundings of “justification” in Romans and James?

In Romans, the context is our standing before God, God’s view and verdict upon us.  In that sense, God justifies us by our faith, He counts us as righteous because of the faith that He alone can see.

In James, the context is our standing before people, their view and verdict upon us. In that sense, people justify us by works, they conclude we are righteous because of the good works they see in our lives (being unable to see if faith is in our hearts).

The whole letter of James is about practical Christianity – how we are to live out our faith. Chapter 1 covers doing the Word not just hearing it (v. 22), care for orphans and widows (v. 27), and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world (v. 27). Chapter 2 says, “Stop being snobs and start treating rich and poor alike” (vv. 1-13). Chapter 3 is about the way we use our tongues, chapter 4 addresses relational conflict, and chapter 5 calls us to deal fairly with our employees and pay our bills on time. It’s all about the visible practice of Christianity.

No Surprise
No surprise then when we come to the latter part of chapter 2, James is utterly focused on the need for faith to produce works, fruit, public profit, evidence of spiritual life, etc. It’s not about our relationship to God but our relationship to other people. It’s not about how God sees us but how people see us. It’s not about how we get spiritual life, but how we demonstrate that we have it.

The biggest contradiction is not Romans v James. The biggest contradiction, says James, is a Christian without good works.[2]

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand. and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray.


[1] Homer A. Kent Jr., Faith That Works: Studies in the Epistle of James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 102.

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