As we’ve previously discussed, James is concerned with the kind of faith that transforms our lives. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father 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 considered righteous by what they do 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?” (James 2:18-25)
At first glance, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:18) this verse seems to contradict (Romans 3:28) “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” . Deeper investigation, however, shows that the teachings of James and Paul are not at odds. Why does God save us by faith alone?
- Faith eliminates the pride of human effort, because faith is not a deed that we do.
- Faith exalts what God has done, not what people do.
- Faith admits that we can’t keep the law or measure up to God’s standards–we need His help.
- Faith is based on our relationship with God, not our performance for God.
While it is true that our good deeds can never earn salvation, true faith always results in a changed life and good deeds. Paul speaks against those who try to be saved by deeds instead of true faith; James speaks against those who confuse mere intellectual assent with true faith. After all, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19)
Demon-possessed people are under the control of one or more demons, who are fallen angels that joined Satan in his rebellion against God and are now evil spirits under Satan’s control. They help Satan tempt people to sin and have great destructive powers. But whenever they are confronted by Jesus, they lose their power. These demons recognized Jesus as God’s Son (Matt. 8:29), but they didn’t think they had to obey Him. “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!'” (Mark 1:23-24)
Just believing is not enough. Faith is more than belief. By faith, you accept what Jesus has done for you, receive Him (action) as the only One who can save you from sin, and live out your faith by obeying His commands (action). “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)
By its very nature faith is invisible, but can be seen through our good works. Don’t conclude from this that good works must be present for true faith to exist. Nevertheless, works make visible to other people the faith that is visible only to God. Good works done in obedience to God are the evidence of our faith. They do not earn or purchase our salvation. Good works are confirmation that the Holy Spirit is molding us into the likeness of Christ. This does not mean an artificial change in behavior, but one that stems from the transformation of your very character.
As the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, certain things will be true, because we cannot constantly engage the Word and Spirit without being changed. This change is part of the gracious work of Christ in our lives.
Paul listed a group of evidences of God’s working in us; he termed them “the fruit of the Spirit.” “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit, like the fruit that identifies a tree, serves to identify us as disciples of Christ, and exemplifies the deeds that James is teaching us.
Fruit is the by-product of a natural process. The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—is the by-product of a spiritual process. It is the natural growth of the Holy Spirit. As we surrender to the shaping, convicting, growing work of the Holy Spirit in us our character changes. We are conformed more and more to the image of Christ. This is His gracious work.
“I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.” (2 John 1:5-6)