Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 2:14-26

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Your Works Demonstrate Your Faith - James 2:14-26

Your Works Demonstrate Your Faith. In the last of three sections on wisdom and obedience, James examines the relationship between faith and works in the life of Abraham. A profession of faith in a righteous God that is unaccompanied by righteous practices is foolish and useless.

Can such faith save him? - James 2:14

James questions his readers about the profit of a faith that has no accompanying works. More poignantly, he asks whether such a “faith” can save anyone. Good works must accompany saving faith, because trusting the one, true God changes human motivations and practices, conforming believers to His image and wisdom.

Suppose . . . without clothes and daily food - James 2:15-16

Similar to the apostle John (see notes on 1 John 3:17-18), James illustrates a kind of faith without works. He depicts a person who is approached by a brother or sister with insufficient clothing or food. James asks what good is accomplished by wishing them well without giving them what is necessary for the body. This kind of speech is useless, empty words.

Faith without works is dead - James 2:17

Faith without works is dead. A living faith in Christ will always respond to the needs of others with action, not mere lip service. Saving faith manifests itself in good works and righteous living. See WCF 13, 16; BC 24.

Show me your faith - James 2:18

With wise rhetorical form, James anticipates possible objections. One objection centers on the notion that since faith and works can be distinguished, they must be separated. James responds by asking his imaginary objector to show faith apart from works. But, even as Jesus argued, “a tree is only known by its fruit” (cf. Lk 6:43-45). Likewise, faith is only known by its deeds.

Response of covenant loyalty and practice - James 2:19

James’ anticipated respondent moves to win the debate by quoting the daily prayer and confession of Jewish Christians from Deut 6:4. While James agrees that believing God is one is necessary, he also points out that the demons believe and tremble. The confession of truth about God requires a response of covenant loyalty and practice: Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself (see note above on 2:8). Demons grasp truth cognitively, but their actions demonstrate rebellion against the God they believe in. True faith expresses itself in loyal love, which is articulated in the second half of the Shema in Deut 6:5.

You foolish man - James 2:20

In Proverbs, the opposite of a wise person is a foolish person. He or she may be ‘simple.’ More likely, however, they know what is right but refuse to practice it (cf. Prov 15:5; Matt 7:26). This is James’ assessment of his anticipated objector: a foolish man or woman is unrighteous and, therefore, unhelpful.

Considered righteous - James 2:21-23

What might seem like a contradiction of Paul’s soteriology is actually mirrored in James’ letter. Both apostles look to Abraham as an example of true, saving faith. Paul claims that Abraham was justified by faith apart from his works (Rom. 4:1-25; Gal 3:6-9). But, James writes, Abraham was justified by works. The key to understanding the relationship between James and Paul is defining the word “justify” in both contexts. Both use the same Greek word for “justify” (dikaioō), but in different contexts with different emphases. Writing to the churches at Rome and in Galatia about how to receive Gentile converts into the covenant community, Paul emphasizes the means and object of their justification, faith in Christ alone. Writing to established Christians about what a life of faith and wisdom looks like, James emphasizes the authenticity or fruit of faith. As an example, James cites Genesis 22:9-10, when Abraham offered up Isaac his son on the altar in obedience and faith. The proper fruit of true faith in obedience or ‘good deeds’ is also affirmed repeatedly in Paul’s writings (cf. Eph 2:8-10; Phil 2:12-16; Titus 2:11-14). See WCF 11; WLC 70-73; CD 5.6; BC 23.

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