What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
This isn’t about whether salvation is by faith alone. Of course it is. This is about, “What is saving faith?” Here, James is making it clear that faith without works is not saving faith.
Okay, but why?
Gaining saving faith is much more than just changing your mind on an issue of doctrine. It’s a Holy Spirit-driven transformation. A transformed person acts like a transformed person. Someone who doesn’t act transformed obviously isn’t transformed. Okay, but transformation of what?
Character, self, sense of self, attitude. It’s a total transformation.
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. — Ephesians 4:22b–24 (ESV)
This wouldn’t be such a confusing issue for Americans if we hadn’t watered down the gospel so much. We tend to think of the sinner’s prayer as some kind of magical phrase that saves. That’s not what it is.
It’s supposed to be a sinner announcing his change. The change is from self-focus to kingdom focus. “Jesus is Lord” is an announcement of loyalty, not merely a statement of fact. The new self is a team player with a team agenda. “Looking out for number one” no longer means what it used to mean.
So, you can tell who’s changed just by lookin’ at ‘em.
Then James goes nuclear. So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
‘Scuse me, but isn’t faith eternal life? Isn’t faith, even without works, at least moving towards eternal life? Can’t such a person be “getting close” or something like that? Can’t the works get going as the new Christian grows in maturity?
James explicitly shoots that idea down. Faith without works has no life in it at all.
Okay, but doesn’t something grow? Should we really look for the same kind of works in a new Christian that we look for in mature ones?
Yes, something grows, and no, new Christians don’t have the same kind of works. In fact, the works of a new Christian can be downright amusing. Sometimes they even induce face-palms in mature believers.
But that’s not what matters. If they have the right “team spirit”, they’re team members.
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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community
The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies
Scripture taken from the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.