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May 15, 2017

James 2:14-26 — 

Service or Lip Service?

Faith or Self-Deception?

Working or Useless?



James jumped into practical instruction from Ch.1:2 on. Now, he redoubles his effort and come to a fevered pitch. After presenting multiple practical imperatives, he breaks into a biblical, logical, and theological argument, one which challenges us who too often think in black and white categories.


How is the book of James different than the book of Romans?  The Same?

  1. In Layout: Indicatives and doctrines versus imperatives and commands


  1. In Concept: Imperative are given while doctrine is assumed.

1:3-4 — the path to perseverance

1:13-14 — A clear statement of positive theology - God cannot be tempted

5:19-20 —  Repentance, covenant responsibility, and brotherly restoration


  1. In Focus: Paul aims to show:

  James aims to show:


Side Note: This is incarnational language. Christ is the living Word (John 1, 1 John 1). He is living word, living doctrine, living theological truth in flesh. Truth is alive, not dead. To prove it, he came as a baby.


It is a mistake to assume:

that James is pitting faith against works, that James exalts works over faith, that James is confusing regeneration and justification, that James disagrees with Paul (see Rom. 2:13), that James is not saying what he is saying, that James should be explained away in order to match Paul, that Jesus is interested in social action more than meaningful content, that Jesus is interested in meaningful content more than social action.


Must we pit mercy ministry against doctrinal ministry? Should we ever separate the two?


Main Point

While believed concepts and resulting actions are distinct, believed concepts drive action. They are distinct, not separated from each other. That is, faith bears fruit.


We hence conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name. —John Calvin


Context, Context, Context

How is James using the word faith or justification? Who are his audience? What are his subjects?


Walking Through the Passage

Vs. 14 —  Fake “faith.” Faith that does not work is not faith, but self-deception. Do not be deceived (1:16).


Vs. 15-18, 20 — Useless “faith.”

Useless to others: Job 31:16-23, Luke 3:10-15

Useless to you: Vs. 14, Vs. 17, Vs. 26. Dead “faith” is not living, breathing, acting, faith.


Vs. 19 — Result-less “faith.” This is a sarcastic verse that points out three very important truths.

  1. Believing and knowing that God is one is not:
  2. Believing that God is one with no result is not:
  3. (Be aware that here I diverge from Calvin) The demons have a faith that actually works itself out as shuddering! The demons, though unsaved, actually serve as the better example of faith than those who show no results of their “faith.” Calvin says, “Thou doest well, is put down for the purpose of extenuating, as though he had said, “It is, forsooth! a great thing to sink down below the devils.” The whole point is to make us uneasy - to shock us into repentance, true faith, and action.


Vs. 21-26 — Unjustified “faith.” Biblical examples of justifying faith, saving faith.



Side Note: Alone, or Not Alone?



The Problem: Does James contradict himself and Paul?

- 2:5 - Faith begins our walk with God (Eph. 2:8, for by grace you have been saved…)

- 2:17 - faith possesses works

- 2:20 - faith must be there for good works

- 2:22 - faith is in partnership (notice the distinction) (Heb. 11:17, 1 Thess. 1:3)

- 2:1 - faith is common among the brethren (Gal. 3:26)


The Solution: James and Paul are dealing with different problems.


That we may not then fall into that false reasoning which has deceived the Sophists, we must take notice of the two fold meaning, of the word justified. Paul means by it the gratuitous imputation of righteousness before the tribunal of God; and James, the manifestation of righteousness by the conduct, and that before men, as we may gather from the preceding words, “Shew to me thy faith,” etc. In this sense we fully allow that man is justified by works, as when any one says that a man is enriched by the purchase of a large and valuable chest, because his riches, before hid, shut up in a chest, were thus made known. —John Calvin


Vs. 23 — Notice, this is a quote from Gen. 15:6. The imputation of righteousness was given almost 30 years before Abraham walked his son to the altar. But, his work “completed” and justified the claim of faith. Your claim to justification is justified by your works.


Vs. 24 — Context, Context, Context. Keep in mind the context. James is battling the opposite of legalism. While it is not exactly antinomianism, it is empty lip-service, or a “faith” that leads to laziness.


Side Note Answered: In this sense we can answer the question, Alone or Not Alone? It is faith alone, apart from keeping the law, that makes us righteous before God. The kind of faith that justifies before man is accompanied by fruit rather than unaccompanied and alone. Fruit is the chaperone of faith that attests to others.


Results: A Working Faith

Whereas we can read Paul irresponsibly, separating doctrine from life, we cannot escape the power of James. A lonely faith, alone in the world of the dead is not faith. Man is not justified by empty, unmoving, lonely, unaccompanied, workless, useless, evanescent, idle, empty, barren “faith.” The only kind of faith that justifies is useful to actually drive, move, convict, yearn, cares, repent, and work. This kind of faith unto life works in two ways: legal justification and temporal justification. This kind of faith, a faith that shows, justifies our claim of faith. Likewise, glorification will justify our claim of the resurrection.


Avoiding “Work’s Righteousness”

In this way our legal status before God is not dependent on our own good works, but our own good works justify our claim of a righteous legal status. Therefore, in the eyes of men, we are justified by works. (recall, the context and focus is clear in vs. 18)



- Do not enter “my daddy (faith) is stronger than your daddy (faith) debates!” (James 2:18, Prov. 26:12)

- Examine your life. What do you see? Apathy?

- Do you express a prideful defense of faith? On the other hand, when is claiming faith needed?

- Be honest, but do not despair. James seems to write in order to provoke and to wake you from slumber. Is your heart convicted? Small beginnings can lead to long endurance. (Phil. 1:6)

- Are you less than enthused? Plan to give, help. Just put in on the calendar. Emotional value and affection for your brother and sister in Christ may follow later. (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 Tim 1:10, 1 Tim. 4:15)

- Pray for a joyful, giving, heart that responds to need. (Mt. 5:42)

- Be wise in mercy. (Prov. 25:19, 28)

- Be fools in mercy. (Mt. 5:38-41, Prov. 25:21-22)

- Give without fanfare or dropping hints that you gave. (Mt. 6:2, Prov. 25:27)

- Do not hint that you will give, and then withhold (Prov. 25:14)

- Do not look for, expect, work the situation, tell half-truths, withhold information, or otherwise manipulate a situation to get gifts (Prov. 25:17)

- Do not accept guilt when you help in one area and not another. (2 Cor. 9:7)

- Attend worship, for 1 John is the halfway house - the pivot between Romans and James. (1 John 2:29) If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.