“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself!” James 2:14-17 NASB
When the theologian John Calvin was asked to comment on the seeming difference between the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9, and that of James in James 2:14-17, he said, “The bible teaches we are not saved by good works, but saved to good works; not by faith plus works, but faith that works!” Is there a contradiction in the Bible, or is it more likely a mis-interpretation?
THE COMPLETION OF FAITH!
James begins this discussion by pointing out an obvious imitation of faith by stating “that” faith in verse 14! He describes this fake by calling it one who merely “says” he has faith!
Then he gives us two characteristics of this pitiful imitation. First, James says this fake faith is seen to have an absence of deeds (vv 15-16). The answer to the question in v 16 is obvious. If one refuses to meet the basic needs of another person, that is useless. Not only is there an absence of deeds, but there is the presence of death (v 17)! Make-believe faith produces only make-believe life. Consider the One Who shares His life with us when we put our faith in Him. Jesus not only went everywhere preaching and teaching the gospel, but He went everywhere doing good! (Acts 10:38)
But we need to be aware that imitations usually arise out of misconceptions, and that is true here. This pitiful imitation of God-given faith arose out of a perverted conception of faith! Note the false division between faith and works. Godly works are the blooms on the plant that identifies God-given faith (v 18). Take note not only of the false division, but also of the fatal subtraction (v 19). Faith is more than a passive intellectual exercise. It is the difference between knowing about what is said, and knowing the One Who is speaking! Separating faith and works is deadly!
Finally, see the proper expression of faith (vv 21-26). To be properly related our works are to correspond to our faith (vv 21-24). It is the opposite of passiveness, laziness. And it is the same for every person, the same for patriarch to converted prostitute-(22b,25). God-given faith has one expression, God empowered works!
After John the Baptist was imprisoned, he sent messengers to Jesus, asking if He was the Messiah, or “should we look for another?” the Lord told the messengers to go back and tell John what He (Jesus) was doing (John 7:18-22)! The clearest evidence of Who Jesus was, was what He was doing! The same is true of you, and the same is true of me!