Since James 2 has been long used to either teach a works salvation or a works based assurance of salvation, it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of the chapter and what it teaches in comparison to the true doctrine of salvation. The position that James 2 is referring to a person’s spiritual salvation is indefensible once you take a closer look at what the chapter says. I have this conversation out soul-winning so many times, I’m sure it will be worth your time to learn what is in this sermon if you want to become a more effective soul-winner.
What they say it means:
- “Abraham was justified by works”
- A blatant works salvation position is hard to defend so standard salvation by grace verses are effective in dismantling this position (Rom 3:28, Rom 4:5-6, Eph 2:8-9, Tit 3:5)
- Tip: Rather than explaining James 2 to them, try first to have them explain these verses.
- “Faith and works are inseparable”
- How would a dead faith even possible. It would just be faith or no faith.
- But they say “even the devils believe” so they must agree that faith can exist without works and that “dead” does not mean non-existent.
- “Not saved by faith and works, but faith that works”
- Isn’t that just another way of saying “faith and works” because both are still required in their eyes?
- Unless they think works are just automatic, in which case, why would we be exhorted to not sin if it took no purpose or effort?
- “Works are not required for salvation, but there must be some change”
- Why then isn’t a change in faith enough?
- How much works do you need to have before you go from dead to alive?
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
- Who is it profiting?
- Does the man actually have faith?
- Is it a spiritual or a physical saving?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
- The basic physical needs – food and clothing (Matthew 6:31-32)
- The profit is referring to others, not your own.
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
- It’s the faith that is dead, not the person
- Romans 4:19 – Abraham’s body and Sarah’s womb are dead, but not the person
- There are two types of faith, dead and alive, this is based on works.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
- Again we are only addressing what is visible by man, not God.
- We are not told for certain this man has faith, only that he “says” he has faith.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
- This verse is not saying that devils believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
- It is only saying they believe there is one God.
- Angels do not have a saviour because Christ only took on the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:14-18)
- Vain = opposite of profitable (compare v14-16)
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
- Works makes faith “perfect” or “complete”, not “genuine” or “existent”. It must already exist to be made perfect.
- “Seest thou”, “fulfilled” and “Ye see” all emphasize the point that man is viewing Abraham’s faith.
- Abraham’s example here again supports the view that James 2 is referring to man’s view of faith and not God’s (compare Romans 4:1-11)
1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
- This example is Abraham’s faith in the eyes of God, whereas James 2 is Abraham’s faith in the eyes of men.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
- What God says as opposed to what man sees “fulfilled”.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
- A “debt” is not a gift because it is owed to you.
- A dead faith can save, because salvation is by grace “without works”.
- Grace and works cannot be mixed to be grace (Romans 11:6).
- Salvation depends on the existence of faith, not the type of faith.
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
- When did Abraham get saved?
- Genesis 12:1-8 – (75) called out of his country and calls upon the name of the Lord
- Genesis 15:1-6 – counted it to him for righteousness, becomes the father of many nations
- Genesis 16:15-16 – (86) Abraham takes Hagar and Ishmael is born
- Genesis 17:24-25 – (99, Ishmael 13) covenant of circumcision given
- Genesis 21:5 – (100) Isaac born
- Genesis 22:1-2 – Isaac sacrificed after all the events in Gen 21
- This is proof that James 2 is not about salvation because Abraham was saved decades before he offered his son on the altar.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
- “Likewise” would support that Rahab’s example is teaching the same principle as Abraham’s that is previously mentioned.
- Rahab was a harlot, not the best example to use if you want to preach salvation by works, or even a “every life changed life” salvation.
- Contemporary English Version (CEV) changes Heb 11 regarding Rahab to “had been a harlot” in a Max7 animation.
- Compare Joshua 2:1-11
Joshua 2:1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.
2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country.
3 And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.
4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.
7 And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.
8 And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;
9 And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.
10 For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.
11 And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.
- Joshua 2 supports the view that Rahab believed on the LORD God before the spies entered her house.
- The story of Rahab again supports the view that James 2 is not about salvation but about your faith in the eyes of men and its profitableness to others.