Summary: You cannot separate faith from good works; they are interrelated.

Faith That Works

Text: James 2:19-26


1. Illustration: Rena was 3 years old when she went to her first baptismal service. It was new for her and a bit mystifying. As events transpired, she looked up at her father with surprise in her eyes, "Daddy, he pushed that guy under the water? Why did he do that?" The father tried to quietly answer her question during the service; but his answer did not satisfy little Rena. So when they got home he attempted a fuller explanation. "Well people do bad things; and they are being baptized to let everyone know they are now going to be good. The water symbolizes Jesus’ washing people’s sins away. When they come out ‘clean,’ they are going to try to be ‘good.’" Rena thought about that for a moment and then asked the simple question, ‘Why didn’t Pastor Bob just spank him?’ (Bob Beasley, Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion, 112).

2. This morning we are going to continue a look at James teaching on faith and good works. In this section James uses three examples to illustrate his point.

3. These object lessons that James uses are not as important as what they convey...

A. Believing Isn't Enough

B. Shown Right By What We Do

C. Good Works Are The Breath Of Faith

4. Let's stand together as we read James 2:19-26

Proposition: You cannot separate faith from good works; they are interrelated.

Transition: The first example that James uses has to do with demons and it teaches us that...

I. Believing Isn't Enough (19-20).

A. Even The Demons Believe

1. James first of his three illustrations is an unlikely one...demons!

2. In v. 19 James says, "You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror."

A. The first example is devastating. What could there possibly be from which people of "faith" would want to distance themselves farther than demons?

B. You believe leaves the continuity of the theme of faith unmistakable. But it is a doctrinal belief (believing that something is true) rather than genuine Christian faith; therefore it is hardly a rebuttal to what the apostle Paul wrote about faith.

C. This is devastating again, for no one claiming to have Christian faith could dismiss this as a trivial example.

D. Even the demons believe in the sense of recognizing the truth, and they at least realize that it leaves them cause to shudder in fear rather than rest in confidence that they are saved.

E. James may well be remembering the one God fear that demons exhibited when confronted by Christ, for it made a powerful impression on observers.

F. Mark 1:23-24 (NLT)

23 Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting,

24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One sent from God!”

G. The point is that believing the truth without obeying the truth does not save us at all, any more than it saves demons.

H. In fact, the comparison to demonic "faith" implies that belief without obedience is even worse than useless (Stulac, IVPNT: James, 113).

3. Next James brings the hammer down even harder. In v. 20 he says, "How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?"

A. James addresses his hypothetical person who held the above views, calling that person a fool. The foolish person is literally a “hollow man.”

B. If the faith around which we build our lives turns out to be empty, we are truly hollow people.

C. When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless? There are times when we need more teaching or understanding in order to respond to God’s direction.

D. But most often we know what needs to be done, yet are unwilling to act. When it comes to putting into practice what we know, is it our habit to obey God? (Barton, Life Application New Testament Commentary, 1080).

B. Faith Useless Without Works

1. Illustration: "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works." Luther, Martin

2. A faith that doesn't act is not real faith.

A. Matthew 5:16 (NLT)

16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

B. A tree that doesn't produce fruit gets cut down.

C. A car that doesn't run gets taken to the junk yard.

D. A cow that doesn't produce milk gets taken to the slaughter house.

E. A faith that doesn't express itself in good works is not saving faith.

F. When we have real faith we want to do good works because Jesus has changed our life and made us alive!

G. Real faith gives us the desire to do good works because it causes people to praise our heavenly Father.

H. Real faith causes us to do good works not because it makes us look good, but rather because it makes God look good!

Transition: James next example has to do with Abraham and it teaches us that we are...

II. Shown Right By What We Do (21-24).

A. Show Right With God By His Actions

1. James next example is a classic one, particularly because he was writing to an audience made up of mostly Jewish Christians. Abraham, the father of faith.

2. In v. 21 James says, "Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?"

A. From his own case studies, James now turns to historical figures from the Old Testament that he expects will confirm what he has been teaching about the importance of active faith.

B. Abraham was one of the Old Testament figures most revered by the Jews. Abraham’s remarkable obedience in being willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command was evidence of the works for which Abraham was declared right with God.

C. What was Abraham doing when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? He was trusting God.

D. The lesson we can draw from Abraham’s life is not a comparison between his sacrifices and ours.

E. We can expect that in one way or another, our faith will have to grow from internal trust to external action.

F. Eventually, like Abraham, we too will have to answer the question, “Do I really trust God?” (Barton, 1080).

3. Next, James makes a great point when he says, "You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete."

A. Abraham had great faith in God (Genesis 15:6), but James points out that Abraham’s faith was much more than just belief in the one God—the fruit of Abraham’s great faith was in his deeds: His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions.

B. His faith produced his actions, and his actions completed his faith, meaning they “perfected” or “matured” it.

C. Mature and complete believers are produced through perseverance in trials; mature and complete faith is produced through works of obedience to God.

D. Faith and works should not be confused with each other, but neither can they be separated from each other (Barton, 1080).

4. Then James says, "And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God."

A. Abraham believed God, so God gave Abraham the status of a right relationship with him—and this happened before Abraham’s noted works (such as his willingness to sacrifice Isaac), and even before Abraham was circumcised.

B. The Scriptures to which James is referring is Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.”

C. James showed that Abraham’s righteousness was the basis and reason for all those actions.

D. Because of Abraham’s great faith and obedience, he held the privileged status of being called “the friend of God."

E. Acting out our trust in God will lead to friendship with him, as it did in Abraham’s case (Barton, 1080).

5. Then James makes a conclusion based on the life of Abraham, "So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone."

A. We are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Many have said that this statement contradicts Paul’s position, who wrote: “We are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28).

B. Indeed, if both James and Paul used the term “made right” (justified) in the same way, this verse would contradict Paul’s teaching about justification by faith alone.

C. But for James, being “made right” refers to God’s final verdict over our entire Christian lives, whereby we are declared righteous for having lived a life that was faithful to the end.

D. For Paul, being “made right” is the initial granting of righteousness upon a person’s acceptance of Christ.

E. For James, “works” (what we do) are the natural products of true faith; for Paul, “works” (“obeying the law”) are what people were trying to do in order to be saved.

F. For James, faith alone is the shallow belief in an idea; no commitment or life change is involved.

G. For Paul, faith is saving faith—the belief that brings about an intimate union with Christ and results in salvation and obedience (Barton, 1080-1081).

B. Godly People Do Godly Things

1. Illustration: Tommy Tenney says, "The gospel of Jesus Christ is a practical gospel that is as concerned with doing something as it is with being something. Good works won’t get you into heaven, but once you receive new life from Jesus, he expects you to do what he did for the rest of your life. It comes with the territory. Godly people do godly things or they aren’t godly.

2. People of faith are people of action because their hearts have been changed.

A. Ephesians 5:8-9 (NLT)

8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

B. Before Christ we were lost in our own selfishness and pride, but since we are in Christ we have changed.

C. We are not saved by what we do, but because we are saved we will do right things because of what Christ has done in our hearts and minds.

D. We don't help people because they deserve it; we help people because the Lord compels us to help them.

E. There's more to faith simply saying a prayer, it requires living the way Jesus did.

F. When Jesus saw people in need he didn't judge their circumstances, all he judged was their need. And so should we.

Transition: James final example has to do with Rahab and it teaches us...

III. Good Works Are The Breath Of Faith (25-26).

A. Rahab The Prostitute

1. Here James uses another unlikely example, the prostitute Rahab.

A. She is an unlikely example of faith in action because, well, she was a prostitute.

B. She is also an unlikely example because she was a Gentile (remember that she was in the OT).

2. However, look at what James says about her in v. 25, "Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road."

A. The third example is intended as further biblical precedent, but of a complementary sort. Abraham was the respected patriarch.

B. Rahab represents the opposite extreme, both because she was a prostitute and because she was a comparatively minor figure in Old Testament history.

C. Yet even Rahab had to carry out her faith in the true God by actions of obedience.

D. It would not have been enough for Rahab to have said to the spies, "I hope you don't get caught"; that would have been comparable to the pious but useless wishes in 2:16.

E. On the basis of her actions to help the spies, the identical verb is applied to her in 2:25 as to Abraham in 2:21, translated "shown to be right."

F. Thus Rahab's example demonstrates the universality of the principle.

3. Then in v. 26 James sums up his teaching on faith that works by saying, "Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works."

A. Faith and good deeds are as important to each other as body and spirit.

B. Good deeds are not added to faith; instead, the right kind of faith is faith that “works,” that results in good deeds. Otherwise, Christianity is nothing more than an idea.

C. No one is moved to action without faith; no one’s faith is real unless it moves him or her to action.

D. The action is obedience to God. This draws us back to James’s words in the first part of this chapter concerning care for others. The believer must do what God calls him to do—serve his brothers and sisters in Christ, refuse to discriminate among them, and help them out with good deeds.

E. Understanding how faith and deeds work together still doesn’t mean that our lives will be different. James is about to continue with a series of life situations that we all encounter. It is in these everyday events that we demonstrate our faith to be alive or dead.

F. From time to time, we need to take our own spiritual pulse by matching our lives with God’s word. But we also need to have people around us, the body of Christ, whom we can ask, “How do you see me putting my faith in Christ into action?” (Barton, 1081).

B. Dead Without Works

1. Illustration: A young boy was sitting on the front row watching a ventriloquist perform with his dummy on his lap. Interacting with the boy, the dummy proceeded to ask the boy questions and talk with him. Thinking that the boy had found a new friend, he approached the dummy after the show to ask him to come over and play. The ventriloquist continued to decline the boy’s requests until the boy became frustrated. Responding to the boy, the ventriloquist said, "Well, he doesn’t DO anything, he just talks." Faith without works is dead...

2. Just as a body without breath is dead, so faith without good works is dead.

A. Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)

9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

B. A plant without sunlight will die.

C. An animal without water will die.

D. A body without food will die.

E. Faith without good works not only will die, but it is already dead.

F. Let's be people who reach out to those in need.

G. Let's be a people who look for ways to help.

H. Let's be a people who don't just talk about their faith but show it by what they do.


1. This morning we talked about the three examples that James uses to talk about faith that works.

2. These object lessons that James uses are not as important as what they convey...

A. Believing Isn't Enough

B. Shown Right By What We Do

C. Good Works Are The Breath Of Faith