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Last Update:  4/2013

James 2: Faith and Works

James 2 has a lot to say about faith and works and Mormons regularly point to this chapter to demonstrate their doctrinal basis of why eternal life is earned based on a combination of faith and works. If this is true then the books of Romans and Galatians, among many other verses in the gospel, contradict James 2. Let’s examine the context of James 2:14-26 to reconcile this apparent contradiction.

It starts off by someone saying (not showing) they have faith but do not have works. So can someone have a saving faith with no works? Can this kind of faith save him? James is trying to clarify to Christians who come from a Jewish heritage what a saving faith will look like. Martin Luther stated once, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” This means the type of faith that saves a person has transformed them into a new person who will demonstrate his faith by his works. Works are the fruit of salvation, not the root of salvation. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Paul does not say we are created in Christ because of our good works, but we first are created in Christ then to do good works. The order of the operating principle here is important. We are in Christ, and then we show we are in Christ by demonstrating it by our works. 

James then gives an example of dead faith in James 2:15-17. This example shows you what a person would do if they had a dead faith and not a living faith. Because of your love for Christ you would feed, clothe, and provide shelter for this homeless person. Remember, a Christian’s love for Christ and the amazing grace He has gifted to us is what we live for and we show our faith by our actions. 

James 2:18-19 show faith is demonstrated by a person’s works. People cannot see a Christian’s faith, but they can see works. How else will Christians bring others to Christ unless their faith is demonstrated by works (love, kindness, meekness, humility, etc.)?  James 2:19 points out even the demons believe, yet they still tremble. Well if demons believe why are they not saved? The reason is the faith the demons have is a dead faith not demonstrated by works. This type of faith is just an acknowledgement of God’s existence. Faith unto salvation is a belief which transforms the person on the inside changing their motivations and desires (heart). 

James 2:20-24 show Abraham as an example of living faith. Your first thought on James 2:21 would be Abraham was justified by his works when he offered up Isaac. Careful reading in Genesis shows Abraham believed God and was credited with righteousness in Genesis 15:6, which was over 20 years before Isaac was offered up in Genesis 22. Abraham’s obedience to God in offering Isaac was a demonstration of his faith in God. If this verse contextually said Abraham was justified by works then we have a huge contradiction here versus Romans 4:2-4 and Galatians 3:6-7.

Romans 4:2-4 states, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (emphasis added)

Galatians 3:6-7 states, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. ” (emphasis added)

James 2:25-26 give Rahab as an example of living faith. If you recall in Joshua Ch. 2, Rahab demonstrates her faith by risking her life in hiding the spies. Again, James offers another example of what a living faith looks like. James has provided two polar extremes of people, Abraham the father of the Jews, and a prostitute Gentile in Rahab. James shows it does not matter who you are or what background you come from, a living faith in God will save anyone and a dead faith will save no one.  

So we see now how a faith without works is dead.  If eternal life were dependent upon both faith and works, James and Paul would disagree making the gospel false and Christianity false.