What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
Can Faith Save Him?
though a man say
This important phrase governs the interpretation of the entire passage. James does not say that this person actually has faith, but that he claims to have it.
This is “faith” in a broad sense, any degree of acceptance of the truths of the gospel. Professing Christians.
and have not
Here, someone who continually lacks any external evidence of the faith he routinely claims. Not a onetime slip-up or an occasional/irregular sin.
Works refer to all righteous behavior that conforms to God’s revealed Word. Specifically, in the context, to acts of compassion.
can faith save him?
“Can that kind of faith save?” Or, “Can the faith this man claims forgive his sin and get him to heaven?” James is not disputing the importance of faith; He is opposing the notion that saving faith can be only an intellectual exercise without a commitment to active obedience. The grammar and form of the question demand a negative answer. “NO.”
James is not asking here can faith save. James is asking can this kind of “faith” save. This brings us to the introduction of our study on Faith and Works in James.
Introduction to Faith and Works:
As we being a section on Faith and Works, we should be careful to remember a few things:
- James is writing to Christians
Converted Jews Scattered abroad. This is not necessarily a topic for discussion with non-believers. The idea here is not, “Are you really saved & going to heaven?” Rather, “Is your ‘so-called’ faith living or dead?” Also, James is not writing for an examination of others. He is writing for an examination of self.
- James is not writing that faith is by works.
Clearly, he settles this before the area we are reading. In James 1:17–18 he says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Some would use this passage to say James is contradicting Paul. Paul stressed that man is saved by faith alone. But, Paul also stressed the importance of works. Paul clearly feels similarly to James on the importance of our faith and works. One other factor to consider between James and Paul: Audience.
James is writing to established religious people, established in their Judaism, and now converted and more mature Christians.
Paul is writing to some established in religion, some new to religion, and mainly newly converted Christians. He went to a place and started a church of new converts. He left and later wrote back.
- James was writing to Jews who had abandoned the works righteousness of Judaism to accept Christ.
Now, they had the mistaken idea that since righteous works and obedience to God’s law were not necessary for salvation, they were not necessary at all. Thus they reduced faith to a mere mental assent to the facts about Christ. Some have done just the same today. We should be careful with this in modern day salvation.
The main idea of James’ writing here is:
“What we do, reveals who we are.” We err in this passage when taking a “what we do makes us who we are” point of view. Sure that is the natural human way but in sanctification, it is not God’s way.
So as we study this area of James…
Use the teachings here to examine yourself. Is your faith dead due to lack of works? Are you a hearer only and not a doer? Have you allowed yourself to back-off into the state of “do-nothing” with the mentality: It’s not my works that save me. I am not under the law.
Be careful not to let your mind wander. You will want to think of others who you think may have dead faith. You will want to try to run the controversial debate of faith vs. works in your mind.
James and Paul do not contradict each other, they complement each other. Besides, who inspired these men to write?
Pastor Chance Strickland
Harpeth Baptist Church
Kingston Springs, TN