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. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
In the verses we cover tonight, James contrasts living faith with what he calls dead faith. He contrasts saving faith with non-saving faith and productive faith with unproductive faith. Godly faith with a kind of faith that is exercised even by demons. This is Dead faith.
A man may say
Some disagree on who “a man” is referring to, whether it is his humble way of referring to himself or not. Or it could refer to one of his audience who objected to his teaching; how much of the following passage should be attributed to this antagonist as opposed to James. Regardless, the main point is the same: The only possible evidence of true faith is works. By his statement in verse 18, we see James saying that the two (faith and works) cannot be separate.
Thou believest that there is one God
To his readers, this is a clear reference to a familiar passage.
Deut 6:4-5 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
This was/is the most basic doctrine of the Old Testament.
The devils also believe
Even fallen angels affirm the oneness of God and tremble at its implications. James is saying here that Demons are essentially sound in their doctrine (they know the Word better than us and they have lived some or most of it), but sound doctrine by itself is no proof of saving faith. They know the truth about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but hate it and them.
What wilt thou know, O vain man
It means literally empty or defective. The objector’s claim of belief is fraudulent, and his faith is a sham. He is no better than fallen angels.
2 Timothy 3:7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
That faith without works is dead?
What wilt thou know, O vain man? The faith you profess that is without works is dead. James is not contrasting two methods of salvation (faith versus works), instead, he contrasts two kinds of faith: living faith that saves and dead faith that does not.
Pastor Chance Strickland
Harpeth Baptist Church
Kingston Springs, TN