This article contains an exposition of James 2:14-26, as well as some discussion questions on the material.

2 pages.

James 2:14-26 – The Works of Faith

Life or Death🔗

These verses are familiar ones.  They are usually discussed in relation to Paul's teachings in Romans 4. This passage does not give a general or theoretical exposition of the relationship between faith and works. Note the context of these words. James proclaims the gospel to the church in the dispersion (v. 1) in this section as well.  He writes that faith without works is dead (v. 17), and illustrates it in verses 14 and 15.    

A member of the church walks in submission to the confessions, just as he promised in his public profession of faith.  Just like his fellow believers, he suffered for Christ's sake, but yet he refuses to help his needy brother or sister! Such a person is a dead member. He has chosen for the world and against his brothers. It is always a choice for either life or death in the church.  

Where faith exists, good works are also present. This is not just an opinion, or a theory which James proposes, but it is the gospel of the kingdom. (cf. Luke 7:36-50; Luke 6:43-45; Matthew 7:16-20; John 15:1-8; see also what we confess in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 24.)

True Faith🔗

In the times in which James lived, this gospel of the kingdom was actively resisted. Verse 18 presents an opposing view: you can have faith, even if you do not show any works. Although James uses the "you - I" form here, it is not a reference to himself personally. One who boasts of his faith but does not do the work of the Lord does not choose for the church. James mentions the "faith" of devils as an example. They "believe" that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; Belgic Confession, 1). This "faith" does not leave them indifferent.  Literally the Bible says: "they are stiff with fear" (tremble). This does not mean that they cannot do anything, but that this "faith" drives them on to act in hatred against God. (Mark 1:23-28; Luke 8:26-39) True faith regenerates man (Belgic Confession, 24).

Only one Faith🔗

James proves from Scripture that we cannot speak of "faith" in and of itself, but that faith in the promises of God is an active faith. Man demonstrates that he is a believer through his works. First, James mentions Abraham, the father of all believers. The Lord gave him the promise of the Seed. Consequently, his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. His faith reached its supreme moment because it was a firm confidence in God's promises (Hebrews 11:17-19). 

Abraham is called the friend of God (Isaiah 41:8; Exodus 33:11; John 15:14-15). The church is not only permitted to witness the Lord's deeds, but is also granted the privilege to make the work of the Lord a visible reality. However, this involves the necessity of choice. Whoever wishes to be called a friend of God must choose for the church and against the world.

As a second example from Scripture, James mentions Rahab, the prostitute (Joshua 2:9). Rahab chose for Israel, God's people, and against her own people. She made the choice for the Lord, the God of Israel, and rejected her own idols. The proof that her faith was not merely words, but a heartfelt choice for the Lord, is evident when she hid the spies. Faith without works is not faith in God, who speaks and keeps his promises. The conclusion is clear. There is only one kind of faith – faith with works.

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. Where does the Bible point to God's holy angels as an example for us?  (Hint: the Lord's Prayer.)
  2. What does the Bible mean when it describes someone as possessed by a devil?  Do you think that this still happens?
  3. Compare this chapter with Romans 4.  Explain why there is no conflict between the writings of Paul and James.
  4. In which epistle does Paul teach the same doctrine as James?
  5. How should we view Rahab's "white lie" in the context of James 2?
  6. The concept of a "social gospel" has been a popular one in the twentieth century.  Is this view in harmony with the teachings of this epistle?

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