Many religions teach that if you are going to be saved and go to Heaven, you need to perform good works. However, this is completely wrong. Scripture makes it clear that salvation is by grace through faith and not works,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But where there is genuine faith, obedience or good works will follow. I am not talking about a perfect life, because we all fail in this. But I am talking about a life that is committed to walking in the way of the Word of God. The passage I just quoted continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Martin Luther wisely stated, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” That is an excellent summary of what James writes about James 2:1-13. He is teaching what faith looks like from a human perspective. This passage contains a contrast of two kinds of faith: false faith (vv. 14-20) and true faith (vv. 21-26). Sadly, there are many who make a profession of faith but it is not the real deal. Such a reality is devastating and has eternal consequences. In this post I would like to briefly examine this passage and consider the difference between false faith and true faith.
FALSE FAITH EXPLAINED (James 2:14-20)
It is of no good if someone professes to have a kind of faith that doesn’t prove itself by works. This is a cheap counterfeit. James asks, “Can that faith save him?” In answer to that question he begins with an illustration of an individual who is in need (2:15). A faith without works displays a compassion that is limited to mere lip service. Instead of actually doing something for a needy individual, the one without works simply states, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (2:16). James bluntly asks, “What good is that?” (2:16). This illustration makes it clear that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). The individual who has no works in their life can’t prove the validity of their faith, because there is no outward evidence. Faith that is limited to mere intellectual understanding is not real. Recognition of biblical truths does not save anyone (2:19). It is foolish to believe that a faith without works is genuine.
TRUE FAITH ILLUSTRATED (James 2:21-26)
In this second section James shows how genuine faith will evidence itself in works. Abraham proved his faith by being willing to offer up his son Isaac. “Justified by works” (2:21) is not talking about the means of his salvation, but rather the evidence of his salvation. Rahab proved her faith by receiving the Hebrew spies (Joshua 2:8-12). James’ final example is the human body and Spirit. It is obvious that if the spirit were absent from the body, the body would be dead. James uses this logic in regards to faith. If faith doesn’t have works, it is dead.
So there are two types of faith. One is false and the other is true. One leads to Hell and the other to Heaven. Genuine saving faith that exclusively trusts in Jesus Christ will be followed by acts of obedience. Not because our good works save us or gain merit, but because saving faith produces fruits of obedience.