What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"-and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.James 2:14-26
Faith without works is dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart. There are many Scriptures that make it very clear that true saving faith will result in a transformed life which is demonstrated by the "works" we do. How we live reveals what we believe and whether the faith we profess to have is a living faith.
Many profess to be Christians, but their lives and their priorities indicate otherwise. James is simply saying that if you 'say' you are a Christian, then there had better be some appropriate works manifested or your faith is false. This sentiment is echoed in 1 John 2:4 which says, "If you say you have come to know Him, yet you do not keep His commandments, then the truth is not in you and you are a liar."
Apparently, there were people who were saying they were Christians, but were not manifesting any of the fruit of Christianity. Those people exist even to this day, especially those who espouse hatred toward the GLBT community. Can this faith justify? Can the dead 'faith' that someone has which produces no change in a person and no good works before men and God be a faith that justifies? Absolutely not. It is not merely enough to say you believe in Jesus. You must actually believe and trust in Him. If you actually do, then you will demonstrate that faith by a changed and godly life. If not, then your profession is of no more value than the same profession of demons: "We believe Jesus lived."
Obedience to God is the mark of true saving faith. James uses the example of Abraham and Rahab as the type of works that demonstrate salvation, and both of those examples are of people who obeyed God in faith. Saying we believe in Jesus does not save us, nor does religious service. What saves us is a life of faith demonstrated by ongoing obedience to God.
Faith without works is dead because it reveals a heart that has not been transformed by God. When we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and experienced the "washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit," our lives will demonstrate that by the way we live and our works of obedience to God. It will be evident by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) in our lives and a desire to obey God and live a life that glorifies Him. Christians belong to Christ and as His sheep they hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:26-30).
True saving faith is always manifested by good works and a life that desires to live in obedience to God. Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it very clear that works do not save us but that we are saved "for good works which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them." When we are truly born again you will have hearts that are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit where God's law is written so that we might walk in His statutes and judgments. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
I challenge you this week to help someone out, to do some godly work. Last week, I was nearly at my wits ends about some problems in my life, what I usually call the "summer blues." (If you are in education, then you might know what I am talking about. The relief of being out of school, but also the financial hardships that often come with the summer months, which can be quite lean.) A dear friend of mine helped me out this week, something that will help me cope with the summer better. I did not ask for his kindness, yet he gave it freely because he was able to do so. I hope that one day, I will be in the position to pass on a similar kindness to someone else. I hope that each of us will strive to show kindness to our fellow man this week.