What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14)
If this verse is read casually, it can lead to confusion. Some have read this and wondered if James is implying that a person must have good works to accompany faith in order for them to be saved.
Absolutely not! There is nothing anyone can do to earn salvation. That is why Jesus Christ had to die. Jesus died so that His righteousness may be credited on whoever repents of their sins and receives Him, by faith, as their personal Lord and Savior.
“[Jesus] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). When asked, “’What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:28-29). “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9).
Therefore, since we are saved by grace through faith alone, what is James saying?
Notice, James uses the phrase, “if someone claims to have faith.” This is important because there are many who claim to be a “Christian,” but have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
We are not saved by good works but, after salvation, the service we do in Christ’s power and for His name are evidence of His indwelling presence in us. In Christ, we are a new creation. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
To be frank, if there is no evidence in your life of servitude to Jesus, you need to consider whether you’ve had an authentic experience in surrendering your will, to the will of Jesus Christ, accepting Him as your personal Lord and Savior. In doing that, understand that you can’t receive Jesus as Savior without repenting of your sins and surrendering your life to Him as Lord.
If your relationship with the Jesus is real, works will subsequently accompany your faith because we are to be given to His lordship. Believers are not to be a stagnant, stationary people. We are called to be followers of Jesus. Works, or “deeds,” accompany obedience to Christ.
When Jesus is Lord in our life, the Holy Spirit will move us into service for the building of Christ’s kingdom.
Paul, who wrote in Eph. 2:9 that no one is saved by works, also wrote in Eph. 4:12-13 that Jesus Christ is equipping “his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
As long as we are physically able, we are called to serve the Lord. When Jesus saved us, He intended for us to be fruitful. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
Our love for others shows as one possible fruit of evidence to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. And love mandates that we unselfishly care for, and attend to, the betterment of others.
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead. (James 2:15-17)
James uses a simple illustration to make a profound point. How we act and treat people are an indicator of our fellowship and intimacy with Jesus. “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart” (Prov. 27:19).
Since people are of utmost importance to Jesus, people should be important to us as well. Further, when we unselfish give of our time and finances so others might benefit, Christ is gloried. This also directs attention to the heavenly Father and gives Him glory. Jesus said, “In the same way; let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Caring for the needs of others ought to become more and more infused in our walk with Christ. Since the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we can’t ignore another’s well-being without incurring a sense of shame, guilt, or regret.
Yes, ministering to others will be taken advantage of at times. There are evil forces in this world that wantonly seek to exploit people, particularly Christians. Evil ones take particular delight in tripping up children of the Holy God. When Christians feel “used” or “taken advantage of,” it could cause them to stumble in their fellowship with Christ and ignore future opportunities where genuine needs exist.
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit gives us discernment. So, through the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can discern between real needs and when deceptive men are pursuing gains out of evil motives.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2: 18)
James is reminding believers that working for the cause of Christ ought to accompany genuine faith. Good works go hand-in-hand with genuine faith – but only after a person receives Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. For, it is only through Christ that anyone can produce any good fruit.
We can rest in absolute assurance, that our salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone and not by works. But, too, realize that genuine faith in Christ will absolutely not let us rest from doing good works that are for the betterment of others and Jesus’ glory.
Do you question your salvation?