Faith and Empty Words

On Tuesday, James reminded us who we are in Christ and why it is important to live that out as a part of our faith. Today, James clarifies what faith is and what it is not. The verses we'll cover over the next three days can be confusing. But it's important that we understand what James is saying here.

Let's look at verses 14-19 of chapter two. 

14 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe—and they shudder.”

Okay, wait. Paul said in Romans (3:28) that a person is justified by faith alone, not by works. So, is James contradicting Paul? Are we saved by faith and works? Two phrases in these verses today are critical for understanding the rest of this chapter.

Verse 14 uses the phrase, "if someone claims to have faith." Then, James asks, "Can such faith save him?"

So, when James references faith here, he's talking about a claim of faith, empty words that aren't really faith at all. James gives us an example to drive the point home. If someone is without food or clothes, and all we offer him is platitude and well wishes, he is still cold and hungry. So those words mean nothing. In the same way, simply saying we believe in Christ means nothing unless our lives reflect what we say.

James is not saying that faith plus works saves us. He's saying that faith that produces works is saving faith. Anything else is counterfeit, not matter what we call it. "I will show you faith by my works," he says. Works are the visible evidence of saving faith.

I think there are a lot of people who try to add works to a counterfeit faith thinking they're somehow making their faith real. But that's an example of trying to earn salvation. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). Instead, the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). True faith in Christ is a faith that changes us from the inside out and that naturally produces works. It's a part of that "implanted word" that James talks about in chapter one, verse 21.

What kind of faith do you have? Is it empty words, simply an acknowledgment of Jesus or an affiliation with the things in the Bible? Or is your faith alive, growing and producing fruit? James said even the demons believe in God, and they shudder. What's your reaction?

Let's pray.

“Lord, may our faith be more than words. May we be changed from the inside out by a living faith. Amen.”

Tomorrow, we'll look further at faith and works.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

This devotional was written and read by Brandon Abbott. Brandon is the Connection Minister at the Church at Station Hill. You can read more about him here.