Faith without works is dead! This is a very popular saying in the Christian faith. But what does this actually mean?
The verse comes from James 2:20 in the Kings James Version (KJV) and it’s essentially saying that faith is demonstrated by the evidence of your actions; without it your faith is questionable and you may not have faith at all!
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 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. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
James 2:14-19 NIV
We see here that James qualifies what faith really involves and will lead to:
- Faith involves beliefs (specifically God’s Word and his principles taught in the Bible) being supported with the appropriate action,
Verse 15 states – suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food – the belief is that we should feed and clothe those in a less fortunate state (provide to those who are needy) ; the action or demonstration of our faith in that belief is to hence do something to provide for their physical needs .
But to do nothing and merely just wish them well does no good and rightly as James says faith by itself if not accompanied by action is dead.
2. Belief and Faith are not the same thing
Belief is accepting that something is true but faith goes that step further to accept that something is true and to follow through with the appropriate actions that demonstrates your belief. This is why James says that even demons believe there is God so just accepting that there is a God or accepting a principle of God is not enough and doesn’t justify us before God (just like demons are not justified or accepted before God albeit their belief) it is the correct corresponding actions to that belief that matters and hence truly shows whether you have faith or not!
3. Faith saves us
The word “save” is used here (James 2:14) but I believe the word justifies is better placed. As Christians we know that what really saved us is the sacrifice Jesus did on the cross when he laid his life for us, but faith will provide us our justification before God, it is the evidence of the trust we have in Him, his Son and his Word for us.
3. Faith is not the same as Optimism
Faith should not be confused with the actions of an optimistic person though one would hope that if one has faith they would be optimistic!
Being in a state of optimism may not be based upon what God had said.
Suppose someone had heard that they were going to win the lottery in a month, but this was not from God or God’s will for them. But they had so much faith in that belief, that as a result their behaviour reflected that assurance in that future fortune. They began to spend frivolously, their actions may look very pious, they begin to be more charitable, helping the poor, spending their money to help those who need it. But lo and behold, at the end of that month they did not win the lottery! Even though they were very optimistic about the future and their actions seemed to be in alignment with that belief, since the source of their belief was faulty and they sought their optimism not from God’s word but an alternative, their so called faith has too come to no real effect!
I want to highlight that the source of our faith should always be rooted in exactly what God has said and no other source. Hebrews 11: 6 summarises this perfectly
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.Hebrews 11:6
So faith is an action based upon the result of hearing and trusting upon what God says. Without works our faith would be dead and without faith it would be impossible to please God.
So let us have faith.