We come to that very controversial statement made by James in 2:24 today:
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
What? How can James say that? It is one of the great solas of the Protestant Reformation:
Sola Fide-Faith Alone
So just what is going on here? Is James contradicting the rest of Scripture? Let’s take a deeper look at the passage. We just recently read Hebrews 11-remember Abraham? By faith he was made righteous. James reminds us again of Abraham, Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. -James 2:21-23
There he goes again, “Abraham was justified by works.” But he goes on, “You see that faith was working with his works and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.” Faith was already there, but faith was being perfected.” This all brings to mind that great passage from 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. -1 Cor. 13:1-3
Could it be that James and Paul are saying the same thing? Faith without love is nothing? Well, let’s back up in today’s reading a little farther:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. -James 2:14-17
Faith without love is nothing. Paul makes it clear again in Galatians 5:6, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. It is not more works of the law that justify you, but faith working through love-faith is demonstrated through love. A faith without love is not true faith in Jesus Christ.
James gives us some other forms of faith in this passage to compare to what true faith looks like-in verse 17 we see a dead faith, faith by itself without love (works). In verse 19 we see that even the demons have faith, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." The demons believe that God is one-they have their doctrine right-but believing in doctrine does not save us. And in verse 20, "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" We see a useless faith-one that does nothing. It all makes me think about the parable Jesus told about the sower and seeds. When he explained it to the disciples this is what He said about the seed that fell on the good ground, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” Kind of sounds familiar here-a faith that bears fruit is one that hears and understands the Gospel message and lives it out in love.
Now let's look back at this chapter from James. Did you catch verse 8? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James is saying that a true, living faith is shown by works of love. I think this quote from John Calvin sums it all up rather nicely, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.
Grace, Peace, and Mercy,