“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?”
Can faith save him?
James does not use the word “save” here for the eternal salvation of our souls but for the temporal salvation of our Christian lives. A better translation would be “Can faith deliver him?”
The idea is not that works saves our eternal souls but our temporal souls. If our faith is an academic exercise with the facts of Christianity without engaging the reality of those facts, our faith cannot save our temporal souls. Genuine faith in the work of Christ on the cross saves our souls eternally. Genuine faith in the principles of the Word of God will save our souls in time. A phony faith saves no one either in eternity or in time.
Mt 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The Greek answers the question “Can faith save him?” with a “no” answer. A faith that does not apply principle to experience cannot save the daily Christian life. Faith by itself is not able to deliver us but only a faith engaged with the principles and applications of the Christian life.
What we do exposes who we are.
Faith is merely the trigger mechanism for connecting principle to application. If there is no principle, then the gun is not loaded. The gun can fulfill its purpose if it has bullets in it. The trigger is faith. If the gun is empty when we pull the trigger, all we get is a “click, click.” If we load our faith with principle and then pull the trigger of faith in the principle, then we can apply truth to experience.
The value in our faith is not faith itself but the object of faith. The principles of the Word are the object in this case. Unless we have formed principles of God’s Word in our mind, we cannot apply truth to experience. Faith in itself will not deliver us because faith is simply a system of perception. Even unbelievers have faith. The problem is their object of faith – what they believe in. If they place of the object of their faith in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for them, they will receive eternal life. The object of their faith in this case did the work of salvation for them.
Jesus constantly combated superficial belief during His ministry (Jn 2:23-25). Jesus did not entrust Himself to this because artificial belief is an illusion.
More than mere knowledge of truth is necessary for truth to have an effect on our lives. The facts of the Bible are necessary to understand the principles of the Word but unless we apply those principles to our lives, the principles will have no effect in changing our behavior.
When the unbeliever sees our faith delivering us that is when he understands the reality of your Christianity. It is your works that he sees. If we have faith in the principles without application, the non-Christian views us as operationally dead (2:20). We are not dead eternally but dead to the unbeliever temporally.
2 Co 3:2-3 “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”
We cannot live out our faith as an inactive principle by speculative belief. That makes no impact on the non-Christian and is no testimony for the Lord Jesus. We live out our faith by applying the principles of the Word by faith to our experience.
Faith is like calories; you can’t see them but you can see the results!