“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 the temporal salvation of our Christian lives. A better translation would be, “Can faith deliver him?”
The idea is not that works save 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 the 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, 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 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 affect our lives. The facts of the Bible are necessary to understand the principles of the Word. Still, unless we apply those principles to our lives, the principles will not change 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!
Please help me get an understanding of the phase “temporal souls” as it relates to this passage.
Others commentaries (Wiersbe, DTS–The Bible Knowledge Commentary and Matthew Henery) associate works as proof of salvation. Help.
Kenneth, I simply use the phrase “temporal souls” to indication what the context is arguing–the saving of the Christian life in time by faith. The argument of James is faith works. Faith always results in an effect. See the Introduction toward the top of the page. Since James is not arguing justification by faith from an eternal viewpoint but vindication (justify)of our faith here and now, that kind of faith always produces the reality of some effect.
Make sure you read the entire section to get the argument clear. Hope this helps.
Grant could you please give any insights of agreement(s) or disagreement(s) of this article? Thank you
“Holiness, we all agree, is so imperative that without it no one shall see the Lord; and the professing Christian who does not pursue it only deceives himself. It is false and misleading to let people fancy that they may be real saints, yet unholy. ‘Every one’ that has the grace-given hope resting on Him purifies himself as He is pure; others that have not are self-deceived. Because of iniquities the wrath of God cometh upon the sons of disobedience; but believers are essentially sons of obedience, and His love rests on them. If one sin, it is a grievous inconsistency. But grace does not fail to awaken self-judgment through our blessed Advocate with the Father, and restoration ensures. Those who do the wicked works of the flesh, and abide impenitent and indifferent have no part or lot with Christ, shall not inherit the kingdom of God, and in no way share the portion of the saints in light.” (William Kelly, The Prize of our High Calling)
“And allow me to say that it is a very solemn thing indeed to claim the privileges of grace for that which is contrary to the nature of God. I am not speaking now of the lost one found by grace, to whom God gives a new life fresh from Himself. But the effect of a soul’s receiving life in the person of Christ is that there are produced feelings, thoughts, judgments and ways acceptable to God and akin to His nature. If a person is a child of God, he is like his Father; he has a nature suitable to God, a life that dislikes sin and is surely pained by what is iniquitous in others, but more particularly in himself. Many bad men are strong against evil in others; they are weak where it might touch themselves. But a Christian always begins with self-judgment….Repentance is the soul’s moral judgment of itself under the eye of God; the soul’s acceptance of His judgment of its state before Him, and bowing to it.”—William Kelly (Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew, remarks under Matthew chapter 3)
“‘Will a believer be saved, no matter into what course of sin he may fall, and die in?’ A true believer will, infallibly, be saved; but we consider that salvation includes, not only full deliverance from the future consequences of sin, but from the present power and practice thereof. And, hence, if we find a person living in sin, and yet talking about his assurance of salvation, we look upon him as an antinomian, and not a saved person at all….The believer may fall, but he will be lifted up; he may be overtaken, but he will be restored; he may wander, but he will be brought back, because Christ is able to save to the uttermost, and not one of His little ones shall perish….To talk of having the Spirit and yet ‘indulge’ in evil and unholy thoughts is, in our judgment, the ancient Nicolaitanism (Rev. 2:6,15), or modern antinomianism….we believe that the man who draws a plea from the freedom, sovereignty, and eternal stability of the grace of God to continue in sin, knows nothing of Christianity at all, has neither part nor lot in the matter, but is in a truly awful and dangerous condition….The Christian has to struggle with sin; but struggling with it and wallowing in it are two totally different ideas….We must have life before we can do anything; and we get life, not by ‘saying’ we have faith, but by really having it; and when we have it, we shall manifest the precious fruits thereof, to the glory of God.” —C.H.Mackintosh, The Mackintosh Treasury, “Final Perseverance—What Is It?” (page 644 and following in the one volume edition).
“While we are justified in the sight of God by faith alone, a real faith must be evidenced by works…. There must be LIFE-WORKS, or else there is no life….When people are saved, ought they not to live as such? Ought not the new life to come out in fruits? It must come out if it be in; and if it does not come out, it is not there….It is very interesting and instructive to compare the teaching of Paul and James—two divinely inspired apostles—on the subject of ‘works.’ Paul utterly repudiates law-works. James jealously insists upon life-works. If this fact be seized, all difficulty vanishes; and the divine harmony is clearly seen.” —C.H.Mackintosh, The Mackintosh Treasury, “Life-Works” (pp. 660-662 in the one volume edition).
These quotes by CHM also reflect the general teaching of Darby, Kelly and the early Plymouth Brethren (the pioneer dispensationalists).
“Grace is that which breaks the dominion of sin, sets the soul right to go on with God, and if this be not the result of it, grace has not been learned at all, nor can it be pleaded as availing in behalf of those who, whatever they may profess, show themselves uninfluenced by it” (F.W.Grant, The Numerical Bible, Acts to II Corinthians, p. 479).
“Empty profession is of no profit. He who speaks of faith in Christ is responsible to manifest it by his renewed life. In James 2 we are taught that we are justified before men by works, works that are the fruit of a living faith, which is manifest to all….If we believe God we will yield obedience to His Word, and so our faith will be manifested.” —H.A.IRONSIDE, The Continual Burnt Offering, see under December 7.
“Shallow preaching that does not grapple with the terrible fact of man’s sinfulness and guilt, calling on ‘all men everywhere to repent,’ results in shallow conversions; and so we have myriads of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever. Prating of salvation by grace, they manifest no grace in their lives. Loudly declaring they are justified by faith alone, they fail to remember that ‘faith without works is dead’; and that justification by works before men is not to be ignored as though it were in contradiction to justification by faith before God.” —H.A.IRONSIDE, Except Ye Repent, p. 11.
“Perhaps someone may ask, ‘But does it make no difference to God what I am myself? May I live on in my sins and still be saved?’ No, assuredly not! But this brings in another line of truth. The moment one believes the gospel, he is born again and receives a new life and nature–a nature that hates sin and loves holiness. If you have come to Jesus and trusted Him, do you not realize the truth of this? Do you not now hate and detest the wicked things that once gave you a certain degree of delight? Do you not find within yourself a new craving for goodness, a longing after holiness, and a thirst for righteousness? All this is the evidence of a new nature. And as you walk with God you will find that daily the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit will give you practical deliverance from the dominion of sin.” —H.A.IRONSIDE, Full Assurance, p. 32.
“When you are born again, you love to follow Jesus, and if you do not, you are not a Christian. Take that home. Examine your own foundations a bit….It makes a tremendous difference what you do. If you do not behave yourself, it shows that you are not a real Christian. I know that a real Christian may fail, but the difference can be seen in Peter and Judas. Peter failed, and failed terribly, but he was genuine, and one look from Jesus sent him out weeping bitterly; his heart was broken to think that he had so dishonored his Lord. But Judas companied with the Lord almost three-and-a-half years, and was a devil all the time; he was a thief, and was seeking his own interest. He was even made the treasurer of the company, and he held the beg, but we read, “He bare away what was put therein” (John 12:6), as this has been literally translated. At last remorse overtook him, not genuine repentance, and what was the result? He went and hanged himself. He was never a child of God. There is a great difference, you see, between a Christian and a false professor.” -H. A. IRONSIDE, The Eternal Security of the Believer, p. 18.
“God does not want any true believer to lack assurance of eternal safety. Christ said: ‘I give my sheep eternal life and they shall never perish.’ But let us insist on that other mark of Christ’s sheep: ‘They follow me.’ If we are going on in our own way, then what right have we to assurance? Remember the ‘seal’ of the ‘foundation of God,’ in 2 Timothy 2:19: ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his: and, Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.’ ” (WILLIAM NEWELL, Revelation, p. 332)
“Salvation and a holy walk are inseparably connected… Where there is true salvation and eternal life, it is proved by a godly walk…But he [the apostle Paul] knew, as every Christian should know, that the grace which had saved him, which taught him to live soberly, righteously and godly, would also keep him and enable him to persevere through all hindrances.” —ARNO C. GAEBELEIN, Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 938.
“‘Doeth’ in 1 John 2:29 and 3:7 should be ‘practiceth.’ The trend of the life is in view. The new man, God’s seed, cannot sin. Therefore, although we still ‘have…sin’ (1:8), the life should be righteousness. If it is not, we must not expect others to believe our profession. This is James’s point of view. Neither should we believe the profession of one whose habitual life is unrighteous” —C.I. SCOFIELD in his Correspondence Course (comments under 1 John), p. 928. “[James] insists that only by a godly life can true faith be manifested [emphasis his]…He [James] tests profession by practice.” —C.I. SCOFIELD in his Correspondence Course (comments under James), p. 896.
Note: The teaching of C.I.Scofield is in sharp contrast to the teaching of Hodges/Dillow. This is seen by his chapter on “Believers and Professors” in his booklet Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. Scofield gives many examples of those who are mere professors but not true possessors, that is, those who claim to be saved but who are not truly saved. Most of the examples given by Scofield of mere professors are claimed to be true Christians by Hodges/Dillow. For example: Scofield says Simon was a professor (pretender); Hodges and Dillow teach that he was saved. Scofield says that 1 John 2:19 (“they went out from us”) describes pretenders; Hodges says these people were saved. Scofield says the other virgins in Matthew 25:11-12 were pretenders; Hodges and Dillow teach that they were saved. Scofield says the man not having a wedding garment in Matthew 22:11-13 was a pretender (unsaved); Hodges and Dillow teach that he was saved. Scofield says that the man described in James 2:14 (the man claiming to have faith but having no works) was a pretender; Hodges and Dillow say that he was saved. Scofield says that the apostate described in Hebrews 10:38 was a mere professor; Hodges and Dillow teach that he was saved.
“Several of these Scriptures [Scriptures which seem to indicate that a person can lose his salvation] bear on the important fact that Christian profession is justified by its fruits. Salvation which is of God will, under normal conditions, proves itself to be such by its own fruits (1 John 3:10; John 8:31; 15:6; 2 Pet. 1:10; James 2:14-26; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Heb. 3:6,14).” —LEWIS SPERRY CHAFER, Major Bible Themes, p.188 (his chapter on “Security”).
The following quote by Chafer is lengthy, but is extremely helpful:
There is a normal Christian experience. There are new and blessed emotions and desires. Old things do pass away, and behold all things do become new; but all such experiences are but secondary evidence, as to the fact of salvation, in that they grow out of that positive repose of faith which is the primary evidence. There is very much Scripture about the results that are sure to appear in a transformed life. True salvation must result in just such realities. It is inconceivable that Christ should come to live in a human heart and its experiences remain unchanged. There must be, under such conditions, a new and vital relationship to God the Father, to fellow-Christians and to Christ Himself, a new attitude toward prayer, toward the Word, toward sin and toward the unsaved. This is the view-point of the Apostle James when he contends so earnestly for works that will justify. It must be remembered, however, that James is here concerned with the appearance our professions make to the outside world, rather than of our acceptance before God. Men can judge only by the outward appearance, and works alone can justify the Christian profession in their sight. God looks on the heart and before Him no works can avail. Before God man must be justified by faith alone. This, James clearly asserts to be true as illustrated in the case of Abraham (Jas. 2:23).
The First Epistle of John is full of references to the outward evidence of the inward fact of the newly imparted divine life. This little book, standing near the end of the Bible, may be taken, in one sense, as an examination of the believer. “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (there is no reference here to the commandments of Moses); “In this the children of God are manifested, and the children of the devil: whoso doeth not righteousness is not of God (cf. John 6:28, 29), neither he that loveth not his brother”; “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren”; “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother”; “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us”; “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love”; “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3).
Such a precious experience as is described by these passages may become clouded by sin or lost in the depression of some physical weakness, and were we depending upon the experience as primary evidence that we are saved, all grounds of assurance would be swept away. The primary evidence is clearly stated in the same Epistle as the final word of testing here given and the final grounds of confidence: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. These things (about having the life) have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:9-13). The possession of the indwelling Son of God is the abiding fact of the newly created life in Him, and should never be confused with some imperfect and changeable experience in the daily life. He is received by faith. His presence most naturally leads to blessed new realities in experience. Certainly experience never leads to the realities of the presence of the indwelling Son of God.
[Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation, pages 82-84 in his chapter on “Assurance of Salvation”]
For another very helpful discussion of these matters by Chafer, go to page 101 of his book Salvation, and read the section entitled, “Christian Profession is Proven by Its Fruits” (pages 101-103). For example: “Proof that one is saved is not found in sinless perfection; but is found in the fact that there are new desires and powers in the new creation. These can prevail over the old desires by the power of the Spirit. The Bible simply demands that there shall be some real evidence of the new life from God” (p. 102).
The doctrine of Eternal Security does not mean that a person who believes will be saved, no matter what he does. Such a doctrine would break down all morality, contradict the moral requirements of the Bible, and empty salvation of its ethical meaning. Christ came to save his people from their sins, not in them. Such passages as Eph. 5:5–6, Phil. 3:18–19, and Heb. 10:26–29 declare very plainly the certain doom of those who continue in the practice of sin or open apostasy, no matter who they are. But positively, the doctrine of Eternal Security does mean that God secures the final salvation of all true believers, and by means of this very security He keeps us from that practice of sin or apostasy which would lead surely to perdition. And when we say that God secures our salvation, we mean that He secures the present salvation as well as the future, that He secures our continuous salvation as well as the final, and also secures the means as well as the end. Like many other Biblical truths, there are two distinct sides to the truth of Eternal Security: First, on God’s side, He preserves the believer. Second, on our side, we must persevere. These two things always go together, and to neglect either will get us into trouble. But we must never forget that our perseverance is the result of God’s preservation. We persevere because God preserves us. “Work out your own salvation….for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13. Compare also I John 3:9, Jude 21 with 24, and 2 Tim. 2:19, for the relation of these two sides of the truth. (Alva J. McClain, “‘Eternal Security’ and the Brethren Church,” Brethren Evangelist 15 April 1939, p. 50; McClain was the first president of Grace Theological Seminary and one of the editors of the New Scofield Bible).
“Unbelievers are warned that they will not have part in that kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5)” —J. DWIGHT PENTECOST (Things To Come, p. 471). Note: Hodges and Dillow insist that these three passages are not referring to unbelievers (as Pentecost claims), but rather to wicked believers who will lose their inheritance in the millennial kingdom and will not reign with Christ, but who will still be saved.
“‘To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The promise here mentioned for overcomers is not a message to a special group of Christians distinguished by their spirituality and power in contrast to genuine Christians who lack these qualities; it is rather a general description of that which is normal, to be expected among those who are true followers of the Lord. The Apostle John in his first epistle asks, ‘Who is he that overcometh the world?’ (1 John 5:5). He answers the question, ‘He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God’” —JOHN F. WALVOORD (Revelation, p. 59 under his discussion of Rev. 2:7). In contrast to this statement is the teaching of Hodges/Dillow who say that the overcomers are a special group of believers.
“James teaches that ‘Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone’; it is always attended by good works….A man may hear the truth and even say that he believes, but unless the fruits of living faith are evident in his life, he is not saved at all….Now if I say I have faith, but my life does not correspond to that which I profess, can the faith that I say I have save me? The answer is an emphatic ‘No.’ For a faith that produces no works cannot save anyone. There is no profit in a man claiming to possess something which he actually does not have….True faith necessarily results in fruit after its kind….The work of faith in a true believer will be indicated and proved by good works” —LEHMAN STRAUSS (Dispensational Conference Speaker), James, Your Brother—Studies in the Epistle of James, pages 103,104,105,110.
“James insists that a living faith will authenticate itself in the production of works. There is no antagonism between faith and works. They are not two totally distinct concepts, but rather two inseparable elements in salvation….James demands that the man who already claims to stand in right relationship with God through faith must by a life of good works demonstrate that he has become a new creature in Christ….In this passage [James 2] James insists that a genuine faith must prove itself by its production of works….A saving faith manifests itself in the production of works….Christian faith must manifest its existence in active obedience to God’s Word”—D. EDMOND HIEBERT [noted dispensational commentator], The Epistle of James—Tests of a Living Faith, see Chapter 5.
“James’ major point is that true faith will express itself in our doing of good works….James distinguishes between true or living faith and dead faith. The former is possessed and the latter is merely professed….What use or profit is there in saying I have faith if there is no corresponding external evidence of that alleged faith? The imaginary person lays claim to be a believer, and may even think he is one, but he gives no evidence of it in his life….Real inner faith wears the outward adornment of works acceptable to God—works undertaken, not in order to become a Christian but because one is a Christian….Genuine faith results in obedience and good works….Good works are the necessary product of genuine faith”—Robert P. Lightner, Solid Stepping Stones For the Christian Journey (Studies in James), pages 34-38.
Hodges and Dillow maintain that faith and works are totally distinct and separable and that a man of true faith may be devoid of good works.
Actually there is nothing new under the sun. What men such as Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin are promoting is not new doctrine at all. They are merely reviving the old “overcomer” movement, which was led primarily by Robert Govett (1813-1901), and also by David Panton (1870-1955), George Henry Lang (1874-1958), George Pember (1837-1910), Watchman Nee (1903-1972), etc. These men all divide true Christians into two distinct groups and they all teach some form of kingdom exclusion. Some of these men believed in a partial rapture. Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin do not go to the extremes of some of these men (especially when it comes to millennial punishment), but they do share a common theological framework with them.
It’s interesting that Schoettle Publishing Company (NC) published Joseph Dillow’s book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, the very same publisher that has published books by Govett, Lang, Panton, Pember, and more recently even the abominable book by J.D. Faust (The Rod–Will God Spare It?) which teaches that multitudes of saved people will taste of the second death and then be tortured in Hades for a thousand years! Dillow avoids the dangerous extremes of Faust, and yet he shares the same basic theological framework of Faust and these other men.
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Scott, would you do me a favor and copy the hyperlink to the article rather than the entire article?
Scott, I mean to do that for all articles to which you refer.
Yes Grant I will from now on. Sorry about that! I’m not sure how to send hyperlinks but I will get it figured out and if not then I wont send long articles. Yeah it takes up alot of space, feel free to delete it, – no offense here. Thanks goodday
Scott, just go to the page to which you want to refer and at the top of your browser highlight the entire hyper-link address then copy and paste to my page in the blog section.
Ok sounds simple enough even for me. Thanks- appreciate it
Scott, the author of the article above quotes some very fine men but draws conclusions beyond what most of them they are saying. I wonder how he would deal with David who committed adultery and murdered Bathsheba’s husband? David wrote two Psalms (32, 51) acknowledging his sin are return to God but it took him more than 2 years to do so.
Thanks for replying. Yeah I would have to agree with you. I felt the same way.
Im still immature in the scriptures but have learned alot from your commentary and I trust your commentary as being accurate. I have a background in charismatic churches in which the churches I was involved in were New Apostolic Reformation churches which believe in modern day apostles and prophets who still receive new revelations so they twist scripture to support their “new” revelations and experiences so they teach scripture out of context.
Once the Lord opened my eyes (“thank God”) to the deception(s) that I was believing, I was shocked and am trying to be very selective of which commentaries to read from my understanding of scripture. No one knows it all of course! Im better off with just the Bible on some things. I’ve learned some things in church but I want to learn more. Their seems to be alot of deceivers out there but im probably a little paranoid as well. Anyways goodday!
I would also just like to add that im not calling the guy that wrote the above article a deceiver because he teaches salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone but i was just saying in general.