“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
James now comes to the point of his discussion in this verse – an operative faith. An inoperative faith does not generate anything (2:16).
The word “thus” draws the conclusion to the analogy of the Christian who is heartless toward the poor by giving them empty words (2:16).
also faith by itself,
Faith unaccompanied by works is dead. James does not put faith and works in opposition, but he does put in conflict a dead faith that does not evidence anything. We cannot rest in a theoretical faith.
if it does not have works, is dead
Faith unaccompanied by action is dead. It lacks vigor and dynamic. It has no vital signs of a dynamic relationship with God. A genuine faith naturally generates divine production. Works prove that genuine faith exists.
This verse does not teach that a person who fails to exercise saving faith does not have genuine Christian faith. The point is that if faith does not produce anything, it is dead in its dynamic. The word “dead” does not mean that the faith is non-existent but dormant, inactive, or useless.
Faith without works is inoperative or inert.
Some Christians have a faith that is dead and not alive to the dynamics of the Word of God. God designed all production in the Christian life to depend on His provisions. We do not have the capacity to live the Christian life apart from God, making it possible.
Once we understand and believe a principle from God’s Word, we breathe out that belief by faith, resulting in divine production. Without that process, our faith is dead functionally. It is the active belief of our faith that makes the difference. Active faith in God gives life, and works show that life exists.
Faith assumes the absence of human merit. Faith, in itself, is a non-meritorious system of operation. The entire value of what we believe lies in the principles we believe. The object of eternal salvation is the finished work of Christ on the cross. The merit resides in that object. The subject who exercises faith has no merit in himself. Jesus is the only person who can satisfy (propitiate) a holy God. God treats us by His grace based on the finished work of Christ. He does this because He cannot compromise His own righteousness and justice. God’s provision is always the working object of our faith. This way of life always glorifies God, not man. Jesus did the work, so He gets the glory.
Faith is the means whereby we appropriate what God did for us in Christ. It is trust in what God did for us. God does the work under the principle of grace. So, faith in itself has no value before God but only faith in the efficacious work of Christ. Faith must have a working object.
Ac 18:27-28, “And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.”
Ro 4:16 “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…”
Ro 11:6 “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.”
All the believing the world will make no impression on God at the Great White Throne (where non-Christians will stand before God). Non-Christians have faith, but the issue is not whether they have faith but the object of their faith. If they stand there without faith in the finished work of Christ, there is no hope for them. The reason they stand at the Great White Throne is they rejected the person and work of Christ.
Thanks so much for this tremendously insightful exegesis!
Grant, I am so thankful that our Lord has given you this tremendous gift and verse by verse goal. I’ve noticed that James must be among the first books that you focused on (the year 2000}. James must be a foundational book in encouraging believers.
I’ve been a believer ever since a senior in college through the ministry of Campus Crusade in 1970. And I’ve sat under some very gifted pastors over the years. Yet you have brought faith and works together in my mind in such a way that it really filled some ‘holes’ in my thought process!
Thanks SO much for your ministry of encouragement, Grant.
Thank you Steve–your comments are a blessing. I was with CC for almost 20 years. This site was originally a CC ministry in Canada.
Thank you sir such a real, reliable and refreshable exegesis. God bless you !
Titus, thanks for the blessing.
I agree with Steve Landing. So thankful for your wisdom as I lead a Bible study of women through the book of James. Your commentary has been my go-to! Love your heart and clarity of Scripture.