Deconstructing James 2:17

James 2:17 (ESV)
“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Real faith regenerates. If it is not making a dramatic change in one’s self, it is likely defective, or at worst, completely absent and non-existent to begin with. This is the crux of what James is stating.

Initially, Martin Luther was deeply troubled by James’ emphasis on deeds, and considered the epistle to be an “epistle of straw”. His initial conclusion was one many of us make in that he saw a direct contradiction between James and Paul, since Paul was adamant that we are saved by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28). Luther would later admit that he was wrong in holding such a belief.

While Paul does state clearly that faith alone saves us, he is in agreement with James that saving faith will always manifest itself in loving deeds. He did see them as inextricably linked as he concluded in Galatians 5:6 and in his list of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

What James states can apply to many of us today. We can declare, “I believe”, but what does the way we live our lives say about that? Is there evidence of a life transformed?

We are not saved by works, nor could we ever be, but our works show that we are saved. If others cannot see God’s love in us then what evidence is there to show we are saved? Remember, even the demons believe in God (James 2:19).

Faith therefore, is more than informed belief—more than knowing what to do. It is a profoundly intimate relationship with God that involves an agreement of mind, body, and soul with all that God has in mind for us. It is not a resting faith; one that believes now but will act upon it at a later date. Authentic faith bears much fruit from hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17); there is no mention of a time differential between hearing and doing.

This is why application is so critical for us when we study the Bible. We should not study just for the sake of knowledge, as this could dangerously lead to the sin of pride, but rather learn of God with the goal of applying His Word in our daily walk. It is not just our minds that should be stimulated; but our hearts.

When Jesus told His followers to let your light shine via your works (Matthew 5:16), He was affirming the need to go beyond a simple “I believe” and be what James alluded to when he wrote to be doers of the word, not just hearers (James 1:22). Jesus exemplified an earthly ministry of good works as did His disciples. There was no better evidence of a life transformed than what took place in the Upper Room at Pentecost.

So, show your works. Live out your life in the Light of the free gift you have been given and in doing so, will produce a saving—and hopefully highly contagious—faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.