James 2:18–26 (ESV)
Faith Without Works is Dead (Part2)
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed
by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And
in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
I often talk about “active faith” which James brings out in verse 22: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” I want to share an article from the Lutheran Study Bible
by CPH, page 2139:
James did not believe that we earn the forgiveness of sins and grace by good works. After all, he is talking about the works of those who have been justified, who have already been reconciled
and accepted, and who have received forgiveness of sins. Therefore, the adversaries err when they conclude that James teaches that we merit forgiveness of sins and grace by good works and that we have access to God by our works, apart from Christ as Reconciler.…
James said a little earlier that regeneration happens through the Gospel. For he says in James 1:18, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
When James says that we have been reborn by the Gospel, he teaches that we have been born again and justified through faith. For the promise about Christ is grasped only through faith when we set it against the terrors of sin and of death. James does not,
therefore, think that we are born again through our works.
From these things it is clear that James does not contradict us. He criticized lazy and secure minds that imagine they have faith, although they do not
have it. He made a distinction between dead and living faith. He says that faith that does not bring forth good works is dead. He also says that a living faith brings forth good works. Furthermore, we have shown already several times what we mean by faith.
For we do not mean passive knowledge, such as devils have. Instead, we mean faith that resists the terrors of conscience and encourages and comforts terrified hearts. Such faith is not an easy matter, as the adversaries dream. Neither is it a human power,
but it is a divine power. Through faith we are reborn and overcome the devil and death. Paul says to the Colossians that faith is powerful through the power of God and overcomes death, “In which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful
working of God” (2:12). Since this faith is a new life, it necessarily produces new movements and works. So James is right in denying that we are justified by such a faith that is without works. But when he says that we are justified by faith and works,
he certainly does not say that we are born again by works. Neither does he say that Christ is our Reconciler only partly, and our works are our atoning sacrifice in part. Nor does he describe the way of justification, but only the nature of the just, after
they have already been justified and regenerated. Here “to be justified” does not mean that a righteous person is made from a wicked person. It means to be pronounced righteous in a judicial sense, as in Romans 2:13, “For it is not the hearers
of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” These words “doers of the law who will be justified” contain nothing contrary to our doctrine. We, too, believe about James’s words, “A
person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24) because people are certainly pronounced righteous having faith and good works. As we have said, the saints’ good works are righteous and please God because of faith. For James praises
only works produced by faith, as he testifies when he says of Abraham, “Faith was completed by his works” (2:22). (Ap V 125–31)
I pray: O Lord, help me to not only to trust the faith
you have given me, but to actively live the faith that you have given me. May my faith produce works that bring you glory and benefit your kingdom. Amen.