This passage in the book of James is one of the main thrusts of this particular epistles and contains one of the most hotly contested views and interpretations in scripture. It looks at the relationship between the things we say we believe and the actions we do as a result of it that has led some to believe that James espouses a “works righteousness.” Our relationship with Chirst is transformative in that it seeps into every creavase of our being. While the bible does contain many commandments for the Christian to follow, this is not the point. The point of the Gospel is that we are saved and transformed by the power of God and guided towards a new way of living. If we believe that Jesus Christ came and died for our sins then we understand that He is offering us a new and transformed life. Our faith goes beyond mere knowledge and straight to expressing that same belief.
‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’
More Than Knowledge
James makes it abundantly clear that knowledge or belief is not what saves a person. We can believe all the right things and still not necessarily be saved. James cites that demons know the identity of God but that their fate is sealed. We are saved by faith, that much is clear throughout the whole of the bible and not disputed. James adds the idea that faith must be expressed. Similarly, knowing the plan of a diet will not produce weight loss, however, living out what you have learned will. We can understand the intricacies of our faith, but if we truly believe that Christ is transformative to our very core, we will be changed by our relationship with Him.
More Than Not Sinning
The reductionist takes the concept of right living and reduces it to simply “not sinning.” Yet, it is of note here that James is not referring to sin here. James is referring to helping the poor and those in need. Morally speaking, a person is under no obligation to provide grace to another. Obligation would make it not grace but law. Yet, these opportunities reveal what has occurred in our heart. When the transformative grace of Jesus Christ takes over, we become renewed by that same grace. Things we were under no obligation to do, like help those in need, are things we cannot help but do. All of this is not to earn our salvation but is a response of our salvation. We have been changed by grace and show that grace to those around us.