18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
James here is continuing his explanation of faith and works by using two examples from Israel’s history. The first half of this passage asks some soul searching questions and makes a point that we too easily forget. Let’s first recognize that in the first sentence, you have faith and I have works is the challenge of a naysayer to James’ point. The follow on, “show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by works is his reply. Think about it, how can we prove to ourselves that we have faith? Is it simply by our internal desires or thoughts?
If we truly have faith in Christ as our Savior and that God loves us as much as He does, then will not our actions change? For our true faith in Christ results in the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which in turn causes us to change from the inside out. People notice when we have given our lives to Christ. They tell us we are different. We do things differently. THIS is what James is trying to capture and explain. Let us realize, that as verse 19 unfolds we recognize that simply believing God exists is not enough. Even the demons and Satan himself recognize the existence of God. In simply recognizing the existence of God, the works of demons do not reflect the faith in Christ as Savior, and therefore reflect the absence of that faith. Our works as a result of our faith is a justification of our faith. James uses the example of Abraham and Isaac.
In following the life of Abraham (originally Abram), we see that his faith was not “perfect” in the beginning. Even though he had faith and did many things that were honorable in the sight of God, he still wavered in his faith. Think of the times he lied to others in order to protect himself, despite jeopardizing his wife. How about when he slept with his concubine to produce a child since his wife was barren, even though God promised him to be a father of many? It was in trudging through these stumbles in faith that Abraham was built up by God to be perfected in faith. This perfection through perseverance (as we saw in James’ opening to this letter) is witnessed by following God’s order to sacrifice his only son. But Abraham’s faith in God was witnessed by the unquestioning discipline and because of it, God not only prevented Isaac from being sacrificed, but proved Abraham worthy of the blessing He promised. If Abraham just talked to God about it instead of following through, do you think the end result would have been the same?
Similarly in the story of Rahab, (Joshua 2) we see the Israelite spies taken in by her in the city of Jericho. She had faith as a result of what she had seen God do for Israel and in turn, acted in faith that God would provide if she served Him by protecting and helping the spies. She, along with her family, were spared from the carnage that fell upon the city. If she simply prayed to God that she had faith in Him but did not act on it when given the opportunity, then it would have been proven that her faith was merely words.
It is the presence or lack thereof our acts in accordance with our faith that proves that we possess genuine faith. If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then our actions will begin to show it. Granted, an instant transformation is usually not the case, however the desire to please Him by our actions is our “fruit of the Spirit” and therefore justifies our faith. Likewise, our actions can also prove our lack of faith, as Christ once explained that a bad tree yields bad fruit and a good tree yields good fruit, we see this in the actions of a person without faith in comparison to the actions of a man with faith.