HOW TO ENERGIZE OUR FAITH: RECONSIDERING THE MEANING OF JAMES 2:14-26

JOHN F. HART

Professor of Bible

Moody Bible Institute Chicago, IL

https://bible.org/article/how-energize-our-faith-reconsidering-meaning-james-214-26

I) INTRODUCTION

The members of a small group Bible study gather to discuss personal evangelism, none of whom have ever persistently shared their faith. How passionate do you suppose their conversation will be? The members of another small group Bible study also meet to discuss personal evangelism. But in this group, each Christian is taking bold steps to win others to Christ. They are actually doing evangelism, not just talking about it. It is not too difficult to visualize how differently each group might present their beliefs about reaching the non-Christian for the Savior. Nor is it too complicated to understand how one's belief in evangelism might be energized by the work of evangelism. Good works bring vitality and spirit to our faith. At the risk of oversimplification, this elementary but dynamic principle is what pervades Jas 2:14-26.

Because of various theologies and dogmas, evangelical exegesis of James 2 has unfortunately maintained a fixed focus that has obscured its perception of the chapter. In fact, I find that the traditional perspective of James 2 is so ingrained in our thinking that it is difficult for us to examine the passage with freshness and openness. The major traditional perspective on James 2 that stands out as a barrier to exegesis is the proposition that true faith always results in consistent good works in a believer's life. James 2 is most often used as the proof text for this conception. According to this viewpoint, James 2 is addressing the problem of people who falsely profess to have faith. False faith, it is reasoned, is merely an "intellectual" faith inadequate to produce the necessary good works that prove that such a person is a true Christian. Support for this definition of faith is thought to be resident in the statement of Jas 2:14, "Can such faith save him?" (NIV), or that of 2:17, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." Further support is garnered from the mention that even the demons believe (2:19)-a supposed example of false faith. In the final analysis, dead faith is equated with no faith at all. It is a false faith.

If this is James's purpose for 2:14-26, one of two primary responses surfaces. First is the response of complacency. I might say to myself, "I know I'm a Christian and bound for heaven. By God's grace, I have enough good works in my life to show it. These verses have no application for me because they are addressed to people who have false faith."

A second response is that of an unhealthy questioning of my salvation. I might say to myself, "I've trusted Christ as my Savior and thought I was a Christian. But now I'm not sure if I really have enough good works to prove it." Regardless of which response is the result, complacency or unhealthy introspection injures the Christian spiritually and the real impact of the passage is neglected.

James is one of the NT books that is extremely relevant for the twentieth-century church. Like American evangelicals, the Jewish Christians to whom James addresses his challenges are ensnared by worldliness (1:27b; 4:4) and are idolizing economic prosperity (2:2-4; 4:13). Their desire for material gain has prevented them from caring for the practical needs of others less fortunate (1:27a; 2:15-16). But much of the strength of James's rebuke of worldly Christians goes unheeded. The blame for this may well lie at the feet of the true-faith-versus-false-faith theology that has been made to override all other concerns in James 2 and the epistle as a whole. In my opinion, the primary purposes of the latter half of James 2 is to incite within the Christian reader the need to be active in doing more good works that meet practical needs. That kind of exhortation is radically lost if we force on the unit a false faith/true faith purview.

The very heart and method of James's appeal in chapter 2 is to arouse acts of mercy from those who know they have already received the mercy of God. James simply does not question the fact that his readers are true Christians. He appeals to them based on the reality of their new birth. Perhaps the most transparent statement to this effect is 2:1, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, do not show favoritism" (NIV). All that James has to say is designed to shake us "as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" from the comfort of worldliness and challenge us to meet the practical needs of others such as the needs of an orphan or a widow (1:26). He does so without ever finding it necessary to scrutinize our experience of salvation.

Many other Scriptures contradict the proposition that "all true Christians will produce good works that are pleasing to God." For example, the teaching of 1 Corinthians 3 must be brought into the discussion. Concerning the future evaluation of a Christian, Paul explains that each believer must stand before the Lord Jesus Christ one day to have his works examined. At that time all of our deeds will go through a "fire" that tests their quality. In some cases a believer's works may appear to be "good works" to others. But his inner motives may be impure (cf. Matt 6:1-18; Heb 4:12; 1 Cor 4:5), making the quality of his works unacceptable to God and therefore "burned up." Of this person Paul says, "He shall suffer loss, yet he himself will be saved" (1 Cor 3:15). This is an undeniable case of a Christian who is bound for heaven but does not produce enough good works to ultimately please the Lord and be rewarded. Like 1 Corinthians 3 and the Corinthian church, the pages of Scripture contradict the idea that genuine Christians will consistently yield fruit that pleases the Lord. The Bible is filled with commands directed to true believers to be busy in doing good deeds (Col 1:10; 2 Thess 2:17; 1 Tim 2:10; 5:10; 6:18; 2 Tim 2:21; 3:17; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:13, 8, 14; Heb 10:24; Jas 3:13; 1 Pet 2:12). It never presumes that good works will be done just because true faith exists.

II) THREE CENTRAL TEACHINGS FROM JAMES 2

There are three correct perspectives that arise from James 2. First, James is teaching that speaking our faith without doing our faith cannot meet practical needs. We see this illustrated in Jas 2:16 by a brother or sister who is without clothing, in need of daily food. James continues, "and one of you [i.e., one of you Christians] says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" Seeing a fellow Christian in need of food and clothing, this believer says to the destitute one, "Go, and may you be well cared for." "What good is that?" James replies. The point is that faith (i.e., true faith, if the term is needed for some) by itself, without works, cannot meet the practical needs of a person. Faith just cannot do that. But deeds can.

A second correct perspective in James 2 is that by its very nature faith is invisible, but can be seen through our good works. It cannot be concluded from this that good works must be present for true faith to exist. Nevertheless, works make visible to other people the faith that is visible only to God. An imaginary opponent challenges James by saying, "You can't see faith. Show me, even though I know you can't." James responds by declaring, "Indeed, you can see faith! You can see how Abraham trusted God when he offered Isaac on the altar. His faith and works were cooperating so that his faith became visible through his works."

A third correct perspective in this section is that when good works are added to our faith, our faith in Christ is matured. This is exactly the experience of Abraham. "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect (i.e., matured; Greek: teleioo")?" (2:22). Abraham's faith was matured when he added works to it. Certainly James is not suggesting that Abraham's work of offering his son Isaac in sacrifice proved his faith was genuine. The sacrifice of Isaac took place as much as thirty-five years after Abraham's justification by faith. Were there not many other earlier events that could validate Abraham's faith just as clearly? The point of v 22 is not the substantiation of faith but the maturation of it. Romans tells us that Abraham initially trusted in the God of resurrection, i.e., that God could bring life to his dead body (Rom 4:17-20). But when he offered up Isaac, Hebrews tells us (11:17-19) that he believed that God would resurrect his son from the dead. His belief in the resurrection was put to the test (cf. Gen 22:1) and as a result of his works, his faith was matured.

III) HERMENEUTICS, THE EPISTLES, AND JAMES 2

It is now common to view an epistolary introduction as an authorial device that announces the central themes of a letter. Like the growth of a flower, the prologue of an epistle is the thematic bud and the body of the epistle is the full blossom. Further, the conclusion and the introduction will often be joined with verbal and conceptual links that form a harmony of ideas, confirming the themes. These two hermeneutical principles form a check and balance system for interpretation. If I find in the body of an epistle several basic themes that are not found in the prologue or the epilogue, my exegesis may likely be faulty.

Traditional approaches to James 2 flounder against these hermeneutical tests. The issue of true faith/false faith does not appear in the introduction or conclusion of the letter. Nor does the introduction concern itself with a conception that true faith results in consistent good works. The opening of the epistle reveals that the saints to whom James writes are undergoing trials that are testing their faith (1:2). While some are convinced that this test is designed to separate genuine faith from spurious faith, such thinking is not readily evident. On the contrary, the testing process itself is a mark that one is within the family of God. As an OT believer, Abraham faced a test of his faith when he was commanded to offer up his son Isaac (Gen 22:1; Heb 11:17)-a test that forms the essential backdrop to the mention of this incident in Jas 2:22. The Father is in the business of putting his children into situations that will develop their trust in Him.

The potter does not examine defective vessels...What then does he examine? Only the sound vessels...Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, tests not the wicked but the righteous, as it says, "The Lord trieth the righteous."

What the introduction does present is a contrast between a mature faith and immature faith. James reminds his readers that trials can lead to endurance, and endurance should be permitted to "have its perfect [teleios] work, that you may be perfect [teleios] and complete, lacking nothing" (1:4). The same Greek root used in 1:4 is employed by James in 2:22 (teleioo") to describe the maturing of Abraham's faith. If the believer will respond to trials with joy and allow endurance to have its perfecting (maturing) work, he will develop a mature, complete character. Since immediately following the Jas 2:14-26 context the author brings up the thought of maturity again (3:2), there is no reason to think that the concept should not be given much greater weight in the James 2 unit than any conception of a so-called false faith.

IV) THE ANALOGY OF THE BODY AND SPIRIT

If we were to construct an analogy between the body and the spirit and the words "faith" and "works," how would we normally state the analogy? Invariably, our first response would be to say that "faith" corresponds to spirit and "works" corresponds to "body." Our reasoning would be that faith forms the inner motivating force and any good work must have faith behind it in order for it to be a valid good work, pleasing to God.

Such a theology is precisely what Paul teaches (Gal 5:16b; 1 Thess 1:3). Unfortunately, this is one of the causes of our misguided views of James 2. Paul's thoughts are erroneously superimposed on James. But James actually affirms the very opposite correspondence in the analogy. He summarizes this whole section (2:14-26) by saying, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." It should be carefully observed that "body" corresponds with "faith," and "spirit" corresponds with "works." A body without the spirit is analogous to faith without works.

James is teaching that faith without works is simply a cold orthodoxy, lacking spiritual vibrancy. Practically speaking, we might think of a "dead church." This is not to say that those gathering as part of this assembly are not Christians. As noted earlier James's concerns are more practical than theological. The real issue for these believers is the absence or presence of a freshness, vitality, and energy in their faith. When a Christian engages in practical deeds to benefit others, James says our faith comes alive.

V) OBJECTIONS TO THIS INTERPRETATION OF JAMES 2

A) THE SALVATION IN 2:14

In rethinking James 2 with these insights, several objections may be raised against the overview presented so far. One might object by asking, Does not Jas 2:14 refer to a false faith that does not save? After all, it says, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" This objection is balanced on the unstable assumption that "save" (so"zo") in the verse is to be interpreted as a deliverance from eternal damnation. An exegetical conjecture as foundational as this must be proved as the intent of the author rather than assumed by the interpreter. There are numerous places where the NT (as well as the OT) refers to "saved" or "salvation" but the reference is not to justification or eternal life. Lexicographically, the nature of the salvation or deliverance cannot be found in the Greek words so"zo" ("save") or so"te"ria ("salvation") themselves. Instead, it must be determined from context. This exegetical-hermeneutical consideration must be allowed to bear on Jas 2:14.

Some versions have tried to assist the reader by translating 2:14, "Can that faith save him?" (NASB, italics added) or "Can such faith save him?" (NIV, italics added). Each of these translations have no clear justification from the Greek. They may also lead to the erroneous conclusion that there is a kind of faith in Christ that brings eternal life ("true faith") and another kind of faith in Christ that does not bring eternal life ("false faith"). In the Scripture, however, faith placed in Christ always results in eternal life. The Bible only mentions two responses to Christ: faith and no faith. What is labeled as false faith must be categorized biblically either by faith or unbelief. If the response envisioned is unbelief, then the word "faith" should not be used. In Jas 2:14, the NKJV, KJV, NRSV, and RSV are fully correct to translate simply, "Can faith save him?"

If James is asking "Can faith alone get a person to heaven?" a serious contradiction exists with other Scriptures because the question posed in the Greek of 2:14b demands a negative answer: "Faith cannot save him, can it?" Without a doubt, Paul declares that faith alone justifies us before God (Rom 1:17; 3:22, 26, 28, 30; 4:3, 5; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:8). Evangelical attempts to impose a true-faith-produces-works solution on the passage are not helpful. However, could it be that James is not talking about being saved from hell? Resistance to this possibility is strong. At least two objections are raised. First, some think that the merciless judgment mentioned in 2:12-13 must be the final judgment. As a result, the "save" in 2:14 must relate to eternal life. But surely this exegesis cannot avoid the charge of a works salvation since according to 2:13 the doing of mercy (= works) will bring mercy in judgment (= forgiveness and eternal life).

The reading of Jas 2:12-13 as a reference to our eternal destiny in heaven or hell also confuses the NT teaching on the Judgment Seat of Christ for the believer (2 Cor 5:10) with the final judgment of the unbeliever (Rev 20:11-15). If space permitted, a more detailed analysis could be presented to show the need to separate the Christian's judgment from the judgment of all unbelievers. Instead, two observations from the text will be sufficient to remove the objection. A judgment of believers must be in view in 2:12 because James challenges his readership to act like those who have been forgiven and freed from guilt. But unbelievers or false believers cannot act like they have been freed from guilt. Additionally, 2:12-13 corresponds to 3:1 as an inclusio. Therefore, the judgment mentioned in 3:1 corresponds with the judgment mentioned in 2:12-13. But in 3:1, James himself states that he will experience this judgment, and that it will involve greater strictness for him and for all teachers. Can anyone suppose that James thought of himself as appearing before God to determine his eternal destiny? Was heaven held in the balance for him? Absolutely not! But James did realize that even as the half brother of the Lord his life would inevitably pass through a scrutinizing evaluation by his Savior.

A second objection is raised against revisiting the "save" in 2:14. It is argued that "save" and "salvation" in the NT are so frequently used of deliverance from eternal destruction that it is nearly impossible that James uses the term differently. Schreiner writes, "[To take 'save' to refer to a deliverance from physical death] is an astonishing move since salvation and justification are typically associated in the New Testament with entering heaven." Schreiner demonstrates a common error in exegesis, namely, making exegetical decisions based on the major use of a word rather than context. Applying this "majority-use" principle, the spies (Greek: angeloi, "messengers, angels") that Rahab protected (Jas 2:25) would be angels rather than men, and the Christian believers to whom James writes would be gathering together in a Jewish synagogue (2:2, Greek: sunago"ge") rather than a Christian assembly.

But even more serious under this "majority-use" principle is the fact that Jas 5:15, "the prayer of faith will save [Greek: so"zo", italics added] the sick," must also have reference to entering heaven. But as it stands, I am aware of no evangelical that equates the "save" of 5:15 with eternal life. By far the predominant view is that the "save" of 5:15 speaks of a physical healing, i.e., a deliverance from physical death. The exegetical lesson to be learned is this: Jas 5:15 makes it thoroughly apparent that in his short epistle the author is fully capable of using the word "save" of something other than deliverance from eternal damnation.

In fact, the word "save" is used five times in James (1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:15, 20) and there are no clear-cut cases where the word simply means, "to be delivered from hell." In James 4:12 we read of the "Lawgiver, who is able to save [Greek: so"zo"] and to destroy." We may be tempted to read the verse as a description of the Lord's power over heaven and hell. But in the following verses (vv 13-15), the focus centers on one's temporal life. James addresses a person who plans a future business deal in another country without taking into consideration how long he might live. "For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that'" (Jas 4:14b-15). James is clear: "Life is fleeting! It is best that you include God in your plans, for He alone has the power to preserve your life or to take it."

The final two uses of "save" in the book of James (1:21; 5:20) both use the phrase, "save the soul," perhaps better translated "save the life." Studies on this phrase have been developed by Dillow and Hodges,  and do not need to be repeated here. The following conclusions can be drawn. First, in the LXX, the phrase means "deliverance from physical death," and never relates to eternal salvation. Second, the NT continues to use the phrase in the identical sense (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; cf. 9:56, Majority Text and the TR). Third, building on the literal meaning of the phrase (deliverance from physical death), Jesus taught a metaphorical meaning of the term "save the life." Fourth, in Jas 5:20, it is a fellow believer ("Brethren, if anyone among you," italics added; 5:19) whose "soul [life] is saved." To further clarify that physical death is in view, the verse adds the words, "from death." The fifth point is an observation not directly made by Dillow or Hodges. The use of the phrase, "save the life" in 1:21 and 5:20-the first and last use of the word "save"-constitutes another inclusio in the book. Like parentheses around written material, it appears that James intended to use this inclusio to mark out a controlling theme for the intervening material and the remainder of his uses of "save." We conclude, then, that there are very good reasons why James 2 may be saying, "Can faith alone save you from the devastating consequences of sin, ending in physical death?"

At first, the thought of being saved from physical death seems rather insipid. However, James's Jewish readers would have been steeped in the OT. According to the OT, sin naturally leads to an early physical death. Even the one commandment that contains a promise ("Honor your father and mother") promises a long life on the earth (Eph 6:2). It is a clear fact that sin tends to shorten one's life. James's point is that just because someone believes in Christ does not mean he is going to escape the devastation of sin and its ultimate consequence of physical death. New Testament Christians must realize that physical death is still a serious penalty for sin (1 Cor 11:30).

B) THE FAITH OF DEMONS (2:19)

The second major objection to our approach to James 2 is this: Does not Jas 2:19 demonstrate the nature of a false faith when it mentions the faith of demons? Since I have dealt with this verse more thoroughly in another article, I will summarize the salient arguments that respond to this objection. Three factors militate against using Jas 2:19 as evidence of a false faith. First, the content of the faith described in 2:19 is not Christ but monotheism. The text says, "You believe that there is one God...Even the demons believe." No one has ever been justified before God by faith that God is one. So then, using Jas 2:19 to compare false faith to true faith is a proverbial "comparing apples to oranges." If the passage said, "You believe that Jesus is the Christ and your Savior; the demons also believe that," then perhaps we could draw a theological lesson on the nature of faith.

Second, it is theologically unsound to compare any kind of faith (true or false) expressed by demons with faith in Christ exercised by people. Where faith is concerned, the spirit world cannot be compared with the human world simply because there is no salvation for demons even if they did believe (Heb 2:16).

Third, it is highly likely that the words of 2:19, which include the phrase "the demons believe," are not the teachings of James. Instead, they are the words of the imaginary objector that James introduces in v 18. It is surprising for some to discover that serious confusion exists on how far the objector's words should extend. In an examination of varying English versions, the ending quote marks of the objector's speech can be found in four different locations. How far, then, does the objector's words extend? In 1 Cor 15:35-36 and Rom 9:19-20 where an imaginary objector is introduced, the apostolic reply is initiated with a statement about the foolishness of the objector. James 2:19 is very parallel with the censorious address, "O foolish man." Verse 20, therefore, begins James's reply and v 19 originates in the mouth of the objector.

Time and space limitations prevent further exegetical details. But what can be said (though without further proof) is that the objector denies the visibility of faith in someone's works, while James insists that it was clearly seen in the works of both Abraham and Rahab. So then, for the three reasons listed above, Jas 2:19 must be eliminated as a support for a false faith/true faith theology.

C) JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS

A third objection centers on the concept of justification by works in James 2. The question is often asked, Is not James implying that if someone is truly justified by faith, he will do good works? Appeal may be made to v 24 for support: "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (NIV). In answer to this objection, it may be helpful to discover that in Scripture, justification means "to be declared righteous." But there are three kinds of justification in the Bible. First, there is a justification by faith alone, which is a justification before God. Paul is clear in teaching that justification by faith is in the sight of God (Rom 3:20; 4:2; Gal 3:11). The good news of the gospel is that at the first moment of faith, the new believer is forensically declared to be just as righteous as Christ is righteous!

A second kind of justification is a justification by works (or faith and works) before God. That kind of justification is always presented in Scripture as heresy as is evident by Paul's discussions in Romans and Galatians (Rom 3:20, 28; 4:2, 6; Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10). But a third kind of justification in the Scriptures is a justification by works. James specifically mentions the phrase "justified by works" three times (2:21, 25, 26). Justification by works is in the sight of people, not God. This is the logical conclusion given the fact that James is responding to an objector who holds that faith cannot be seen. James calls on him to "see" (blepo" v 22; horao" v 24) how Abraham's works justified him.  Paul, in full harmony with James, considered the possibility of Abraham being justified by works "but not before God" (Rom 4:2).

With this in mind, one can better approach the meaning of v 24. The traditional understanding labors, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to harmonize the verse with Paul by insisting that saving faith will inevitably produce good works. Far too much must be read into the verse to satisfy objectivity. A greater harmony with Paul is achieved by understanding the verse as delineating two kinds of justification. Several translations (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NJB) of v 24 utilize the word "only" rather than "alone": "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (NKJV). This translation opens the door to the alternative that James is referring to two different kinds of justification. His readers need to comprehend that justification by faith is not the only way a person is "declared righteous." The world is watching and it is good works that justify in the eyes of others.

D) DEAD FAITH

What then does James mean by "dead faith" (2:17)? The only definition James offers is that dead faith is a faith that "does not have works" and is "by itself." For Paul, that is the very faith that brings justification before God (Rom 3:28; 4:5-6; Gal 2:16). Evangelicals have been content to interpret dead faith as a false faith. The closest syntactical parallel to Jas 2:17 is found in Rom 7:8b, "For apart from the law sin is dead" (NASB). No one would suppose that Paul intended to say that apart from the law sin was "false sin" or an unreal sinfulness. Sin is still real and true sin, even apart from the law. The thought is that sin lies dormant and unrecognized until the law arouses it to action. In the same way, faith apart from works is true and real faith. But works have a way of enlivening faith and arousing it from abeyance.

If the Critical Text of 2:20 is accepted, faith without works is considered "useless" (argos). But regardless of the reading in v 20, James has implied this uselessness of faith without works by calling into question its "benefit" (ophelos, vv 14, 16). James, however, does not insinuate that faith without works cannot give eternal life. His interest resides in pragmatic matters. He has prepared for the thought of a useless, "dead" faith in 1:26-27. In those verses he faulted a devotion to the Lord that did not control the tongue or care for the needy. He concludes that, "this one's religion is useless (mataios)." If a Christian does not bridle his tongue, is that reason to question his conversion? Said politely, such an interpretation misses the point. James is declaring that religious devotion that does not act mercifully to the needy or does not speak mercifully to others is devotion that is impractical.

It is valuable to return to the themes of the epistle introduced in the opening remarks of the book. After James reaffirms that endurance can mature our faith, he admonishes us to ask God for the wisdom we lack. But we must "ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind" (1:6). In this context, there is no impression that those who lack faith in prayer are false Christians. To the contrary, the terminology identifies an immature believer. While the readers trusted God for their eternal life, they doubted He would give them wisdom. The result of this lack of faith is that the believer's life becomes unstable and immature (1:8). This theme of immaturity is carried further in 2:5 where James affirms that the economically poor believers are "rich in faith." The tacit contrast is between a poor (weak) faith and a rich (mature) faith, not a true faith and false faith. Finally, the elder as a righteous man can offer a "prayer in faith" (5:15) for the sick. To do so is to offer a prayer that "works" (5:16; Greek: energeo"). Once again, it is ludicrous to suppose that James contrasted a prayer offered in true faith with some sort of prayer offered with false faith. But he does imply that not all Christians are able to offer such mature, powerful prayer. All of these factors lead to a single conclusion: "dead faith" for James is an immature, weak faith and not a false faith as so many have supposed.

VI) CONCLUSION

We have discovered three central lessons in this passage. First, speaking our faith without doing our faith cannot meet practical needs. It is easy for us to talk our faith yet not do it. We are sometimes of the opinion that if we have talked about it, we have done it. If we have talked about the crisis pregnancy center and our stand against abortion, we think we have done it. We gather together in a prayer meeting and talk about prayer, so we think we have done prayer. We talk about evangelism, the poor, and other issues, yet we still avoid the effort of acting on our faith! The end result is a self-deception about how well we are doing in our dedication to God (1:22, 26).

There is one group of Christians who are most susceptible to the self-deception of talking our faith and not doing it. Notice that immediately following Jas 2:14-26, James directs his attention to the subject of the tongue (3:1ff). In the very first verse of this new unit, he describes the ones who most easily fall prey to talking faith but not doing it: teachers of biblical truth! The irony of this is that we evangelical teachers and preachers who need to learn this truth most desperately are the very ones who have obscured it the most. By reducing James to a theological treatment on the nature of faith, it is easier for us all to avoid the real unsettling challenges of James to help others like the poor. Even my own writing on the obligation to move beyond merely talking our faith does not go beyond talking my faith. While I may find a sense of fulfillment from the Lord in exhorting others to do good works, I am not by that writing and teaching released from the obligation to be engaged in good deeds myself.

Second, faith that is invisible can be seen through good works. You can see a person is trusting God by their works. If we do not see the good deeds, he or she may still be a Christian. But his or her faith is not visible. Yet when good works are there, we can say, "Yes, I can see that that person is trusting God."

Third, when good works are added to our faith, our faith in Christ is matured. We cannot move on to maturity until we actively participate in meeting the needs of the unfortunate, such as the care of widows and orphans. The way that I energize my faith, then, is to act on the real thrust of James 2. I must add to my faith the good works that will meet practical needs.