Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.

Faith Without Works Is Dead (James 2:17) and Is Not Biblical Faith

Summary:  All too often one hears Christians say things like, "I don't want to get into a works trip!" That's a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. And it will keep them from developing the kind of faith that pleases God, who said in His Word the Bible that "faith without works is dead." Or some may just be cringing: "Oh my, another 'faith without works is dead' sermon." But, my friends, if your response to the title is anything other than a hearty "Amen!" you run the risk of living out your life with a supposed 'faith' that is different from the Bible's definition of faith. Who would want what God calls a dead faith? I wouldn't. And I don't think you would either.

Hebrews 11:6
  And without faith it is impossible to please God

No faith = no pleasing God! So it’s obviously of urgent importance that we have faith as God defines it in His Word, the Bible.

Faith is not just mental consent to truth. The Bible tells us that “the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19, KJV). Satan and his demons certainly acknowledge the truth that there is a God, yet they tremble in fear at the thought and are not saved! Their mere intellectual assent to God's existence is not biblical faith.

Right at the outset let me state where we are going with this line of thought. That is, faith and works go together. Sad to say, I’ve heard Christian friends speak condescendingly of works as a “performance mentality.” That phrase has a catchy ring to it, and gullible Christian believers (or sometimes those looking for an excuse for their conduct) grab hold of it, much to their spiritual detriment. The Bible doesn’t speak of faith as something we can hold intellectually and conceptually without a demonstrable expression of our faith. Biblical faith is active, not passive. Let’s read on in chapter 11 for some examples.

Hebrews 11:4  By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did.

Abel didn’t just exclaim, “God, I believe in you.” No! His act of bringing an acceptable offering validated his faith — By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings” (vs. 4b). And Abel’s example of faith, demonstrated in his offerings, “still speaks” (4c) to us today, as we read that God commended him as righteous when He looked upon Abel’s faith-prompted offerings.

Hebrews 11:7  By faith Noah, when warned [by God] about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.

“By faith Noah…built an ark.” Noah’s faith in God’s warning prompted him to work as God had commanded him. How do we know that Noah had faith? By the observable work that he did. This verse also adds an additional insight — “Noah…when warned by God…” Faith is not just launching out blindly and hoping somehow we stumble upon the right path. Noah had a word from God: Build an ark! And “by faith…[he] built an ark.” We see the same pattern in Abraham.

Hebrews 11:8  By faith Abraham, when called [by God] to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

The Genesis account tells of God calling Abraham to leave his native country and go to a place that God would show him. Did Abraham respond in faith? Yes. How? By obeying and going as God had directed.

Hebrews 11:23  By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Again we see faith with works, faith with action. By faith Moses’ parents hid the newborn baby for three months, unafraid of Pharaoh’s edict that the Hebrews baby boys should be killed. How about Moses himself when he was a grown man?

Hebrews 11:24-26  By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Moses chose a course of action for his life. He sided with the Hebrew people of God rather than indulging himself with the fleeting pleasures of a sinful life in Pharaoh’s palace. This showed Moses’ faith (“by faith Moses…refused…chose…”). But what does the Scripture tell us about Moses’ faith? It was demonstrated by his works! “By faith…he refused [luxury, and]...he chose to be mistreated with the people of God…” rather than to bask in pleasures as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. What motivated Moses’ inspiring faith-and-works example? By faith he chose these actions “…because he was looking ahead to his reward” beyond this life. (I’ll say more about rewards shortly.)

More examples could be drawn from the Bible’s heroes of faith. But let these suffice for the moment. We have seen a clear pattern: the faith of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses’ parents, and Moses was demonstrated by works. The biblical writer James gives us an unmistakably clear statement of this principle.

James 2:17-19, NKJV  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

Vs. 17, NASB  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead

In a word, faith without works is dead! So the Christian believer who dismisses works as a “performance mentality” is indicting himself as having dead faith! The demons, says James, have dead faith. Oh yes, they are quite well aware that there is a God in heaven (19). But just acknowledging that to be truth is not faith; it is “dead.” Mental consent is not faith. By contrast, biblical faith is demonstrable — “I will show you my faith by my works,” said the inspired writer.

“But wait!” some might be saying. “I thought that works are not what get us saved.” And those who say that are correct. Let’s see some Scriptures that put faith and works in the right perspective.

Titus 3:5, KJV  Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us

That is very clear. We are not saved by good works. You cannot work hard enough or well enough to earn salvation. No one can, no one ever did. Its took the perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the cross of Calvary to secure our salvation. The apostle Paul writes further on this.

Ephesians 2:8-10  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This powerful Scripture portion gives us a holy perspective on the faith-works connection. First of all, our salvation is “not by works.” We don’t deserve it, and we cannot earn it. Quite to the contrary, we are saved by grace, through faith. We become a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) through “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21, NASB).

But…notice (vs. 10) that as these new creations in Christ, we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” In brief, we don’t do works to get saved. We don’t do works to stay saved. We do works because we are saved! We are born again, we become new creations in Christ, “to do [the] good works” that God has in mind for us to do.

Our Christian walk is a walk of faith. Not of mere intellectual consent to truth, but an active embracing of God’s truth that motivates us to good works. Otherwise, faith without works is dead. God expects us to show our faith by our works (James 2:18). We are saved by grace through faith, not by works, that is certain. We live that faith out in active obedience to the Lord in a life of holiness, devotion to the Lord, and a doing of the “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). And that is the context of James's statement that faith without works is dead. Not works to get saved, but works that are the expected fruit and evidence of our salvation by grace through faith.

Have you come to Jesus in simple repentance for sin and faith in Him and His death and resurrection for our sins? Then you are saved, born again, a child of God heading toward eternity with the Lord. Meanwhile, we have a life to live out on earth for the glory of God. And it is God’s desire that we live that life here on earth in a faith walk that motivates us to the good works that He has determined for us to do. As you look forward to the coming of the Lord, be reassured by Jesus’ words: “…behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.” (Revelation 22:12, NKJV).

We will be among the redeemed by grace, through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). You will be blessed beyond earthly imagining at Christ’s Second Coming, because you have built your life upon the one true foundation, Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). There will also be a dispensing of rewards by the Lord to His saved people, and that is very much related to the quality of our works (vss. 12-15). So be diligent to be among those who have “believed in God … [and] devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8, ESV). That is the kind of faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6ff).


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Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.