This portion is often misinterpreted by those who believe the sinner is saved BY FAITH AND WORKS. Instead, James is teaching us that we are “saved by faith” and that the one who is saved will “manifest their faith by works.” In other words, we learn in this passage that “faith is the ROOT of our salvation and works are the FRUIT of our salvation.” Let’s take a brief look at these verses.

Verses 14-17: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has not works? Can THAT FAITH save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (NASB). Notice, James says, “If someone SAYS he has faith but he has not works, can THAT FAITH save him?”  Anyone can SAY they have faith, but if their faith doesn’t result in good works, “that faith” is a DEAD FAITH. It is a mere “profession of faith in Christ”; it is NOT genuine unless it is proven to be true by good works. Again, good works are the “FRUIT of salvation”; they naturally follow salvation as the evidence of faith. A famous saying comes to mind, “We are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone.” I like that!

Verses 18-20: “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.’ You believe that God is one, You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is USELESS?” James emphasizes the truth that “true faith and good works are inseparable.” A true believer is willing to “show you his faith by good works.” The mere professor of faith is unwilling to demonstrate his faith through works. Like the demons, he may “believe in God,” yet if they refuse to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation” (see Acts 16:31) they are FOOLISH and their so-called faith is USELESS, which means it (their “profession of faith”) does them no good.

Verses 21-26: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 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. You see that a man is JUSTIFIED BY WORKS AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE. 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? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” James now produces two well-known examples from the Old Testament to prove that “true faith will be proven by good works.” Both Abraham and Rahab “demonstrated their faith” by good works and in doing so they were “justified by works.” This is where most people get confused and argue, “Wait a minute, I thought the sinner was ‘justified by faith alone.’ So how could Abraham and Rahab be ‘justified by works?’” That is a good and fair question. The answer is actually quite simple. The sinner is “justified by faith BEFORE GOD,” and they are “justified by works BEFORE MEN.” The very moment that Abraham believed God he was seen as righteous IN GOD’S EYES (see Romans 4:1-4), but it wasn’t until he performed good works that he was seen as righteous IN MEN’S EYES. When men see a true believer showing his faith through good works they can then say, “Now there is a righteous man!” We saw in verse 18 that the believer is willing to “show you my faith by my works” and that’s exactly what Abraham did (and what all true believers will do). God can see the faith in our hearts; men, who can’t see our hearts, will see our faith demonstrated through works. James closes his case by repeating what he said in verse 17, “Faith without works is dead.”  (397.3)  (DO)