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James 2

1 My brothers … don’t show favoritism. That is, do not take into account differences in men’s position and wealth. Do not look on a person’s outer appearance. In our minds, we are not to divide people into rich and poor, high caste and low caste, high rank and low rank. The light of the glory of Christ makes the glory of this world fade into nothing. Therefore, let us not look at a person’s worldly position or circumstances. Rather, we should look only at how much the light of Christ shines in his life. Instead of looking at man’s outward appearance, let us look rather at his inward spiritual qualities.

17 This is one of the most important verses in the New Testament, because it keeps us from misinterpreting some of Paul’s teaching. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul wrote that man is saved not by works but through faith. Many people misunderstand Paul, and begin to think that they no longer have to do any good works. They suppose that because man is saved through faith, good works are no longer necessary. They forget that Paul taught in other verses that good works are indeed necessary. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works. He also wrote: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).

James here seeks to correct the mistaken idea that Christians don’t have to do good works. Yes, it is true that we are saved through faith, not through works. No one can obtain salvation by doing works—no matter how many or how good the works are. This is true. But we must ask: What is faith? True faith is faith that is expressed by works. Works must always accompany faith; works are included in true faith. There is no such thing as true faith without works; true faith always gives rise to good works.

What good works? The works of obedience. The work that God wants us to do is to obey Jesus’ commands (John 14:15). And Jesus’ main command is: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).

Therefore, true faith always manifests itself by love (Galatians 5:6). If a man shows as much love for his neighbor as he does for himself, then we can be sure his faith is genuine.

First (before deeds) comes faith. Then, when we have believed, we become new people. True faith then causes a change in our behavior. God fills our life with His love through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). We receive new power to love our neighbor and to obey all of Christ’s other commands. And this new love and new obedience is the proof that our faith is indeed true.

Therefore, in summary, the New Testament teaches that we cannot obtain salvation by our own work and effort; rather, we obtain salvation through true faith. But true faith is always demonstrated by our love and obedience; ifthere is no love and obedience, then there is no faith. Deeds—that is, love and obedience8 —are the proof of our faith. Without love and obedience our faith will not save us; it is dead.

One of the two criminals who was crucified with Jesus believed just before he died (Luke 23:39-43). After believing, he had no chance to do any good works. From this, we know that he was saved through faith, and not through any works. But for those who do not die immediately after believing, their faith must be manifested by works of love and obedience as long as they live.

18 James here describes an imaginary conversation between two people. The first person says that only faith is necessary, not works. The second person says that both faith and works together are necessary. The second person (James) says to the first: “You have faith, you say? Show me your faith. You can’t show it, because your faith is without works. But I will show you my faith by what I do. My works are the proof of my faith.”

19 Here the imaginary conversation continues. The second person (James) says to the first person, “You believe that there is one God, do you? You think that by saying, ‘I believe there is one God,’ you can show you have true faith. But you’re wrong; that doesn’t show anything. Even DEMONS say that. Demons also believe there is a God; but their faith is false, because their works are evil.”

20-21 As the imaginary conversation continues, the second person (James) reminds the first person about Abraham. God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar (see Genesis 22:113; Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham had true faith in God; therefore, he obeyed God. Why was Abraham consideredRIGHTEOUS (verse 21)? Because he believed? Or because he obeyed? The answer is both. Abraham was considered righteous both because he believed and also because he obeyed.

22 Abraham’s faith and actions (obedience) were working together. Without obedience, faith is dead (verse 17). Without faith, obedience is worthless; it can never please God. Because without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Abraham’s faith came first. But only by obedience was his faith made complete or perfect. Faith without obedience is like a fruit tree without fruit; it is useless. A tree is “made complete” by its fruit. In the same way, our faith is made complete by our works, by our obedience. Men will recognize us by our fruit, by our obedience (Matthew 7:20).

23 James here quotes from Genesis 15:6. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS (see Romans 4:1-3). Again we must understand from this that man is considered righteous by faith. But that faith must be true faith—that is, faith that is expessed in love and obedience.

Here it is necessary to add to what was said earlier. Just as we cannot be saved by a faith without works, so we cannot be saved by works without faith. No man’s works—even his most noble religious works—can be perfect. Every person makes mistakes and sins from time to time. Therefore, on the basis ofour works we can never be considered righteous in God’s sight; and if we are not considered righteous by God, we will not be saved. It is only by putting our faith in the perfect work and righteousness of Jesus Christ that we ourselves can be considered righteous (see Romans 3:2224 and comment). We can never make ourselves righteous or obtain salvation by our own labor and effort. Only by receiving Christ’s righteousness through faith can we be considered righteous in God’s sight.

24 Paul has said in Galatians 2:15-16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 that man is justified (declared righteous) and saved through faith. This is true, and James agrees with it completely. James’ only point is that this faith must be true faith—that is, a faith manifested by love and obedience. Therefore, James says here that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. James’ meaning is that we will be justified only by a “working faith”—a faith that is manifested by works.

25 Here James gives a second illustration from the Old Testament, that of Rahab the prostitute (see Joshua 2:1-16; Hebrews 11:31). Rahab gave help to the spies sent by Joshua. How do we know that her faith was real? We know because of what she did. Rahab helped the Jewish spies to escape; that was the proofofher faith. And, as a result, Rahab herself escaped death; when Joshua and his army destroyed Jericho, he ordered that Rahab be spared (Joshua 6:24-25).

26 Again James repeats his main point: faith without deeds is dead (see verse 17 and comment). Faith without deeds is like a body without a spirit; such a body is spiritually dead. It is no better than a corpse.

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