Ephesians 4:3-6; One Faith – Clarifying James 2, part 11.

Class Outline:

Thursday, April 22, 2021


Dead orthodoxy has always been a danger to the church. It appeals to those who want to hear and not do. But the antidote is a simple one: act upon the word and obey the commands and do the will of God in obedience, having faith in its righteousness and outcome.


The final sub-section of 1:21-2:26 is 2:14-26.


James returns to the thought expressed in chapter 1 about “saving the life.” He insisted that this was only possible when one was a doer of the word. He now wishes to dispel of the thought that faith alone in Christ will deliver a believer from the consequences of a sinful life. The Corinthians are a prime example. “Are you not carnal? Are you not like mere men?”


Can the fact that a man holds correct belief in Christ and the Bible preserve him from the consequences of sin if he is not a doer of the truth he claims to believe?


The parallel that James draws to faith without works is giving your best wishes to someone in need but failing to fulfill the need when you can. This is a perfect example that he gives. It is termed antinomianism, which is to claim one thing and then do another. If a man is saved and possesses eternal life by faith in Christ, but then stifles that life in consistent disobedience and sin, he is as a man to sees a hungry person who has no food while he carries sacks of groceries and says, “Be well, I will pray for you.”


Faith without obedience to God doesn’t make a blessed experience in life, much like encouraging words to a hungry man when you are holding bread.


JAM 2:14-17

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 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? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.


“Can that faith save him?” = Can that faith save his life (from the consequences of sin which is deathlike)?


Callous conduct on the part of one believer toward another is precisely what James is warning his readers against. “Visit orphans and widows in their distress …” (1:27) and paying more attention to the rich and ignoring the poor (2:2-6).


So James concludes that faith by itself is dead. Why does he use the term “dead” instead of “not working,” or “doing no good?” The context of his letter is the issue of life and death for a believer in this world, not heaven or hell, but a blessed life vs. a non-blessed one, or sanctified vs. non-sanctified.


James maintains the imagery of life and death for blessed life of a Christian and a non-blessed life.


To any believer this is a common concern and one that they desire to rectify. Any believer in Christ has to know on some level that there is a blessed life in Him. Anyone who knows they are saved eternally must know that they have come in contact with the divine. The Holy Spirit convicts them of it (ROM 8:16) - “and if children, heirs also.” Knowing its potential, they desire it, but often think the obstacles that prevent them from it are either immovable or too difficult to overcome. But then, the promises in the scripture encourage them, if they are hearers of the word, that God has given them much more than sufficient power to overcome.


Then a common technique of using an imagined objector. Paul does this same thing in 1CO 15:35-36 and ROM 9:19-20.


1CO 15:35-36

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" You fool!


ROM 9:19-20

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary …


The imagined objector - 2:18-19. James’ rebuttal - 2:20-26.


James does not expect his words to go unchallenged among his readers. According to James’ description of them, they do not have works. Their objection would be that there is no connection between faith and works.


The exact extent and meaning of the objector’s words have long been a problem to commentators.


JAM 2:18-19

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.


Notice that the NASB puts quotes on vs. 18 but not vs. 19. The NKJV only puts quotes on “You have faith and I have works,” signaling that only these are the words of the objector. There are no quotations or punctuation at all in the original letter.


A vital question is if vs. 19 contains the words of the objector that James imagines or it begins James’ rebuttal. Strictly according to the language, it would seem that James’ rebuttal starts in vs. 20 with the conjunction de.


JAM 2:20

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?


By making vs. 19 to come from James, it can suggest, as many have tried to press, that our faith in Christ is no different, nor more valuable, than the demon’s belief in God’s singularity.


I have heard people use this to say to believers who don’t seem to have any good works. The statement, “the demons also believe,” only makes sense in James’ argument if it is offered by the imagined objector and not James’ himself. Secondly, no demon ever believed on Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.


James is cleverly using diatribe in the form of reductio ad absurdum. If we want to show something to be true, we can construct its negation and show it to be false.


It is absurd, says the objector, to see an intimate connection between faith and works. Demons believe in God and so do men. A man’s belief might lead him to works, but a demon’s never will. All the demon can do is tremble.


Or in a more expanded way, “It is absurd,” says the objector, “to see a close connection between faith and works. For the sake of argument, let’s say you have faith and I have works. Let’s start there. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and demonstrate what it is I believe.” The objector is confident that both tasks are impossible. [Zane Hodges]


The impossibility of showing one’s faith from one’s works is then demonstrated by an illustration, “Men and demons both believe that there is one God, but their faith does not produce the same response. Man might do well, but demons never do well.” The objector thinks he has proven that faith and works have no connection at all. “So therefore,” concludes the objector, “a man might be a very mature and faithful believer in Christ, but you could never know. So stop telling me that I’m dead or that my faith is dead. You have no way of knowing it.”


We can understand that this is precisely the kind of thing that people who claim to have very spiritual lives that are not supported by fruit. Any challenge to their orthodoxy and they reply by stating that their maturity cannot be seen, that they are being wrongly judged, and that works do not show maturity.


When the objector says “You believe that God is one” he adds, “You do well.” He used the same phrase in JAM 2:8 except that the verb “do” in 2:19 is in the singular.


JAM 2:8

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.


“You do well,” is not necessarily the sarcastic comment that it often is in modern English.


This phrase (“you do well” or “you are doing well”) could mean that you do well to believe that there is one God or it could mean that the believer in God is doing well (faith and some works) while the demons also believe and only shudder (faith without works). What matters is that the objector concludes both man and demon have faith in one God and one does well and the other fears, therefore, nothing can be determined about faith. Remember, it is the objector saying this, not James. What he is saying may or may not be true, and James is going to show it to be false. The objector says that faith cannot be seen by works, contradicting James, but when James proves this false he proves his own statement true.  James will respond by saying that faith can certainly be seen in works, and he will use Abraham as an example for Abraham’s act is a sure result of his faith to anyone who sees it, even to those not of the same faith as Abraham.


In basic logic this is called reductio ad absurdum, which is a proof by contradiction. If the negative or opposite is false then the statement can be shown true.


If we want to show something to be true, we can construct its negation and show it to be false. James constructs an objector who says that the negation of James. If James can show him to be false then James is true.


In this case, if faith cannot be seen by works, then it is absurd to say that faith can be alive or dead by works. The objector, imagined, makes the case that faith cannot be revealed by works or no works.


It would be like a battery without terminals, in other words, it is a cell that is impossible to connect anything to. Could you determine if it was charged or not? No. The power may or may not be in the battery, but there is no way of empirically finding out. This is the argument of the imagined objector.


I would think that the ancient East under a Hellenistic education would have an easier time with basic logic than we in the modern west where they stopped making logic required coursework in school around 1900.


The objector sees no immediate connection between faith and works. He says something like, “You can no more take your faith and show me your works than I can take my works and show you my faith. Men and demons may even believe the same truth (that there is one God), but their faith has no correlation to what they do. That conviction may move a man to “do well, or right” but it never moves the demons to “do well.” All the demons can do is tremble.


Plenty of people then, as now, have been accused of a lack of faith because their orthodoxy doesn’t seem to produce any good works. They could make this argument: nothing about faith can be determined by work or no work. So watch it James. Don’t bad mouth the quality of my faith because I don’t give to the poor, I don’t set myself apart from the sins of the world, and I don’t control what I say to others.