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James 2:14-17

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no 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.

Can folks share their thoughts on the famous "faith without works is dead" and "can that faith save him" phrases in James? I don't see questions on this specifically in the SE archives.

We know that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is clear that none of us are righteous enough to be reconciled to God, as Romans expounds upon in detail. What, then, does James mean by this passage, and is salvation tied to works in some way? Not, perhaps, in the sense that we worked to be saved, but that works somehow "proves" we have been saved/changed by God, or that good works will naturally accompany faith in Christ, if that faith is indeed genuine?

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    How about a third choice, are we saved by faith that has works? – Jesus Saves Mar 17 at 2:56
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    Ephesians 2:8-9 does not say we are saved by a faith that is alone of good works. – Jesus Saves Mar 17 at 2:58
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    How do you define "salvation"? – user33515 Mar 17 at 10:47
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    Genuine faith is accompanied by good works. Dead faith is just that : dead and lifeless. I don't see a difficulty with this, myself. – Nigel J Mar 17 at 19:59
  • How about this, "Justification by faith alone does not mean justification by faith that stands alone! – Sam May 7 at 18:41
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Faith and belief are both from the word πίστις which means 'to be persuaded'. Biblical faith reflects two interlocking dynamics. The first is the mental acceptance of a set of facts which we regard as doctrine, the second is the action that responds to those convictions.

Belief is the fundamental structure for salvation, but belief is never presented in scripture as simply an intellectual exorcise. Biblical faith is more than just a simple acknowledgement of a set of revealed truths or doctrines. Faith is always presented as behavior that actively responds to the word of God. James makes the point that faith apart from obedience to the will of God is not faith. Faith is legitimized only when it is linked to action. We see this in a number of examples given by the Hebrew writer. In Hebrews 11 belief/faith is inseparably linked to active response that legitimizes what the mind has accepted as true. Without obedience to the will of God, there is no acknowledgement of faith. By faith, those offered as examples, did what God commanded; and because they did, God regarded them as faithful.

Belief is an exercise of the mind and obedience is the pragmatic response. Faith cannot exist one without the other. One simply cannot function without the other. Although “faith” and “belief” in the New Testament are translated from the same Greek word and are very often used interchangeably, there are time when one is clearly differentiated from the other. If there is a difference between faith and belief it would seem to be the difference between the cognitive response (which is the abstract intellectual exorcise of accepting something as truth), and the active response which is more concrete. This is the point James makes about faith. Faith itself is an abstract because faith is not something that can be seen. In order for faith to be legitimized, it must be demonstrated in observable behavior. You cannot see faith but, you can see the results of faith. It was incumbent upon Israel to do more than simply acknowledge the words of the Lord intellectually. They were to “observe all the words of this law to do them.”

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Luke 17:5-10 (DRB) And the apostles said to the Lord: Increase our faith. 6 And the Lord said: If you had faith like to a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea: and it would obey you. 7 But which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go, sit down to meat: 8 And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper, and gird thyself, and serve me, whilst I eat and drink, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? 9 Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him? 10 I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.

Here the Lord Jesus teaches us that good works - being good people - is our duty. It is not 'above and beyond' duty for a Christian. And how could that fail to be the case? He came to save us from sin, which began with Adam, and to restore Eden, bit by bit, end in heaven. This is where Jesus teaches that Christian good works exclude the "boasting" which St. Paul will often speak of, and exclude the view of works where God is indebted to those who please Him by living well.

Romans 11:35 (DRB) Or who hath first given to him, and recompense shall be made him?

If God is the One who forbears, and awaits while we sin, that He might have mercy on it, then He alone is the reason we are saved absolutely, and exclusively, because we could not do any works, much less pleasing ones, were it not for this forbearance. In this sense, and because of this, we cannot possibly be justified by works, but works must follow justification (or at least the grace which would lead to such a state).

Therefore, from both Jesus, and Paul, we know that grace comes first; and grace is had by faith or trust in God's work, and not our own. This excludes the Pelagian view of works - but not the historical view of works: that whether we good bad works, or omit to do our duty as moral beings, we sin, and fall out of friendship with God.

Protestants and others might have a knee-jerk reaction to this; however, nothing about grace means that free will is destroyed, any more than the grace that Adam had, and was commanded to retain, had his will overtaken or replaced by that grace: grace provides for that is not there - for what was lost - it does not possess a person; it is a gift never given where it is to become "a cloak for malice" (1 Pet. 2:16).

The means of regaining the friendship of God can be had by repentance, which Jesus speaks of profusely. This is not a work of man done which earns God's forgiveness, but the pleading to God, an act of faith, for his grace, of which you are in, quite literally, mortal need.

Therefore, salvation is preserved as being purely by the mercy and grace of God, excludes all boasting, and is had by faith in the work of Christ, but does not exclude works, only a certain view of works.

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"Faith" in Greek is πίστις (pistis). The exact same word is translated in English as "belief". In New Testament Greek there is no distinction between the two. True faith in the Lord is true belief in Him and vice versa.

If one truly believes in Christ, one follows His commandments. These are enumerated quite clearly in the Gospel, especially the Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew 25:35-40. How could one claim to believe in Him, yet deny the necessity of doing what He says? Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46). In this sense, salvation - whether one chooses to understand it as merely escape from hell, or something more noetic - necessarily requires us to do something (i.e. follow the Lord's commandments). These are the works which James is referring to.

This is reinforced in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

For you have need of endurance, so that after you do the will of God, you might receive for yourselves the promise (10:36)


Maximos the Confessor, a 7th century eastern monk and theologian, wrote a commentary here that seems amazingly contemporary:

Now perhaps someone will say: I have faith in Him and faith in Him is enough for me for salvation. But James contradicts him, saying: "Faith without works is dead" ... as also the works without faith ... But those who truly believed Christ, and, through the commandments, made Him to dwell wholly within themselves spoke in this fashion: "And I live, not now I; but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me"

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I think there was no rough distinction between Faith and Works as we perceive it today.

To have faith is to trust in God and accept his leadership upon you and submit to his will. So faith is not something other than following God/Jesus and doing his commandmends. If anyone loves (believes in) Jesus he does his commands.

Faith is not a believe in a historical event such as Jesus birth or death or whatever. In such case you are right to make such a distiniction between Faith and Works.

Faith is to believe and trust in Jesus and follow his commads. So actualy there is no faith without works or works without faith.

If so, then why Paul says that we are saved by faith and not by works? It is how to understand Paul here. He says we are saved by our faith in Jesus, it means by knowing God through Jesus and trust him in jesus and do our works as Jesus taught us. And in the same time we understand that if we depend on ourselves to know God through Moses Law or to appease God through our own works (alien from what Jesus taught) we are doomed.

So basically if we re trying to be saved by Law we become under the Law. yet if we accept the way that God offers in Jesus ,which is a gift we are saved by our faith in Jesus which normally means by doing his commands.

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I believe that the way to reconcile James with the rest of the Bible, Paul, is to realize that a) James and other saints were Judaizers to extents, influencing the churches and Paul:

If there comes into your synagogue a man with gold rings in splendid clothing...

Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And having greeted them, he related one by one the things which God did among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God and said to him, You observe, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews who have believed; and all are zealous for the law. And they have been informed concerning you that you are teaching all the Jews throughout the nations apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you: We have four men who have a vow on themselves; take these and be purified with them, and pay their expenses that they may shave their heads. And all will know that there is nothing to the things that they have been informed of concerning you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we have already written, having decided that they should keep themselves from idol sacrifices and blood and anything strangled and fornication.

Before some came from James, [Cephas] continually ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to shrink back and separate himself, fearing those of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away in their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not walking in a straightforward way in relation to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; and knowing that a man is not justified out of works of law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, we also have believed into Christ Jesus that we might be justified out of faith in Christ and not out of the works of law, because out of the works of law no flesh will be justified.

Certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And when no little dissension and discussion with them came about through Paul and Barnabas, the brothers directed Paul and Barnabas and certain others among them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this question...And when they finished speaking, James answered, saying, Men, brothers, listen to me...I judge that we write to [those from the Gentiles who are turning to God] to abstain from the contaminations of idols and...what is strangled and blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who proclaim him in the synagogues, he being read every Sabbath.

Jam 2; Ac 21; Gal 2; Ac 15.
And that b), kinda in line with user33515's comment above---How do you define "salvation"?---, Paul, in Gal 2:16 and Rm 3:21-28, addresses nonbelievers, 'sinners,' becoming believers. James's letter, re faith, justification, works, and salvation, addresses us believers' judgment by God (resulting in reward or loss--punishment. Not to our eternal destiny. Paul also, elsewhere, addresses judgment of believers.) There are these 2 broad judgments (Mt 24:45--25:30; Rv 20:11-15. And even a third, particular one, Mt 25:31-46).

Speak and so do as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For the judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What is the profit, my brothers, if anyone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

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This is a good question, and touches a very sensitive matter in Christian faith:

  • are we justified by faith alone, or by faith and works?
  • is or are there a level or levels higher than Justification, for example: Glorification?

If we take in account the higher level, then the issue is very clear.

Logically, Justification by works alone, while Glorification by both: works and faith.

How ?!

  • By works alone One is to be considered Justified in the eye of the Law and Community, regardless the intentions.

  • To win higher status One must has Faith also, beside works.

This is clear through the New Testament.

Thus:

  • Faith without Works is Nothing.
  • Works without Faith is Thing.
  • Works with Faith is more than a Thing.

I hope my words are clear.

I noticed misunderstanding and reversed understanding to this issue. For example:

According to Protestants justification is by faith alone – not through good deeds – and is a gift from God through Christ. Look [Justification (theology)- Wikipedia].

It is clear that Protestants didn't take in account the matter of higher status, like (Glorification).

They also didn't take in account the type of Sin, i.e: Sin for death and a Sin not for death. How the atonement act of Jesus atones for a Deadly Sin?

How a Sinner who committed a Deadly Sin passes by his Deadly Sin?

I hope my words are clear.

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  • How about this: Faith without work is hypocrisy; Works without Faith in Christ is philanthropy/charity; Genuine justification by faith is NOT the justification by faith that stands alone! – Sam May 7 at 18:55

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