• Can a living faith lapse into dead faith?

Text: James 2: 14- 26 (ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So 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 apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

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The answer to this question, "Can a living faith lapse into dead faith?" is explicitly answered in several places:

  • 1 Cor 10:12 also contains a stern warning from Paul, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
  • 1 Tim 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
  • Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins contains two classes of people called “wise” and “foolish”. All were invited to the wedding; All were virgins symbolizing purity, see Rev 14:5; All had lamps, ie, lights symbolizing Christ as the light of the world, John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5, Matt 5:14-16; All, at least initially had oil - but this is the crux of the parable - five virgins had enough oil and five did not have enough because they complained that their lamps were going out. In the NT oil represents the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18, Acts 10:38, 2 Cor 1:21, 22, 1 John 2:20). Thus, Jesus teaches that some who are called and have been given the Holy Spirit (see also Heb 6:4-6) can still be excluded from the Kingdom of God.

Thus, it possible to loose one's faith.

  • As mentioned in 2 Pet 2:21, the issue is the human will. You can choose to reject the faith. See also 1 Tim. 1:19 (ESV): holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, Oct 5, 2021 at 4:52

James 2:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

The implied answer is "no". Just because someone says he has faith, it does not necessarily mean that he really has faith.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Again, the implied answer is "no": it is no good.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Such self-declared faith is dead by definition according to James.

Dead faith, does James refer to the state of the faith or it never-was-a-living faith?

It refers to a self-proclaimed, non-existent 'faith'. A 'faith' that no one else can see because it shows no visible works.

Can a living faith lapse into dead faith?

The so-called faith here is never real in the first place.


Does James refer to the state of one's faith, or never possessing any?

(B. Can a living faith lapse into dead faith?)

Answer to both: All human beings exist in one of two states: 1) Faithful or 2) Lost.

There is no middle ground on this question, although some absolutely do fall away from their legitimate faith.

Biblically, faith consists of Belief, Repentance, Confession that Christ is Lord at Baptism, and Living a godly life thereafter. These steps are all works.

Belief is a work:

  • John 6:29: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'"

Repentance is a work:

  • Acts 26:20: "[Throughout] all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent... and do works befitting repentance."

Confession is a work:

  • Matthew 10:32: "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father."

Baptism is the work of God.

  • This is where we are cleansed of our sins.

You see, faith is perfected by our works of obedience. Because of our belief in Christ, we turn away from our sins (the Bible refers to this as “repentance”). We then acknowledge that Christ is the Son of God (this is the "confession" of Matt. 10:32) — upon baptism, where we are brought into union with the death of Christ.

Our emergence from the water is emblematic of His Resurrection, where we too are resurrected from our death to sin. We have been cleansed by God to become Christians — children of God:

  • Romans 6:3-4: "[Do] you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (emphasis added).

These are the minimum requirements to our life in Christ. We must never forget that, henceforth, we are to live lives of godliness. This is referred to biblically as "walking in the Light." We are continually cleansed of all sin and all unrighteousness (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7, 9) when we do this.

Christ was unequivocal in His message to the disciples:

  • John 14:15: “If you love Me, you will keep [obey] My commandments." (emphasis added).


What is the great takeaway regarding Abraham from the Letter of James:

  • James 2:21: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected"

Had Abraham not have offered up Isaac — the work that God instructed — he would not have been justified. And, what of Rahab?

  • James 2:25: "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?"

Had Rahab not have received the spies and led them away, she would not have justified by her works of faith. There is probably no Book in the Bible more specific to "works" than James. He leaves no doubt about the imperative of "works".

If this is insufficient, perhaps we should turn to the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11:

  • "By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain" (Heb. 11:4). Abel obeyed God's command to offer a proper sacrifice, unlike Cain.
  • "By faith Noah... in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household... and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." (Heb. 11:7)

Question: Would Noah have been saved had he not obeyed God and built the ark? Having done so, he "became an heir of the righteousness according to the faith."

  • Abraham, when called, obeyed by going out — by obeying God... not knowing where he was going. (Heb. 11:8).
  • Again, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac" (Heb. 11:17). This was a profound act of obedience to God.
  • "By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king [by obedience to God]; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen." (Heb. 11:27).
  • "By faith [the Israelites] passed through the Red Sea..." (Heb. 11:29). Would any of them have been saved if they had not obeyed God?
  • "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days." (Heb. 11:30). Had Israel not obeyed God's pattern, would the walls of Jericho have fallen?
This is the point that James' is making to all of us:
  • James 2:24, 26: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone... 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

As Dottard mentioned James 2: 14- 26 doesn't address this problem. However, one's theology needs to be consistent with this passage along with passages, such as "the one who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mark:13:13)." In that sense the question becomes academic, unless you discount God's sovereignty and open up what if circumstances, sometimes called straw men arguments.

How can we reconcile the lost faith passages Dottard reference verses passages like?:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36, ESV)

 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24, ESV)

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37–40, ESV)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:44–47, ESV)

but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:26–30, ESV)

You can either develop arguments to counter those on the other side, or you can seek to reconcile both. The conflict directly relates to determinism verses free will. This is a much larger problem for science than Christianity, because cause and effect has no room for free will.

Human choice exists because of God's sovereignty, not in conflict with it. The human mind (intellect, volition, and emotion) is evidence for God. A subset of that is the moral argument given for C. S. Lewis. In God's sovereignty he knows who will be saved and and knowing can take them away. Our inability to know our individual futures other than what the Bible reveals is essential to a freedom of choice. Thus, it is possible for a person to think they are saved, but end up being lost. Thus, from the human standpoint it is possible to loose faith and fall from grace. So, the important issue is assurance of salvation, which the Scriptures discuss.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:13–15, ESV)

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