Saving Faith- James 2:14-26

In this passage, James describes for us two kinds of “faith”, telling us that there is a faith that saves and a faith that does not, and explaining to us the difference between the two. He begins, in verse 14, by asking a question which he then answers for us, and it is in this question in which we find his assertion that there are two different kinds of “faith”, faith that saves and faith that does not. He then presents for us the difference between these differing faiths, and the difference is “deeds” or “works” (Greek erga), telling us in verse 17 that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds, is dead”. This immediately brings us to an issue which some have raised of James here supposedly clearly contradicting Paul, who clearly states (Ephesians 2:8-9) that we are saved by faith and not by works. So is James here contradicting what Paul says, telling us we are saved by works? To use Paul’s own language “Absolutely not!”. The apparent contradiction occurs because Paul is telling us that we are saved by faith, while James is describing and defining for us the faith that saves. Paul tells us we are saved by faith and faith alone, but as Luther famously said “saving faith is never alone”, but is always accompanied by works, or action. The faith that saves is by its nature always accompanied by action, and if it is not accompanied by action, it is not saving faith, but merely what James refers to as “belief”. This can be somewhat confusing, especially to those who speak English as their primary language, for, according to James, faith requires action, but in the English language faith is a noun, and there is no verbal form of faith, so the word “to believe” is used. The problem which this creates is that our common understanding of belief is not equivalent to the Biblical understanding of faith which James explains to us here. We commonly understand belief as a mainly mental activity, we can believe something without acting upon it, which is precisely how James uses the term belief in this passage, and which he contrasts with Biblical faith, which requires action. Theologians have proposed a way of explaining this which many find helpful, and it is accomplished through the use of three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia. The word notitia has to do with the mind, and basically means to “comprehend or understand”. The word assensus also has to do with the mind, and basically means to “accept as true or to agree with”. The word fiducia has to do primarily with the will, and means basically to “trust in”, which is also the basic meaning of the Greek word pisteuo, which James uses for Biblical faith. To trust in something means to lean wholly upon it, to put our full weight upon it, to act upon it because we are convinced it is true. A common illustration of faith is in a chair. We may see the chair and understand it is meant to hold all of our weight. We may also accept that it is meant to hold all of our weight, but we do not have faith in the chair’s ability to hold all of our weight until we act, until we sit down on it. It is the sitting down which defines Biblical faith and separates it from “belief”. Those who have come to true Biblical faith in Jesus Christ have leaned wholly upon Him for their eternal destiny, have put the full weight of their eternal future upon Him and what the Bible says about Him, they have placed their faith in Him. According to James, this “faith” requires all three of our Latin words, notitia, assensus and fiducia. “Faith” which is merely belief consists of notitia (to understand and comprehend the Gospel) and assensus (to agree that it is true), but is missing the fiducia, for this fiducia is shown in our actions. If we truly have faith in what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, this faith will inevitably be seen in our actions, our behavior, and the way we think, act and speak will begin to change. So James does not contradict Paul at all, for to him, faith and works are inseparable, for the works are the natural result of Biblical faith, of the faith that saves, and a “faith” that does not result in a change of behavior is not the type of faith which Paul tells us is necessary for salvation. Our next post will continue our examination of this passage and dig more deeply into the true nature of saving faith.

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