Two Kinds of Faith?- James 2:14-26

In this passage, James provides for us a description of the relationship between faith and works. We often think of faith and works as opposites, but the truth is that they are related, and James here tells us how. He begins by asking a question, which he proceeds to answer with several examples, through which he contrasts two kinds of “faith”. He first mentions one who is in need, and tells us that merely “wishing them well” does them no real good. Just seeing the need and agreeing it should be met does no good apart from acting to provide for the need. In the same way, faith without action is “dead”, useless, not really faith, only faith which acts is of any real value. He then addresses the relationship between faith and deeds, in verses 18 -19, telling us that faith and deeds actually go together, that deeds are the expression of faith and without deeds there is no faith. He then provides an example of this in Abraham, telling us that Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, but that faith was not present until Abraham picked up the knife to offer his son, even though this son was the son through whom the promised seed was to come. The key here is found in verses 22-24, his faith was “made complete” by his actions. The word translated made complete here is teleos, which has to do with accomplishing a purpose or achieving a goal, his faith here had a purpose, and did not accomplish its purpose until he acted upon what he was told. Faith without deeds does not accomplish anything, and faith without deeds will not be “credited as righteousness”, is not faith that saves. He then concludes by telling us that “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone”. Some see a contradiction between James and Paul here, for Paul very clearly teaches we are justified by faith alone, but, when understood in context, this does not contradict Paul at all, for they are writing for different purposes. Paul is writing to tell us we are saved by faith and not works, and James here is describing for us the faith that saves, which is always accompanied by works. According to James, there are two different kinds of faith, mere faith and saving faith, and saving faith always involves deeds, always acts on what it believes, and the failure to act shows it is not saving faith. Faith without deeds is useless, for it is the deeds which “complete” it , which make it real faith. Those who have truly placed their faith in what God has said will act as if it is true (like Abraham), and the action is what separates saving faith from mere belief. True faith is trusting in what God says, and if we truly trust in what He says, we will act upon it, and the failure to act shows we do not really trust. It is “works” which defines saving faith, and apart from works, we do not find the faith that saves. We are not saved by works, but saving faith is always accompanied by works. As Luther famously said “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone”, it is always accompanied by works, for true faith (faith that saves) always produces action.

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