James is a controversial book and has not always been widely accepted as authoritative by Christians throughout history. Some have even contested that it should be in the Bible. For example, German reformer Martin Luther called it an “epistle of straw” because it does not refer to the Apostle Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace (which was the foundation of his faith). He believes James “mangles scripture” and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. It is also believed that up to the 4th century that parts of both the Eastern and Western church did not accept James as a canonical or divinely inspired book.
The author of this letter (as stated in verse 1) is a person named James who refers to himself as a servant of God and of Jesus Christ. Most scholars believe this James is none other than the brother of Jesus, who was also known as James “the just”. There are other James’s mentioned in scripture that some believe could have been the author, however, most of the arguments support the idea that the author was in fact James, the brother of Jesus and this is the position I will take for this message.
James was not only the brother of Jesus, but he was also the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 15). One can imagine that being the half-brother to the Savior of the universe would have been interesting. James was not a follower of Jesus until after his resurrection, so I am sure James knew the Savior in a way that many never had the opportunity to know him. We also know that he didn’t parade around and brag about being the brother of the Savior. He could have used this title to pull some clout but instead he chooses not to mention it and instead calls himself a servant to Jesus.
The letter was probably written around A.D. 49, but some have dated it as late as late as the early A.D. 60s. Regardless the date it is known as the oldest Epistle. If in fact it was written in A.D. 49, we should note that this is only 15 or so years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The letter of James may receive negative response by holars but this Epistle quite possibly is the most relevant (and popular) letters of the N.T. Not surprisingly it appeals to the common, ordinary believer and deals with real life issues that are still pertinent today.
According to theologian Douglas Moo James appeals generally to believers for three notable reasons...
Today we will look at James 2:14 – 20 and this passage is considered on one hand the most theologically significant statements in the letter and on the other it is probably the most controversial topics brought up in the Bible and it is faith and works.
The topic of faith and works reminds me of a story about a chaplain who walked up to a wounded soldier who had been lying on the ground some time without anyone treating his wounds.
The chaplain asked, "Would you like for me to read to you from the Bible?" "No!" came the angry reply. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" the chaplain asked.
"I'm thirsty!" the soldier said. The chaplain gave him a drink from his own canteen.
"Anything else?" he asked. "I'm cold!" came the reply. The chaplain took off his coat and spread it over the soldier.
"Anything else?" he again asked. "My head is uncomfortable!" was his reply. The chaplain took off his cap and arranged it under the soldier's head.
The chaplain asked again, "Anything else?"
The soldier looked up at him and tears came to his eyes as he said, "I think now I'd like for you to read to me from the Bible."
As you probably noticed in the story; the injured soldier had no desires to hear the words of the God the chaplain served until he saw the God He served was evidenced or present in him through his actions. It reminds me of the words of one of my professors in college, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The argument James introduces in the passage is that a general carefree or verbal faith with a few good works added in is not sufficient to save individuals. Instead, he argues that the genuine faith of a true believer is clearly evidenced by good works or deeds. You see one cannot just tack on good works to any old empty or dead faith and think it is sufficient. This kind of faith (as James states) is futile or useless.
This kind of faith reminds me of a commercial Febreze air freshener commercials from years ago. In the commercial people are blindfolded and brought into a condemned house, smelly kitchen or someplace that would not have a pleasant smell. However, the room had been sprayed down with the air freshener and the blindfolded participants respond with how wonderful the room smells only to find when the blindfolds are taken off, they are in the disgusting room which should reek of stench. The room may smell nice, but it was still a gross room. The point of the commercial is to show their product can cover up any foul smell.
Unfortunately, some believe they can do this with their faith. They may say, “I am a good person. I believe in God. I go to church occasionally. I try to be honest. I give some money to the church.” Yet the way they live Monday through Saturday doesn’t always match up with the faith they proclaim. They believe they can cover up their dead faith by doing some good deeds, but the reality is a dead faith is a dead faith no matter what you put on it to make it look better.
Verse 14 – James asks two rhetorical questions about faith –
Modern day example: Someone presents an immediate need, and you have the means to help them and your response is a flippant, “I’ll pray for you” and do nothing more. It appears “I’ll pray for you or about it” has become our excuse for doing nothing.
It is important to note that James is not contrasting faith and works as if they were two separate options (i.e., one can have a faith without works and another can have faith with works), instead he contrasts the two kinds of faith. One produces no works which is dead and one that results in action which is genuine. There is one that is in word only and the other is evidenced by deeds.
Verse 18 – James introduces a hypothetical character in this passage that is referred to by some as the objector (someone) and he argues... You may have the gift of faith and I may have the gift of works. – The objector thinks the two can be separate. However, James shows that faith and works are not two separate gifts that a believer may or may not possess. Either one has genuine faith that produces good deeds, or he does not have a faith at all. He insists that the objector show him a faith without works (and will reveal a false or futile faith) however the one who is able to show his faith through the good deeds that he produces will reveal a true and genuine faith. The two need each other. Faith and works go hand in hand. If you say you have faith and you have no works, it is meaningless. Saying you have faith is not enough.
Verse 19 – James compares the faith of the objector with the faith of the demons. It is an interesting twist, but James does not hesitate to make his point. He says, “You acknowledge God is one.” And his response some believe should be read with a touch of sarcasm, “Good for you!” Belief is entry level Christianity. However just having a general belief or acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord or that God is one is not true faith. By doing this you are on the same level as the demons. In fact, you are probably on a lower level than them because their belief isn’t apathetic like a person who just says he believes. The stunning truth is at least the demons shutter or tremble when they acknowledge God is one or Jesus is Lord. Those who have a futile faith don’t even do that.
Douglas Moo writes, “The demons perfectly illustrate the poverty of verbal profession in and of itself. They are among the most ‘orthodox’ of theologians, James suggests, agreeing wholeheartedly with the Shema (The most basic Jewish belief... God is one) ... But James might also want to suggest an ironical contrast between the demons and people who have faith without works: At least the demons display some kind of reaction to their ‘faith’!”
Verse 20 – James refers to this objector as a foolish man. Do you need examples? Well, here are two examples of faith from the O.T. about individuals whose faith are evidenced by their actions. This is where things start to get a bit hairy as it would seem at first glance that James contradicts Paul, who states that one is justified by faith and not by works (Romans 3:28). James makes the claim in verse 24 that a person is justified by works and not faith alone.
A true works-based faith is important in a believer’s life, but not salvation. One cannot just have faith to be a believer, nor can one just have h frfworks and be a believer. True Christian faith affects the whole person. When you have genuine faith in Jesus Christ it not only changes the spiritual side of your life (which it certainly does); it also impacts the outer person as well. Good works will flow a plenty from one who has genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith and your works MUST go hand in hand for it to be life changing, genuine, and apparent to others.
Genuine faith affects the whole being thus a person with true faith will endure trials patiently and joyfully, have wisdom in decision making, put no stock in their wealth or status, find their significance in Jesus, overcome temptation, and grow closer to God in the process, be quick to listen and slow to anger, practice true religion that does not show partiality to the rich and neglect the poor. Genuine faith in Jesus gushes forth from the believer’s life and is evidenced by the good deeds we do.
 Moo, Douglas: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2000, p. 1,2
 1 Johnson, L.T., “The Letter of James” (Garden City: Doubleday, 1995) p. 239
 Moo, 131
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
Preview or purchase Jeff's Books