Today we conclude our study of James 2 and the instruction that we find therein regarding our faith, works, and justification. As noted, this passage has been the center of much controversy in the debate surrounding the biblical doctrine of justification. Many have claimed that this passage deals the death blow to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
However, we have seen that this is not the case. True, Paul and James both use the term justification, but they use it in different senses. When Paul uses it, he has in mind a forensic declaration based on the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to our account when we trust in Him alone apart from any of our works. When James uses the term, he is speaking of the quality of faith that is effectual for salvation. James reminds us that our faith itself is “justified” (demonstrated to be true) when it manifests itself in works (2:18). These works do not earn salvation, they only show that true faith is present.
In today’s passage, James continues giving evidence for this point with the example of Rahab. Rahab demonstrated her trust in the one true God by sheltering the spies (v. 25). If she had confessed faith but then ignored God’s people when they were in need, she would have revealed that her profession was empty and her faith ineffectual. Her works of hiding the spies and then helping them escape “justified,” or demonstrated, that she was a true woman of God, faithfully trusting in God’s promise through His people to save her (Josh. 2:1–21).
James reminds us that though we are justified by faith alone, the faith that justifies us is never alone. It is a living faith that issues forth in works. Like Paul, he knew that we are created for good works (Eph. 2:10) and that if these works are absent then faith is absent as well.
Our righteous status before God is not earned by the works of the Law or by other such good deeds (Gal. 2:15–16). Rather, we are declared righteous by faith alone, and this faith must be a living faith that endeavors to live according to God’s Word in gratitude for salvation. If works are not present, our faith is dead (James 2:26). And a dead faith, because it is ineffectual, is really no faith at all.
A dead faith is really no faith at all because a dead faith can in no way lay hold of the perfect righteousness of Christ. We must have a living faith evidenced by works of love and mercy toward other people. Is your faith a living faith evident to others by your works, or does your lack of good deeds make faith’s presence hard to discern? Confess your need for Christ’s righteousness, and then fulfill the command to serve those who need it in your community.