“What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
People have a tendency to put the “cart before the horse” when it comes to Christianity, they want to put service before doctrine or what they consider production before the Word of God. The Word of God is more important than any service you will ever do. In fact, works have been overestimated because of legalism and lack of doctrine. This verse looks at a believer’s life from the unbeliever’s point of view. The unbeliever cannot see spiritual things. (I Corinthians 2:14) The unbeliever cannot see, for example, the believer’s faith which resides in his soul. The unbeliever can see only what is visible, what is produced. The production of faith is something that he can see. He cannot be impressed with spiritual assets, such as Bible doctrine because he is totally ignorant of these things and therefore unimpressed. Therefore an unbeliever could only be impressed with what faith produces; what he can personally observe. This verse is expressing to believers what the viewpoint of the unbeliever is regarding those who say they are believers in Christ. “What is the benefit, profit, or advantage to a believer if he does not have something to demonstrate his faith to an unbeliever?” is the question that is posed.
If you are an advancing believer applying doctrine consistently, the outer production of your inner faith will impress an unbeliever. Your inner faith may be strong but an unbeliever cannot see your inner faith, he can’t see your edification complex, he can’t see Bible doctrine circulating in your soul, he can’t see the indwelling Holy Spirit, and he can’t see anything that may indicate God’s grace and God’s power except for your overt divine production.
You have to remember that in your periphery there are going to be a lot of unbelievers observing you. For some people you are the best Christian they know. Though you do not have to totally separate yourself from all unbelievers, there are spiritual laws regarding our relationships with them. For example, you are never to marry an unbeliever, you never get involved with an unbeliever to the point that they are influencing you in some negative way that is detrimental to the Bible doctrine in your soul or distracting you from the execution of the Christian Way of Life. But you are to be a spiritual example to them.
The thing that confuses people in this verse is the word “save” — “can that faith save him.” The answer is yes if you’re talking about faith for salvation, but James is not talking about salvation. The Greek word for save is “sozo,” which means to be delivered. So we ask, “Delivered from what?” James’ entire epistle was written to believers encouraging them to be doers (appliers) of the Word of God (Bible doctrine) and not merely hearers. It is by the application of Bible doctrine by believers that unbelievers see the outward demonstration of the inward faith of believers. Therefore the deliverance that James speaks of in this verse is from being hearers only. Faith without application (divine good works) does not demonstrate to an unbeliever the faith of a believer. So the correct answer to the question that James poses is “no,” faith alone cannot deliver a believer from being a hearer only. Faith plus application (works) delivers (saves) a believer from merely being a hearer. This is how we demonstrate our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by no other means.
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace and be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
Now we get the application of doctrine and the illustration of the principle in verse 14. “And one of you” is a believer in emotional revolt (substituting emotion for truth). A believer in emotional revolt is operationally dead as far as the Christian life is concerned. “One of you” is the person who has faith without works. Here are the words of operational death: “Go in peace.” A person who is destitute does not have peace by simply receiving your word.
The implication of this passage is that a believer is in reversionism and under operational death. Not only do they say, “Go away in peace” but they add some advice. The first command is now added to a second one to tell you what to do in case you have insufficient clothing. He commands them to be warmed. If a person is starving, if a person is cold because of insufficient clothing, they will most likely not be receptive to the Gospel. Hungry people cannot be filled and satisfied with words, they need food. The believer who sends them away and has plenty of food to give has demonstrated operational death which is an expression of reversionism. James assumes that the believer who is in reversionism has sufficient means to supply to the one who is hungry and destitute of proper winter clothing with the phrase, “you do not give them what is necessary.” The whole thrust of James is not just to be a hearer but to be a doer; and that depends upon doctrine in the soul. Bible doctrine in the soul is the energy and the fuel by which we become producers of divine good.
“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
“Even so,” refers to the illustration of the previous verse in which one person gives words instead of the necessities of life. Therefore we have a picture of a believer functioning under operational death. Remember that operational death is a state of reversionism. In reversionism we have scar tissue on the the soul, emotional revolt of the soul (the emotion runs the soul), and we have the destruction of the edification complex of the soul. Therefore, there is no longer doctrine in the frame of reference, in the vocabulary and categories, in the norms and standards, and no doctrine in the viewpoint that is usable. Bible doctrine is suppressed.
The word faith in this verse can refer to the body of teaching which is believed in Christianity, i.e. Bible doctrine, or it can refer to simply believing. Here it refers to believing in Christ. “Believe” is a non-meritorious function, therefore the subject can have no merit. The object takes all of the credit; the object in salvation is Jesus Christ. God the Father made a decision to treat man in grace but He can’t change His character. The whole objective in salvation is for love and eternal life to come to man, but it can’t be done at the compromise of righteousness and justice. So when Christ went to the Cross He was satisfying the Father’s righteousness. He bore our sins in His own body on the Cross, satisfying the Father’s justice. God is immutable and cannot compromise His character. However, God found a way to save us. He found a way whereby we cannot possibly take the credit because faith is non-meritorious.
In the Christian life the object of faith is the Word of God. Bible doctrine comes into the soul, but it is no good there if it is just simply academic knowledge. The ministry of the Holy Spirit converts academic knowledge to spiritual knowledge. If you are going to be a doer, you must have doctrine in the soul. The only possible way to get doctrine into the soul is by faith, and faith is positive volition expressed in a non-meritorious way. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation; the Gospel is about Jesus Christ. But in the Christian life it is Bible doctrine that is important, which is all about Jesus Christ. Your faith must have a working object, and Bible doctrine is the working object of faith which means that you are not doing the work, the object is doing the working. When Bible doctrine is the working object then we have impact on the Angelic Conflict.
Every day of your life the only way that God’s provision can function in your life is to make Bible doctrine the working object for your faith. It is doctrine that does the work. And there is no place for any human glory. It is strictly about Who God is and what He is doing for us. He found a way for His power to function in the devil’s world. The thing that the devil can’t stand is not someone standing on the corner passing out Gospel tracts, but the believer who gets Bible doctrine in the soul and it’s ready to be applied. This world is his kingdom and he can’t stand Bible doctrine. He knows its power, its dynamics and its effectiveness. And that’s why Jesus used it against him when He was being tempted.
All the “believing” in the world on the part of the unbeliever secures nothing but condemnation at the Great White Throne because their “believing” was not in the right object. Unbelievers have faith because that is the way they learn. All normal members of the human race have faith. It is the object of faith that counts. (Acts 4:12) After salvation there is to be one working object: Bible doctrine (the mind of Christ) according to I Corinthians 2:16. The smallest amount of faith in Christ secures salvation. Faith, therefore, is not something we do but the channel by which we appropriate what God has done for us. Faith, therefore, is non-meritorious perception. Christianity is on the inside and the Christian life is the function of divine production under the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Believers who are functioning under operational death still have faith, but their faith does not have the correct object because they are in a state of reversionism. In reversionism, emotional revolt of the soul, scare tissue of the soul, and the destruction of the edification complex result in operational death (you are not executing the Christian Way of Life).
If it has no works isreferring to the production of divine good. It is Bible doctrine that produces the proper motivation and the proper mental attitude for the Christian life. If you eliminate Bible doctrine, you can produce only human good. The missing link between faith and divine production is the object of faith which does all the work motivating believers to be doers of the Word of God and not hearers only. Without divine good works accompanying faith a believer will be in operational death (no execution of the Christian life). There are a lot of words for death in Scripture and the Greek word for dead in this verse is “nekros,” which means a corpse. “So faith results in no production, which keeps on being a corpse,” would be a better translation. A corpse cannot produce anything, which is a perfect analogy for a believer in reversionism (no divine production).
Faith must have as its object something that works for it. Faith is non-meritorious so it has to depend upon something to do its work. Therefore faith must be exercised in something that works. For example, in salvation the object of faith is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ does the work, the saving, on the Cross. In our passage the working object of faith is Bible doctrine. Bible doctrine does the work of providing divine viewpoint, proper mental attitude, grace and doctrinal orientation, etc. So Bible doctrine is the grace provider for the Christian life. “Being by itself” means that without the proper object, faith is totally non-productive. Faith without a proper working object (Bible doctrine) is useless (dead) and produces nothing. This is what we are calling operational death. Bible doctrine must be the working object of faith and all function in the Christian life depends upon the application of the Word of God which must be resident and circulating in your soul.