James 2


“My friends, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance. Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes. If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, “Have this best seat here,” but say to the poor man, “Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet,” then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives”. James 2:1-4

Favouritism Forbidden

In Biblical times there were many social barriers, people were either rich or poor, slaves or free, Jew or Gentile, Greek or Barbarian. But part of the good news of the Gospel was that in Christ Jesus social barriers lost much of their strength, Acts 10:34-35 / Galatians 3:28 / Colossians 3:11.

James begins this chapter by dealing with the problem of partiality between the rich and poor. He says that Jesus Christ is a ‘glorious’ Lord. But what does our partiality have to do with the Lord of glory?

As Christians, we profess to be Christ’s disciples, we profess to follow Him, and our goal as Christians is to imitate Jesus, to be like Him in all ways, Luke 6:40.

In other words all of our actions whether they are done physically or verbally should be a reflection of what Jesus teaches. If we show partiality as Christians, then we leave the impression that Jesus Himself is partial.

If we’re prejudice, then people will think that Jesus is prejudice. If we’re biased with people then people will think that Jesus is biased with people. If we’re racist, then we’re telling the world that Jesus is a racist.

James is saying that if we are not careful the glory of the Lord can be spoiled by our partiality. In other words we become judges with evil thoughts. God has always hated unjust judges, Matthew 7:1 / John 7:24.

James’ point is this, if we judge against the poor due to our prejudice against them, we will find ourselves actually fighting against God, Psalm 109:31.

“Listen, my dear friends! God chose the poor people of this world to be rich in faith and to possess the kingdom which he promised to those who love him.” James 2:5

Not only do we find ourselves fighting against God, but we also actually end up despising the very people whom God chose to honour. God chose to honour the poor back then and He still chooses to honour them today.

The Gospel was first proclaimed to the poor, Luke 7:22 / 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. God chose to honour all people back then and He still chooses to honour all people today.

God is not a respecter of persons but He accepts those from every family, nation, and race who fear Him and work for His kingdom, Acts 10:34-35.

When we show partiality because of a person’s race or because they are a stranger that we do not know, it’s then that we despise those whom God has honoured by His offering to them salvation through the Gospel.

“But you dishonour the poor! Who are the ones who oppress you and drag you before the judges? The rich! They are the ones who speak evil of that good name which has been given to you. You will be doing the right thing if you obey the law of the Kingdom, which is found in the scripture, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” But if you treat people according to their outward appearance, you are guilty of sin, and the Law condemns you as a lawbreaker. Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all. For the same one who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Even if you do not commit adultery, you have become a lawbreaker if you commit murder.” James 2:6-11

It was the rich who were dishonouring the poor in James’ day and in James’ day there were people who were trying to win the majority over to their way of thinking.

If we allow them to oppress us or influence us towards others, we all end up breaking what James calls ‘the royal law or the law of the Kingdom.’

In other words we break the law which says, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ And make no mistake about it, this is one of the most fundamental laws that God has ever given, Matthew 22:36-40.

How many sins does it take to condemn a person to hell? One, it only takes one sin against God and James says that if we even break one law, we become guilty of breaking all the Law.

We need to remember that we are sinners just like those people who are not yet Christians, Romans 3:22-23. A sinner is a sinner and what James is telling us is that if we show partiality to some people then that makes us as guilty as an adulterer or a murderer. This illustrates quite powerfully just how terrible any sin is.

“Speak and act as people who will be judged by the law that sets us free. For God will not show mercy when he judges the person who has not been merciful; but mercy triumphs over judgment”. James 2:12-13

Judgment Day is waiting for us all, and if we’re going to be judged, we all need to know and understand the standard by which were going to be judged. And that standard is found here, the law that sets us free refers to the law of Christ, or the Gospel, John 8:31-38 / Colossians 2:20-22.

James is saying if we apply man-made restrictions upon others like showing partiality, we’re actually not showing mercy toward others, Matthew 6:14-15. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, mercy is not getting what we do deserve and justice is getting what we deserve.

Faith And Deeds

“My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!”—if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.” James 2:14-17

When the Bible talks about faith we need to do the same, we need investigate what kind of faith it is talking about, Romans 14:23 / Ephesians 2:8 / 2 Corinthians 5:7 / Hebrews 11:6.

We all know the importance of faith in the life of the Christian but James is going to talk about three different types of faith. James is going to talk about three different types of faiths but he is going to emphasise that only one of these faiths can actually save our soul.

The first kind of faith which James speaks about is called ‘dead faith’. There are some Christians who just love to say the right things but never do anything about it.

These are the Christians who sound great and know the proper words to use when they are praying. They know the Scriptures and when you’re talking with them you can tell they can quote the right Scripture.

But there’s a problem, they have faith with no legs attached. In other words they don’t practice what they preach, their walk doesn’t match up to their talk. Why is it a dead faith? Simply because it’s what we might call an ‘intellectual’ faith.

These are the people who know the right ‘words’, but they do not back up their words with their ‘works’. Their faith isn’t doing anything else, they possess a faith which hasn’t got any legs attached. James says that this kind of faith doesn’t save anyone.

Three times in this passage, James emphasizes that ‘faith without legs attached is dead’, James 2:17 / James 2:20 / James 2:26. In other words people can’t claim to have faith in God if their life hasn’t been changed by the Gospel.

People can’t claim to have faith in God if their faith doesn’t lead them to do good works for God. this type of faith is a counterfeit faith and leads people into a false confidence of eternal life.

What good is it to say the homeless person, ‘I’ll be praying for you’ when they have to spend another night out in the freezing cold? What good it is to say to someone who hasn’t eaten in two days, ‘I pray that God will provide food for you?’

James is telling us if our walk does not measure up to our talk or if our works do not measure up to our words, it could be because our faith is dead.

“But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe—and tremble with fear.” James 2:18-19

The next type of faith which James describes is an interesting faith to say the least, he calls it a ‘demonic faith’. James reminds us that even ‘demons’ have a kind of faith, the kind that ‘believes’.

They believe in God and they even believe in the deity of Christ, Mark 3:11-12. Not only do they believe in the deity of Christ they also believe in the existence of a place of condemnation, Luke 8:31.

Not only do they believe in the deity of Christ and the existence of a place of condemnation they also believe that Jesus will be the Judge, Matthew 8:28-29.

What kind of faith do ‘demons’ have? We just saw that the Christian with a ‘dead faith’ is a Christian who has been ‘touched only in his intellect,’ but the demons are ‘touched also in their emotions’.

Notice that James says that the demons ‘believe and tremble’. This faith is one step above a ‘dead faith’ because it involves both intellect and emotions.

Can this kind of faith save us? According to James the answer to this question is no. It can’t save because people can be enlightened in their mind and even moved in their heart but they can still be lost forever.

True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized. True saving faith can be seen and recognised in a changed life.

James is telling us that being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for Christ. In other words as someone once said, you first receive the life, then you reveal the life. The kind of faith that just believes the right things and feels the right things but doesn’t go any further.

True saving faith does more than that, it goes beyond words and feelings and believing the right things. James is warning us that if our faith only involves intellect then it’s a dead faith, it won’t save us. If our faith only involves intellect and emotions, then our faith is only a demonic faith, it won’t save us.

“You fool! Do you want to be shown that faith without actions is useless? How was our ancestor Abraham put right with God? It was through his actions, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. Can’t you see? His faith and his actions worked together; his faith was made perfect through his actions. And the scripture came true that said, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.” And so Abraham was called God’s friend. You see, then, that it is by our actions that we are put right with God, and not by our faith alone. It was the same with the prostitute Rahab. She was put right with God through her actions, by welcoming the Israelite spies and helping them to escape by a different road. So then, as the body without the spirit is dead, also faith without actions is dead”. James 2:20-26

If we want a real faith with real legs attached, a faith which is going to save us, James says our faith needs to be an ‘active faith’. We know that this kind of faith is based upon the Word of God, Romans 10:17. In other words this faith is an active faith because it involves our whole being.

This faith leads us to do something with our faith, it leads to action. It’s not intellectual contemplation, it’s not emotionalism, it’s a faith which leads to obedience in doing good works. In fact to elaborate this point James gives us two examples from the Old Testament.

Now those who are of the ‘faith only’ persuasion really need to take the time to study James’ letter because James is clearly teaching us that faith without actions won’t save us. James begins his illustration by taking about Abraham and Rahab.

Now you couldn’t find two more different people. Abraham was the father of the Jews, Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a godly man, Rahab had been a sinful woman, a harlot. Abraham was the friend of God, Rahab had belonged to the enemies of God.

So why did James use these two people to illustrate his point about faith and actions? Well the answer is found in what they both had in common, they both exercised saving faith in God.

In other words Abraham demonstrated his saving faith by his works, Hebrews 11:17. Abraham’s faith had legs attached. Rahab also demonstrated her saving faith by her works, Hebrews 11:31. Rahab’s faith also had legs attached.

Two times in this passage James tells us that faith without works is a dead faith, James 2:20 / James 2:26. Clearly he is teaching us that ‘faith only’ can never justify a person before God. In fact he does mention faith alone but it’s not the faith that saves.

James says that our faith and action or deeds need to work together. He’s saying that people can know the Scriptures, they may even be moved in their hearts by the Scriptures but if their faith doesn’t work together with actions then it’s all a waste of time.

Now we might be thinking, doesn’t Paul tell us in Ephesians 2:5-8 that were saved by grace alone? Isn’t this a contradiction?

First of all we need to remember that Paul is writing to Christians who thought they could ‘merit their way’ to heaven by good works. James is writing to Christians who thought that their ‘faith alone’ would merit their way to heaven.

Jesus teaches us salvation is God’s gift, John 3:16, but the gift must be taken hold of by man’s response in obedient faith, John 3:36. In other words grace makes salvation possible but obedient faith makes salvation actual.

And so, when a person responds in Biblical faith to God’s offer of salvation, they are neither earning nor deserving the gift, but only accepting it on the condition on which the Lord has promised to give it.

We do not earn salvation and we can never earn our salvation, but we must comply with the conditions laid down by the Lord in order to receive the free gift of eternal salvation.

Go To James 3


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 1:1