Faith Works: A Study in James


How does faith work when you are feeling lazy? 

As a newly married couple, my wife Grace and I bought some inexpensive furniture that required that we carefully follow directions to assemble it. Quickly, it became obvious that I am no good at following directions. I kept getting the steps out of order, and Grace stepped in to carefully read the directions so that we did everything in the order that it was designed.

In Christian theology, there is something called, “the order of salvation”. The basic idea is that salvation gets done in an order determined by God and that the order matters. Apparently, building a Christian is a bit like building a dresser, and getting things done in the right order is a big deal.

This section of James is full of controversy. We are told elsewhere in Scripture, especially the passages written by the Apostle Paul, that God’s grace alone saves us (Eph. 2:8–9). Yet James seems to be saying that good works play a role in our salvation (v. 24). God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself, so how can this be?

The fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God works 1. for you 2. in you and 3. through you. Paul emphasizes the reality of the internal aspect of faith (1-2), whereas James emphasizes the external results of internal faith (3). These do not contradict, but rather complement one another.

Some think that Paul is completely against works, which he is not. Again, the order matters greatly as he says we are saved by grace and Jesus’ works (not our own), but that we are saved to the good works God has planned to do through us by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (God’s work for you). For we are his workmanship (God’s work in you), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (God’s work through you).”

The summary is that faith is both internal and external according to my summary: Faith is a Holy Spirit-empowered internal devotion to God (faith) that produces an external devotion to God (works or fruit).

Consider this: Suppose a friend was always going on and on about how wonderful their spouse is and the depth of their relationship, but you never saw relational warmth between them. You’d be correct in questioning the nature of that relationship. Simply put, love and faith in another produces action that affirms the presence of said love and faith. So it is with faith and works.

Those who truly understand what God has done for them cannot help but be moved to live a generous, worshipful life. These acts of worship are the very “works” that James is referring to.

The one thing that most religions get right is that something has gone wrong, and some work needs to be done to make it right. The difference between Christianity and other religions, is in regards to who does this work. In all other religions, human beings do the work to make things right with their god. In Christianity, Jesus Christ comes down to do all the work to make us right with God. He lived the perfect life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and rose to give the gift we could not earn. When Jesus said loudly on the cross “it is finished!”, He was declaring that the work was done by Him and all we needed to do was trust in His finished work!

James offers two dramatic examples of people acting on their faith in God. Abraham trusted God enough to put his only son on an altar. Rahab believed Israel’s God was the God of heaven and earth, and she proved it by hiding the Israelite spies. Other examples include Hannah, who gave her son, Samuel, to the temple for training; David, who fought Goliath; and Daniel’s friends, who were thrown into the furnace for their faith. These acts did not save them, but they displayed their saving faith. Our faith is demonstrated primarily by obeying God, especially when the risk is that we will suffer in some form or fashion for our faith.


Everyone has some area(s) of their life where they don’t really live out of obedience to God, which is often a hypocrisy that we excuse or learn to live with. What are your area(s)? What can you do to have your faith transform those areas?