there is a little bit about this in one of the Q & A's in the
I'll add the words
of J Vernon McGee as well below which shed further light.
J Vernon McGee - Thru the
GOD TESTS FAITH BY
Jas_1:14-26 James shows that God tests faith by good works. There are those who say
that we have in this section a contradiction to the writings of Paul,
because Paul made it abundantly clear that faith alone could
save you. We have his clear statement in
Gal_2:16—"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but
by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus
Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by
the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be
justified" (italics mine).
I have divided this section up as
follows: (1) The interpretation of faith (v.
Hab_1:14); (2) the identification of
Jas_1:15-20); and (3) the illustration of faith (vv.
First we have the
interpretation of faith. When we understand the definition of
faith as it is used by Paul and James in the context of their
writings, we can see that Paul and James are in perfect agreement,
that they are discussing the same subject from different viewpoints.
Paul says that a man is not saved by the works or the deeds of the
Rom_3:28 he writes, "Therefore we
conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the
law." In Galatians, as we have noted, Paul says that a man is
justified not by works but by faith in Christ Jesus. How then are we
going to reconcile Paul and James? As someone has said, "Paul and
James do not stand face to face, fighting against each other, but they
stand back to back, fighting opposite foes." In that day there
were those who were saying that you had to perform the works of the
Law (the Mosaic Law), that you had to come by the Law, in order to be
saved. Paul answered that by saying that the works of the Law will not
save you and that only faith in Christ can save you. Both Paul and
James, therefore, are defending the citadel of faith. To see
that, we need to understand the use of their terminology. Paul says
that saving faith—a faith which is genuine and real—will
transform a person's life. Paul said of himself, "But what things were
gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ" (Php_3:7). A real revolution took place in his life when he came to Christ. In
1Co_15:1-2 Paul wrote, "Moreover,
brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you,
which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye
are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you,
unless ye have believed in vain;" that is, unless it was just an empty
faith (italics mine). Now let us look at what James has to say—
James is not talking about the works of the Law. He simply says
that the faith which saves you will produce works, works of
faith. The faith that James is talking about here is professing
faith, that which is phony and counterfeit. Paul refers to the
same idea when he says in
1Co_15:2, "… unless ye have believed
in vain." Paul also wrote, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the
faith …" (2Co_13:5).
One of the greatest dangers for us preachers of the gospel is
that we like to see people converted, and we are willing to accept a
brazen and flippant yes from some individual who says, "Yes, I'll
trust Jesus." However, it might be just an impertinent, impudent, and
insolent nod of the head; it is so easy today to be as phony as a
The story is told that the Devil had a
meeting with his demons to decide how to persuade men that God was
nonexistent. Since they themselves believed in His existence, they
wondered just how to do it. One demon suggested that they tell people
Jesus Christ never really existed and that men should not believe such
fiction. Another demon suggested that they persuade men that death
ends all and there is no need to worry about life after death.
Finally, the most intelligent demon suggested that they tell everyone
that there is a God, that there is Jesus Christ, and that believing in
Him saves, but all you have to do is profess faith in Christ and then
go on living in sin as you used to. They decided to use this tactic,
and it is the tactic the Devil uses even today.
Paul and James
are in perfect harmony in their teaching. When Paul speaks of works,
it is works of the Law. He says in
Rom_3:20, "Therefore by the deeds of
the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law
is the knowledge of sin." He is saying in effect, "Yes, the Law is a
mirror—it reveals you are a sinner—but it cannot save you; the works
of the Law cannot save you at all." James also says that you have to
have something more than just the works of the Law. He wrote, "For
whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is
guilty of all" (v.
Hab_1:10). As someone has put it,
"Man cannot be saved by perfect obedience, for he cannot render it. He
cannot be saved by imperfect obedience because God will not accept
it." The only solution to this dilemma is the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus, and both James and Paul emphasize that.
Gal_2:16 Paul made it clear that men
are not saved by the Law, but later in that epistle he wrote, "And let
us not be weary in well-doing …" (Gal_6:9). There is a lot of doing that goes with believing. "Let
him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in
all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a
man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal_6:6-7). In this section of his epistle when James speaks of works, he is
speaking of the works of faith. Paul also wrote about works of
faith: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing,
nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal_5:6). Both of these men taught
that faith must be a working faith. As John Calvin put it, "Faith
alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone."
faith, therefore, is alive; professing faith is dead. We have a lot of
so-called professing Christians today who are members of churches.
They are nothing in the world but zombies. They are walking around as
if they are alive, but they are dead.
A girl once asked her
Sunday school teacher, "How can I be a Christian and still have my own
way?" The teacher gave to her
Rom_8:5 which says, "For they that
are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are
after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." If you are a child of God,
you cannot have your own way. You are going to do His way. "Because
the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the
law of God, neither indeed can be…. But ye are not in the flesh, but
in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you …" (Rom_8:7,
Rom_8:9). Paul says that now that
you are indwelt by the Spirit of God, you can produce the fruit of the
Spirit in your life; if you don't, there is something radically wrong.
A Christian doesn't do as he pleases; he does as Christ pleases.
During the depression there lived in Pittsburgh a tycoon who was
having all kinds of problems in his life. He went to his pastor and,
after talking over his problems, he said, "I love my Savior. I love my
family. I love my church. I love my business. But there are times I
feel like walking out on all four of them." The pastor looked him
straight in the eye and said, "Well, why don't you?" The man replied,
"The reason I don't is that I am a Christian." May I say to you,
saving faith which makes one a Christian will lead to good works.
However, we are so anxious to get church members that we accept them
on the slightest profession. As a result, many churches are filled
with professing Christians who are really unbelievers.
understand how Paul and James use the words faith and works,
we can see that they are in total agreement in their teaching.
Now James deals with the identification of faith. Saving faith
can be recognized and identified by certain spiritual fingerprints.
There is a verification of genuine faith. James gives us this
cliches and Christian verbiage are not the evidence of saving faith.
There must be a vocation to go along with the vocabulary. You can be
very pious and say to an individual, "Brother I will pray for you, and
I know the Lord will provide." My friend, the Lord put you
there as a child of God to do the providing. I get a little weary
sometimes when wealthy Christian laymen pat me on the back and say,
"Dr McGee, you are doing a fine thing. You are doing the right thing
in giving out the Word of God," but they do not have a part in
supporting this ministry financially. I have a hard time believing
they are sincere. You may piously say to someone, "Oh, brother, I'm
for you." Are you for him? Are you back of him? My friend, a
living faith produces something—you can identify it.
The Lord Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my
disciples, if ye have love one to another" (
Joh_13:35). Then in
Rom_13:8, Paul says, "Owe no man any
thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath
fulfilled the law." The point is that you cannot say you are a child
of God and live like a lawless individual. I do not mean that whenever
a bum asks you for twenty-five cents in order to buy wine you should
give it to him. And I do not think that you should believe every
individual who professes to be a Christian. We need to test them out
to see whether they are or not. My heart is warmed when I think of a
certain man I know who is rendering financial assistance to someone in
need and of a lady of means who is supporting a missionary abroad and
telling no one about it. May I say to you, you are telling by your
life whether your faith is genuine or not.
"Faith, if it hath not works, is dead." The faith is dead?
Why? Because living faith, saving faith, produces works. You have to
draw that conclusion from James' illustration. He is talking about the
fruit of faith. Paul talks about the root of faith. Those are the
separate emphases of each man, but both Paul and James say that faith
alone saves. Paul also says that faith is going to produce fruit—"But
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace …" (
Gal_5:22). The Lord Jesus said, "I
am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him,
the same bringeth forth much fruit …" (Joh_15:5).
A minister once talked to a man who professed conversion, and
he asked, "Have you united with the church?" "No, I haven't," the man
replied. "The dying thief never united with the church, and he went to
heaven." The minister asked, "Have you ever sat at the Lord's table?"
"No, the dying thief never did, and he was accepted" was the answer.
The minister asked, "Have you been baptized?" "No," he said, "the
dying thief was never baptized, and he went to heaven." "Have you
given to missions?" "No, the dying thief did not give to missions, and
he was not judged for it" was the reply. Then this disgusted minister
said to the man, "Well, my friend, the difference between you two
seems to be that he was a dying thief and you are a living thief."
My friend, we often sing, "O for a thousand tongues to sing my
great Redeemer's praise," but we do not even use the one tongue we
have. And we sing, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a
present far too small," and then we give nothing at all to Him. James
says it is faith that saves, but saving faith produces something.