JAMES 2:14-26 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
Does this text imply that one must have works to be saved? From what it says in verse 14 and verse 16, it is seeming to be talking about what good is faith without works. As some translations render it, “What does it profit” (NKJV, RSV, KJV). If it is speaking of profitability, what is the profitability? If one looks closely at the bookends of these verses (2:13; 3:1), they see that judgment is being spoken of.
In chapter two verse thirteen it says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Also, chapter three verse one says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” How does one gain a better standing at the judgment seat, Bema seat, of Christ? By their deeds, they do in the name of God. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” Your works will be judged then and what you have done will be what is gained as rewards and what was not done will be a loss.
We must understand that this epistle is practical rather than theological. This simply means that James is making a plea for the way that believers are to behave, not a theological demand for how to recognize true believers. Again, one must look back to the “what does it profit” verses and see that he is saying faith without works is useless or unprofitable. He is teaching that believers are to add works to their faith for progressive sanctification.
What then does the terms save mean in this text? Doesn’t save mean to save the soul from hell? Can save mean something different? Save can mean more than just salvation from eternal damnation. Such is the case of Rahab. Rahab was hospitable but her act of saving the spies saved her as well (Josh 2:1–21; 6:22–25). She saved the spies from death and by doing so, she saved not only herself but those of her family. Save can mean something different than salvation from eternal damnation.
So, one can have a faith that is not active in works or in doing good and still have eternal salvation. But it is a useless faith because they are not doing anything for the Lord.