First, Things First, James 2:14-26
Before we dig into this passage, allow me first to state my primary objective. My desire is not to unpackage every detail in the passage, though I would enjoy doing this, but rather it is to get the big picture correct. We must always start with the big picture, because each detail was not given independent of James’ overall argument. James wrote the book to believers to contrast two drastically different ways of life, the way of the righteous and the way of the ungodly. His point was not to make his audience questions their standing before God, but rather it was to demonstrate that genuine conversion produces righteous living. This truth reflected throughout the book is meant to be a catalyst to drive these Jewish believers to persevere in the faith and good works. In James 2:14-26, he develops this purpose by explaining that simply professing faith does not make someone a Christian. By developing his purpose this way, James is calling us to reflect on the fact that God wants us to understand the seriousness of professing faith without evidence of conversion.
Let me state the same thing in another way. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus said that “Not every one that says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says that “many will say to Him in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied, cast out devils, and done many wonderful works in your name?” I live in a country that is full of professing Christians, but does the fact their birth certificate says “Christian” mean that they are a child of God? Does the fact that they carry a Bible and go to church make them a Christian? Jesus concluded His warning with this sobering statement that should make every one of us shudder: “Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” Your neighbors, children, or co-workers may be among that great multitude. There will be TV preachers and pastors in that great multitude. Stating that you have faith, getting baptized, joining a church, signing a card, or walking an aisle does not make you a Christian. Believing you have spoken in tongues, prophesied, or performed miracles does not make you a Christian. Being a Christian is about the new birth. It is about God making you a new creature in Christ when you humbly repent of the rebellion of self-righteousness to depend only upon the work of Christ and His righteousness for your standing before God. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved “by grace through faith in Christ, and that it is not of ourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” If these verses are true, and they are, then how do we reconcile these verses with James 2:14-26? Our study will move through three different phases. First, we will look at James point: genuine conversion will always produce or result in righteous living. Secondly, we will answer the question: how do we know that James is not teaching that we are saved by our works. Lastly, we will answer the question: how does this passage apply to me.