“Is Your Faith Alive or Dead”

James 2:14-26

Question of the day? 

Can someone say they have faith in God, 

but fail to do good works? 

What kind of faith is that? 

Will their faith save them? 

That is what James focuses on today in our 2nd of his 12 teachings of wholehearted devotion to Jesus. Last week we learned that we are prone to show favoritism to those whom we perceive can offer us something in return. As Christians we are to treat everyone as a creation of God and because of that deserves to be treated equally. 

Today’s Scripture tells us that Christians need a living faith, versus a dead faith. A living faith demonstrates loving action. 

We need to go back to what was happening at the time of James writing this. James had just declared that if you did not show mercy to others, God would not show mercy to you and would provide judgment without mercy. 

Which in turn, produced hypocritical people boasting of their faith so as to secure themselves against that judgment, yet they neglected the practice of holiness and righteousness.

James was speaking to Christians from a Jewish background. 

Christianity had provided them with the glory of salvation through faith, 

rather than their Jewish faith where righteousness was created through works. 

As Christians they were no longer judged whether they had been able to keep the 613 laws expected of them. Unfortunately they had gone to the other extreme of thinking that their works didn’t matter at all.

Many argue that James is contradicting what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,9, 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 

However, many believe James was just clarifying the kind of faith that saves. 

It goes like this:

We are saved by grace

through faith,

not by works; 

but saving faith

will have works that accompany it.

Paul too understood the necessity of works in proving the character of our faith, in the next verse, Ephesians 2:10,

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Paul also wrote in Titus 3:8,

“This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”

Basically it’s not enough to have taken the altar call, come forward, confessed your sins, accepted Jesus’s payment for your sin and then walk home and keep living the way you have always lived.

That is what James would call a dead faith. According to James we can have a dead faith or a living faith. In verses 15-17 James gives an example of dead faith. 

In the scenario James presents, someone of “faith” says to a brother or sister who is naked and destitute of daily food, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled.” Right off the bat they cannot claim ignorance. Clearly they comprehend that their brother and sister need food and clothing, but they choose not to give them the things they need, except perhaps, “I will pray for you.” 

You know their need 

but offer nothing except a few religious words?   


It’s as superficial as “God Bless You” when you sneeze. What good is it? 


How many times, in the Gospels, do we read when a physical or emotional need was presented to Jesus and 

He responded with just a kind word? 


Jesus demonstrated real faith, faith in action, this involved listening, understanding the real need and providing it. When we hear of needs we should sometimes pray less and simply do more to help the people in need. 

Example of Dr. Jim O’Connell and having homeless people on his Board, so they can know what homeless people really need.

This is the first time James mentions a “dead” faith. 

What does James mean by “dead” faith? Vs. Living faith? 

Having faith in Jesus Christ is the beginning 

and faith alone saves us. 

What we do with that faith, 

determines whether it is alive or dead? 

One can tell if their faith is alive by seeing if it is accompanied by good works. 

Think about it, if we really believe in something we will follow through and act upon it. 

I am reminded of a story I heard and I found it on youtube, it goes like this. 

What Does Faith Look Like?

Many years ago, the story goes, a man named Blondin strung a tightrope across Niagara Falls and proceeded to traverse the raging waters. A crowd gathered as he successfully made his way back to his starting place.

Who here believes I can cross over Niagara Falls again, but this time pushing a wheelbarrow?

The exhilarated crowd began shouting, “We believe, we believe!” And sure enough, Blondin steered the wheelbarrow successfully across The Falls and back, to the riotous applause of the onlookers!

“Who here believes I can cross over Niagara Falls a 3rd time, but this time with a man in the wheelbarrow?”

The crowd could barely control their enthusiasm, so spectacular were the achievements of this death-defying aerialist. “We believe! We believe!” they roared, all the louder.

Blondin replied, Ok, then who will be my first volunteer in the wheelbarrow?”


Only the background splash and splatter of falling water.


James tells us that if our faith is living then it will not be separated from works. James heard people argue that having works was a “gift” and not everyone had the “gift of works.” 

For James the works done because of faith 

were not gifts from God but 

what demonstrates to God and to others that 

their faith is a reality. 

Just believing is not enough. 

James argues even the demons do that, and shudder. 

Then James provides two Old Testament examples of how their actions, due to their faith, were what saved them. 

The first person was Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith long before he was asked to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Genesis 15:6,

 “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

But it was his obedience in offering Isaac that demonstrated that he really did trust God. If Abraham had never believed God, he could have never done the good work of obedience when he was asked to offer Isaac. 

James provides a second example of an Old Testament character who was about as far away from Abraham as you could get. He refers to Rahab the harlot, and a Gentile. It’s as if James realized the partiality that existed in the early church between those who were Jewish and the Gentiles who were starting to believe.  

Like Abraham, she believed in the God of Israel and she also did something with her faith, by hiding the spies and seeking salvation from their God.  She demonstrated a living faith because she stepped out of her comfort zone and did something to help others.

The lesson from Abraham makes it clear: If we believe in God, we will do what He tells us to do. 

The lesson from Rahab also makes it clear: If we believe in God, we will help His people, even when it costs us something. 

James sums it up quite clearly, James 2:26, from The Message, 

“The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.”

What an excellent analogy. 

You can have a body with no life – it’s called a corpse. 

You can also have faith with no life – 

it too is called a corpse. 

Corpses are dead. 

According to James, dead faith doesn’t save. 

Okay, check in time.

Who wants to join me in God’s Wheelbarrow? 

When was the last time you took a risk for God? 

I encourage you to take some time today or this week and ask yourself, if you were to be put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? 

Let’s pray.