Daily Devotional

James 2:14

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?"

I once heard a comedian tell a story about an interaction he had with his friend that went something like this:

Comedian: Do you want to get a donut?
Friend: No, I’m not hungry.
Comedian: What does that have to do with anything?

To this comedian (and many of us) the question “Do you want to get a donut?” is a rhetorical one. We’re expecting one answer and one answer only, a resounding “YES!”

Rhetorical questions are often used in the Bible to make a point. The question is meant to be so obvious that you automatically know the answer without really having to think about it. Here James is essentially asking “Can genuine faith be expressed but never acted on?” The answer is meant to be a resounding “NO!”

Simply saying we have faith doesn’t do any good on its own. We don’t perform good works to be saved; good works happen because we are saved. Our behavior reveals what we really believe. Words are easy but actions are proof that words are real.

To further illustrate his point, James goes on in verses 15 and 16 to state, “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?” Once again, the answer is expected to be known by everyone; it doesn’t do any good at all. Just noticing someone in need is not enough, action needs to be taken.

Think of the story of the Good Samaritan. What made the Samaritan good? Whereas the priest and Levite walked by the injured man, the Samaritan took action and helped him. In James’ example, just telling someone to be warmed and filled doesn’t do any good for them. It’d be like if you had a glass of water while someone was dying of thirst. If your response to them was “you should really find some shade, maybe get a glass of water as well,” what good would that do for them? We might walk away from such an interaction feeling better about ourselves, but I doubt the same could be true for the individual we supposedly “helped.” Instead, we should take action to help them. Words aren’t enough, actions are what prove faith is alive.

My wife and I once went to a wax museum. It was an odd experience because some of the wax figures were so incredibly life-like that I was sure they would start moving at any given second. Even though they looked incredibly life-like, they weren’t really alive. They had no breath in them, they had no life. A body that is not breathing is not alive, and in the same way a faith that is not working is also not alive. John Calvin put it this way, “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies is never alone.” James asks us, what good is a faith that doesn’t work? True faith saves AND true faith works.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.