Introduction: “Faith versus Works” is the everlasting theological
debate. How about rephrasing the discussion by saying “Faith that
Works?” Does that help? Or, is that just a different way to say
that works are a key ingredient to salvation? Perhaps we need a
better understanding of what “faith” means. Let’s dive into the old
debate by looking at what James and Paul write and see if we can
learn something new from the Bible!

  1. Understanding Faith

    1. Read James 2:14. How would you answer James’ question?

      1. Read Romans 3:28. Now, how would you answer James’

      2. Can you begin to see that the debate about faith and
        works has been going on for a very long time?

      3. Can you think of a way to reconcile James 2:14 and
        Romans 3:28? (Paul and James seem to be saying
        slightly different things. Paul says that we are
        justified without reference to the law (“apart from
        observing the law.”) James’ question suggests (and he
        gets clearer later) that someone who has faith also
        has deeds.)

    2. Read James 2:15-16. James asks “What good is it?” What is
      “it?” (I think he means “faith.”)

      1. If “it” means faith, is there some good in faith
        alone? (Surely if we are justified “by faith apart
        from observing the law” ( Romans 3:28), there is some
        good in faith alone.)

    3. Read Matthew 22:37-40. What is the essence of the law? (To
      love God and our fellow humans.)

      1. What is the problem with a faith that lets a fellow
        Christian go without food and clothes? (It certainly
        violates the law. But, Paul tells us in Romans 3:28
        that we are justified by faith “apart from observing
        the law.”)

    4. Read Galatians 5:6. What does Paul say about faith here?
      (That faith “expresses” itself. That means that faith has
      something to say and do. One thing it does is to love.)

      1. Go back to James 2:16. Is this love? (No. If the
        expression of faith is love, then James points out
        that something is wrong with this kind of faith.)

    5. Read James 2:17. If you know someone who neither says nor
      does anything, is that person alive? (They could be alive,
      but something would be terribly wrong. James is arguing
      that if we have a live faith, it bears fruit. Otherwise
      something is terribly wrong.)

    6. Read Matthew 7:17-20. What does Jesus say is the
      relationship between what you are and what you do? (The
      fruit of the tree reflects the nature of the tree. I think
      that is James’ point about faith. The results of the faith
      reflect the nature of the faith.)

  2. Demon Faith

    1. Read James 2:18-19. Do you think that Satan and his fallen
      angels believe in God? (Read Revelation 12:7-9 and
      Revelation 12:4. I understand this to mean that Satan
      recruited a third of the angels and made war in heaven.
      God won, and Satan and his followers were cast to earth.
      Clearly, this group believes in God.)

      1. Let’s think about this a moment. Do Satan and his
        angels have works? (Read Revelation 12:17. Of course
        Satan has works. When James says that they “believe
        … and shudder,” that doesn’t begin to describe
        their works.)

      2. If James says that faith and works must go together,
        then Satan has perfect faith and works. What is the
        problem with this logic? (The question of faith for a
        Christian is not whether you believe in God, the
        question is what, exactly, do you believe about God?
        Satan believes that God and His followers should be
        destroyed. God loves humans in a self-sacrificing
        way. A human who believes in that kind of God will
        also love others in a self-sacrificing way.)

  3. Abraham’s Works

    1. Read James 2:20-21. I think James intended this to be a
      rhetorical question to prove his point about deeds, but I
      think we should answer it. What do you think? (I think the
      answer is “No, he was considered righteous before this

    2. Read James 2:22. What action of Abraham proved his faith?
      (James says that Abraham’s faith “was made complete” by
      his willingness to sacrifice his son.)

      1. What do you think James means by “complete?” Did
        Abraham have an “incomplete” faith before that? What
        Abraham’s faith defective in some way?

    3. Read Romans 4:2-3 and James 2:23. Both James and Paul
      point to this statement about Abraham as proof for their
      position. Let’s focus on the James’ version for a minute.
      How was the statement about Abraham’s faith “fulfilled”
      when he offered his son to God?

    4. Now let’s focus on Romans 4:2-3. What does Paul say about
      Abraham’s works (such as offering his son) and his
      righteousness? (That Abraham was not justified by his

      1. Let’s read Romans 4:9-11 to be sure we understand
        what Paul is writing. What action of Abraham proved
        his faith? (Belief. Paul goes out of his way to say
        that even a little work (compare circumcision to
        sacrificing your son) was not a part of the reason
        for Abraham’s righteousness.)

    5. Read Genesis 15:6. Both James and Paul are citing this
      same section of Genesis. Let’s add some context. Read
      Genesis 15:5-6. Who is most correctly citing Genesis 15:6?
      (I vote for Paul. The original statement in Genesis cannot
      possibly apply to Abraham sacrificing his son for his son
      was not even born at the point the Genesis statement was

      1. This brings us to a very important point. I believe
        the entire Bible is inspired by God, but James not
        only seems to directly contradict Paul, he cites the
        original Genesis statement out of context. Look again
        at James 2:21-23. Is there any way to justify his

    6. Let’s look at the actual story to which James refers. Read
      Genesis 22:9-12. What does the angel speaking for God mean
      by “now I know that you fear [Me]?” (God says this is
      proof of faith. When James says ( James 2:23) “the
      scripture was fulfilled” he must mean that Abraham’s faith
      was proven.)

    7. What is the lesson for you and me? Must we have works to
      be justified? (Paul unambiguously says ( Romans 4:9-10 that
      Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us by faith BEFORE
      works. It does not depend upon our works. But, James
      tells us that true faith results in works. As we saw,
      Satan believes in God and he is working very hard to harm
      God. If we truly believe in God, it should make a
      difference in our life. Abraham showed that his faith had
      taken him to a point where he reflected God’s own
      willingness to sacrifice Himself for us.)

    8. Read James 2:24. Just when we were doing so well, James
      makes this statement. How should this be understood? (True
      faith is reflected in our life. It might be nothing at
      first (as Paul demonstrates), but it should grow, and
      Abraham is our example for that.)

  4. The Faithful Prostitute

    1. Read James 2:25. For context, you should read Joshua
      chapter 2. What kind of a person is Rahab? (A prostitute
      and a liar.)

      1. Does this put a very different spin on James’ “works”

    2. Read Joshua 2:8-9 and Hebrews 11:31. We know about Rahab’s
      bad works, what are her good works that James wants us to
      consider? (She believed that God’s people would prevail,
      and she acted in accord with that. James can hardly be
      arguing for salvation by works, because Rahab had some
      serious works issues.)

    3. Read James 2:26. Why are works like our spirit? (If we
      really believe something, we act on it. Ideas come alive
      through actions.)

    4. Friend, can you see the big picture? James is saying
      something very simple. He is not arguing for righteousness
      by works. Rather, Abraham, Satan and Rahab have something
      very important in common. Their belief in the power of God
      animates their lives. If you truly believe in God it will
      be reflected in your life. Consider your life right now?
      What beliefs do your actions reflect?

  5. Next week: Taming the Tongue.