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In his epistle, James addresses dead faith. I believe many churchgoers today have that kind of faith. But what exactly is dead faith?
Let’s begin with James’ opening statement on the subject: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, NASB).
James does not answer the question he poses. But to me the implication of the question is clear. The answer he is driving at is clearly “no, it can’t save him.”
Now, after saying that, I need to reconcile something here. In Eph. 2:8-9, Paul wrote these words: “For by grace are ye saved through faith…not of works, lest any man should boast” (KJV). So James seems to be saying yes on works while Paul says, no works required. But actually, these two statements are not in conflict.
James is not talking about the works of the Law to justify us; rather, works that reflect one’s faith. You see, biblical faith is not subjective. In other words, your idea of what it means to have faith in God is not necessarily what it means to have faith in God. Everybody may have his own personal idea of what it means to have faith in God. But James is underscoring the important point that not all so-called faith is the right kind of faith.
What is Dead Faith
Here is the bottom line: “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (verse 17, NASB). Hence, if one’s faith is all talk and no work, it’s dead faith meaning it is not real faith. Dead faith pertains to a person who says he has faith but never demonstrates that faith by any actions. And as I said at the beginning, I believe many churchgoers today fall into that category.
Wherever true faith exists, there will be accompanying works. Consider a bridge that has questionable stability. What you believe about how safe it is will determine how you interact with that bridge. If you believe the bridge is safe, you will cross it. If you don’t, you won’t or you will fear every time you do. If you say you believe it’s safe but every day you take a 10-mile detour to avoid crossing that bridge, it is evident that you don’t believe it’s safe.
Even the Devil Has Dead Faith
“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shutter,” James continues (verse 19). That’s more than we can say about some churchgoers. Moreover, the devil already knows his days are numbered. In Matthew 8:29, the demons asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
So the devil believes in the reality of God. He trembles at the thought of that reality. And he knows his days are numbered. But none of that translates into any action on the devil’s part to turn to God. You see, it does not matter how deeply you believe the things you believe about God and His Son, until you have the kind of faith that expresses itself in accompanying works, you still have nothing but dead faith.
The Nature of Biblical Faith
When you have true faith in God—as opposed to dead faith–it will naturally express itself in things that you do. Of course, the degree to which that is true varies from person to person.
No, we don’t have to work to become saved, but we are saved to do good works. Hence, Paul writes, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB).
Sad but true, many people who faithfully attend church today are merely religious. They have no appetite for God. They seldom pray. They have little or no appetite for the Bible. They claim to have faith in God, but their so-called faith seldom if ever expresses itself through the things they say and do. These are the symptoms of dead faith.
The main problem with dead faith is that it will not and cannot get you into heaven. Salvation requires more than merely being religious and giving mental assent to some biblical truths. You must repent of your sins. You must believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that He bodily rose again. Last but not least, you have to commit to living your life by faith in Him.
That’s the difference between dead faith and the kind of faith that heaven requires.
Copyright © 2020 by Frank King. All rights reserved.