The Apostle Paul stated that those who are saved are saved apart from works. (Rom 4:5, 6) So how could works ever save some one from the lake of fire? James cannot be teaching faith in Jesus plus good works since that would contradict the rest of Scripture. No one earns eternal life by doing any good work. It simply requires faith on the part of each individual in the complete and finished work of Jesus Christ. (Rom 4:5) Nothing can be added to it. It is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
When it comes to works, they are to be a result of faith. We are saved unto good works “which God prepared beforehand that we SHOULD walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) The grace of God teaches us that we SHOULD live godly … and to be zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14) He also instructed Titus that believers SHOULD be careful to maintain good works. (Titus 3:8) They needed to LEARN to maintain good works…. that THEY MAY NOT BE UNFRUITFUL. (Titus 3:14) Good works are not automatic. They are learned. And the writer to the Hebrew believers exhorted them to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24)
The apostle Paul writing to Timothy commanded those that are rich, “… not to be haughty nor to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God… Let them do good, that they may be rich in good works.” Why exhort the rich to be rich in good works if good works are an inevitable outcome of salvation?
It’s impossible for another human to judge a person’s salvation based upon his/her good works. Jesus addressed individuals who look very much like one of His believers. They prophesied in His name. They cast out demons in His name. They did wonders in His name. They even call Him Lord. But Jesus says that He never knew them. (Matt 7:22, 23) They did not enter through the narrow gate. (7:13, 14) These men had done great and wonderful works, but they were not saved. Why? Because they were basing their entrance into the kingdom upon the good things that they did – their good works!
Judas deceived his fellow disciples for three years. When Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him they didn’t have a clue of whom he was speaking. Each of them asked, “Lord is it I?” (Matt 26:22) If works are proof of salvation, some believers may appear not to be saved while some unbelievers may appear to be saved because of all the ‘good’ things they do. Some people live morally. They don’t lie, cheat, or steal. They remain faithful to their spouses. They go to church religiously. They might look saved because of it, but they may be just as lost as the worst unbelieving sinner. That is why one’s salvation cannot be judged according to their ‘good’ works.
Only a believer can produce works that glorify God. But genuineness of works comes from the heart with the proper motivation which must be empowered by the Holy Spirit in us. And only God can discern that for only He can see the heart of the individual. (II Sam 16:7) The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
The point of this is to say that James is not speaking of faith that saves a person from the lake of fire. He is not speaking about believing unto salvation. He is speaking about faith that is alone, that is not accompanied by works. If he had been uncertain about the salvation of some, would he have exhorted them to do good works to prove they were saved? Or would he have said something like ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved?
So he asks, ‘Can faith save him?’ Save him from what? Save doesn’t always mean saved from the lake of fire. It can mean deliverance from a dangerous situation, a disease, even physical death. James has already warned them not to be deceived concerning sin. Full grown sin will lead to death (1:15) but receiving the implanted word would save them from the power of sin, in other words save them from a ruined unproductive life and possibly from a premature physical death. (1:21)
Physical death can be the consequence of sinful actions by a believer. Many of the Corinthians died as a result of God’s judgment on them. (I Cor. 11:30, 32) Physical death and spiritual death are distinct. God has used physical death to discipline disobedient children.
Part 2 Tomorrow