First dead faith is not non-existence faith or no faith. We err when we use words like saving faith. ‘Saving’ faith implies that there is another type of faith that does not save. The Bible speaks to little faith, great faith, full of faith, and no faith, but not saving faith. A person either has faith unto salvation or does not have faith. One either rejects Jesus Christ and His work or receives Him and His work. When one receives, one has believed. When one believes (trusts) that person has exercised faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and receives at that very moment forgiveness of all sins (past, present, and future) and the free gift of everlasting life. (Hebrews 9:12; 9:28; I John 2:2; John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; Romans 6:23)
Secondly, dead is used as a metaphor describing faith that is separate from works –‘being alone’. Faith is present but is not being demonstrated by works, in this case, showing love toward a brother/sister in need.
Death in the Bible does not mean non-existent. Physical death is separation of the soul from the body. So James aptly compares faith that is dead to a body that is dead. (2:26) A body that is dead still exists as a body but it is separated from the soul. It ceases to perform its intended function. As a body it becomes useless, of no profit. Likewise faith is useless (dead metaphorically) when it produces no works. They were not being doers of the word, only hearing it, thus deceiving themselves. (1:22) Hearers only of the word will not be blessed in what one does. (1:25; Psalm 1)
The prodigal son in the book of Luke “was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15:24) Although he was ‘dead’ he did not cease being a son. He had made decisions that resulted in him being unproductive and was out of fellowship with the father because of it. He was not doing the things that a son should have been doing, but he was still alive and still a son nonetheless.
To show a faith that is working properly, James gave us the illustration of two people – Abraham and Rahab. Abraham’s faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected or made mature. (2:22)Had he refused to offer his son on the altar, would that have proved that he was not saved? Would it have proved that he was not justified by faith? No, it would have only shown that his faith had not completely matured. He had come into a faith relationship with God many years before this. (Genesis 15:6) But his obedience to the command demonstrated that he was trusting in God to fulfill His promise even if he sacrificed Isaac. He concluded that God could raise him from the dead. (Hebrews 11:19) The first time Abraham was justified before God. The second time he is justified before man that he was a doer of the word. In other words Abraham showed to man his faithfulness to God and because he followed through with this great act of faith, he has the awesome privilege of being called ‘the friend of God’.
It justified him as the friend of God because he was proved faithful. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14) Abraham’s claim to trust God was justified by offering up Isaac at His command. And thus Abraham became a superior example of one who was faithful by doing what God commanded. Because of Abraham’s obedience to the command, through his seed (the Messiah) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 22:18; 26:4, 5)
Rahab like Abraham demonstrated that her faith was real when she received the messengers and sent them out another way. She could have done that to save her own life as well. But God knew her heart and had James record for us that she did it in faith. Had she not hid the spies, she still had believed but she would probably have lost her life in the Israeli assault on Jericho. By hiding the spies she demonstrated to them that her faith was genuine. Her work of hiding the spies justified her before men. Her faith produced action that was helpful to Israel’s army. Because of her obedience she survived the attack and became part of the genealogy of Christ. (Matthew 1:5) What a blessing – a Gentile harlot included in the Jewish lineage of the Messiah! She was rewarded for her faithfulness.
Both Abraham and Rahab demonstrated their faith through their action. In Abraham’s case he demonstrated that his faith had grown to maturity (perfected) in contrast to sin that brings forth death when it is full grown. (1:15) In both cases it was proof of their faithfulness not their salvation.
Part 5 Conclusion: Tomorrow