In a Nutshell
How is it that those saved by the powerful work of Christ Jesus can find themselves enslaved by a merciless judgment? How is faith separated from works, if not by human presumption?
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Does James suggest that faith can ever be separated from works? Why does he mention the belief of demons?
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
It is as if James is saying, "Why bother professing faith, if you are not going to show your faith in what you do?" Simply saying "faith things" is not professing faith. To see someone in need and to mouth faith words, as if that is all there is to faithful living, is a scandal. It is more than a scandal. It is useless, a living death.
It is almost senseless to try to argue for the separation of faith from works. Mere assent is not what is called forth from those to whom God speaks. The demons, whose work is to persistently oppose God's kingdom, surely give assent to God's existence - He is, after all, the One whose rule they are determined to overthrow. For demons faith and works work hand in hand. That is the terrifying implication of James' admonition to those who, having lapsed into a deferential way of living, want to suggest that they have done so in order to express their faith.
The person who, at this point, wants to appeal to faith, when "respect for persons" has been identified as a characteristic of the corporate life among Christian people, are simply fooling themselves. The lord of glory, Jesus Christ (2:1), has restored the basis for human life in all of its dimensions. The life of faith is a life of faithful work for servants of the ruler of the kings of the earth, whether they be: Abraham, the ancient father of the faithful, the Friend of God; Rahab, the prostitute; or the poetic Simeon who prophetically recognised Jesus' place in God's Kingdom when He was presented at the temple by His parents.
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles; the glory of Your people Israel (Luke 2:31).