Can Your Faith Save You? (Part 1) (James 2:14-19)

Main Idea: Saving faith is more than knowing facts.


When I was 13 years old, my youth minister Jeff explained faith to me like this. Maybe you’ve seen this before, too. If I have faith that a chair will support me, then when it comes time to sit down, I’ll sit in the chair. But if I say that I believe the chair will support me, but never actually sit in the chair, then I demonstrate with my actions that I don’t really have faith in the chair.

The same is true with our faith in Jesus. If we say that we believe in Jesus, but never do what He says, we demonstrate that we don’t have true faith in Jesus. But if we really trust Him, we’ll take a step of faith, even if we still have some degree of fear, and allow Jesus to sustain us and support us as we follow Him.

I’m going to preach this sermon in two parts. Today, the first part, will focus primarily on how saving faith is more than head knowledge or wishful thinking. Faith is more than merely believing that a chair is strong enough. It’s a belief that leads to action.

Next week, we’ll focus on the action side of things, how saving faith transforms us so that we actually do what God wants us to do. But this week, we’re going to focus more on the belief aspect of it, although there will certainly be some overlap. In short, genuine faith does not stop in our heads, it directs our hands and feet to serve Him. The message of both this week and next week is simply that saving faith is a trust in God that leads to a change in how you actually live.

We’ll begin this morning with James 2:14.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14)

Father, help us to have true faith, a faith that saves. A faith that serves You and others. And even when we feel like our faith is weak, help us to remember that You are strong, so that we rest in You alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Abby often uses this illustration, and I think it’s a good one. If you have a billion dollars in the bank, but live as if you have nothing, then I’m not really sure you believe you have a billion dollars.

In 2019, a homeless millionaire in St. Louis named Gary Schaefer went missing. Gary is a retired firefighter who actually decided that he preferred to live by a creek in Maplewood, Missouri. His pension from the St. Louis Fire Department just sits untouched in his bank account. And when his mom passed away, she also left him about a million dollars. But he hasn’t used any of it.

There was another homeless millionaire about a decade ago named Richard Leroy Walters. When he retired, he also retired from material comforts. Even though he was an avowed atheist, he ate for free at Catholic missions and just visited with friends there. He slept outside on the grounds of a senior center. He gave up all the things that we think we have to have, and just enjoyed nature and people. According to Wikipedia, Richard received Jesus on his deathbed. When Richard died, since he didn’t have any family, he left all of his $4 million dollars to several nonprofits, Catholic charities, and a few friends.

Both of these people, Gary and Richard, had millions of dollars, yet lived as if they had nothing.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that money is everything, and there are actually some very good reasons not to live like how many rich people live. But I hope you see the point. If we believe that God is good, and that He’s forgiven us of all our sins, then that truth will transform us.

Our passage this morning begins with an interesting question. “What good is it if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” It’s an interesting question because we might at first think that we’re supposed to answer the question the other way. We might be tempted to say that works are irrelevant to our faith and salvation.

Because the Bible is clear that we’re not saved at all by works, but by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)

Salvation is completely a gift of God. It’s not based on what we do. What we do can’t save us, because then no one would be saved. Romans 3:10.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10)

We can’t save ourselves, because we’re not righteous. So the only way we can be saved is by God’s grace. So Paul writes in Romans 3:28:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)

This is all so very crucial in understanding the gospel. We sin, but Jesus saves.

Charles Spurgeon once described grace like this. It’s like a little fish, being very thirsty, being worried that it could drink the river dry, and the river says to it, “Drink away, little fish, my stream is sufficient for thee.” Or, it’s like a man breathing heavily on top of a mountain saying to himself, “I fear I shall exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere.” But the earth might reply, “Breathe away, oh man, and fill thy lungs ever; my atmosphere is sufficient for thee.”

And even in light of all of our sin, 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” God’s grace is greater than all our sin. That’s the gospel. We sin, but Jesus saves.

I think a lot of people today think the gospel is that we sin, but we can still save ourselves. That’s even what most other religions teach as well. Interestingly, the Hindu concept of sin is somewhat similar to how we understand sin in Christianity. In many cases, there actually is a right and a wrong in Hinduism. But like most of the world, Hindus believe they can save themselves through their own efforts. Through their own works. But Christianity is different from every other religion in the world because we recognize that we can only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

And yet, James asks whether a faith devoid of works can save a person. Is it enough to say you have faith, even if you don’t have any works? If you say you have faith, but don’t live like it, can such a faith save a person?

Maybe you’ve asked yourself before, “Can my faith save me?” Maybe you’ve wondered if you had enough faith, or if you do enough good things. How can you possibly know if your faith is good enough?

Verse 15.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

James is pointing out that saving faith is alive. It’s not dead. Dead people can do nothing, but living people are able to do all sorts of things. Paul wrote that before we had faith, we were all dead in our sins. We could do nothing, so we certainly couldn’t save ourselves. But after we’ve come to faith in Jesus, we’ve been made alive. And being alive, we ought to display the faith that makes us alive.

If a living person chooses to act like a dead person, we’d call that a wasted life. If they didn’t get a job, and they didn’t eat anything, and they didn’t speak to anyone, and they didn’t even get out of bed, we’d recognize that they were probably depressed and needed help because something was wrong.

And when someone says that they’re a Christian, but doesn’t begin to act alive, transformed, we ought to recognize that something’s wrong then even more! Because in that case, we’re not just talking about a choice that they made, but a choice that God made in them. Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit. (John 15:16a)

When we come to faith in Christ, it’s not just us choosing God, it’s God choosing us. So when we don’t then go and bear fruit, something’s wrong. Because when you trust in Jesus to forgive your sin, God’s Holy Spirit actually comes to dwell inside of you! Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 3.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

In other words, we don’t come to church to meet with God. God is with us wherever we go! He dwells in you by grace through faith.

The God who created all things, and sustains the universe by His power, and rose Jesus from the dead came to live in your heart to give you life and strength to live for Him. And if that doesn’t change you, there’s something seriously wrong. Maybe you’ve come to believe a few facts about Jesus, and say you’ve trusted Him as your Savior, but you haven’t yet trusted Him as your Lord.

James points out that saving faith, the kind of faith that makes us alive, is more than wishful thinking. If your neighbor is broke and tells you about how they can’t afford food, it does them no good to say to them, “Well, I hope that works out for you!” And while they certainly need prayer, and prayer is effective, it also does them little good to tell them, “I’ll be praying that works out for you!”

How often are we guilty of that? I know I have been. How often do we hear about a person’s need, and just let them know we’ll be praying for them? And it’s great to pray for them, I don’t want to discourage that at all, but maybe when they ask for prayer, what they’re really asking for is help, and it’s a great opportunity to ask them, “How can I help you?”

Absolutely pray for them, but also know that a faith that’s alive will also help them get food. Maybe you buy it yourself, or maybe you get them in touch with the food pantry which all of our churches work together to support. But either way, it’s a faith that goes beyond wishful thinking, and actually seeks to meet the needs of people who are in need.

Why? Quite simply, it’s because faith that’s alive knows that it’s only alive because God made it alive.

John says it this way in 1 John 3.

If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

God’s love isn’t to be hoarded. When we trust in Jesus, we’re saying that we understand that God loves me, a sinner in need. And if we then don’t go on to meet the needs of the people around us, we fail to display God’s love to others, which we say we’ve received. It doesn’t make any sense!

During His ministry on the earth, Jesus healed countless people of various sicknesses and diseases. One of them was Peter’s mother-in-law. It says in Matthew 8:

And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. (Matthew 8:14-15)

Now, what if when Jesus supposedly healed her, she just continued to lay in bed? Everyone would say, “He didn’t really heal her. Where’s the proof?” But when Jesus healed her, she got up and began to serve them. She didn’t heal herself by getting up, but she demonstrated that her healing was real by getting up and serving Jesus.

In the same way, saving faith is a faith that’s alive and well, because it makes us alive and well. We’re not saved by works, and yet if we’ve received Christ as Savior, then we’re made alive so that we can then serve God by doing good works for His glory.

And yet, this relationship between faith and works can be so easily misunderstood. Verse 18.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:18-19)

As Christians, we don’t get to pick one or the other. We can’t say to one another, “You have faith and I have works,” or “You have works and I have faith.” No, they’re a package deal. God doesn’t just want us to believe in Jesus, but to live in such a way as to show Jesus to the world.

Saving faith is more than knowing facts. Demons know a lot of facts about God, but they refuse to humble themselves before God. I’m sure that Satan knows the facts of the Bible far better than I do, and yet he curses God and rebels against God. Knowing facts about Jesus isn’t saving faith. Saving faith is trusting Jesus to save you.

And if you trust Jesus to save you, then you’ll follow Him.

You see, you can’t possibly show your faith apart from works because that’s not genuine faith. It’s just talk. But you can show your faith by your works. Anytime you love your neighbor, you’re showing your faith in Jesus. Anytime you give money to the Lord at church or to someone in need outside of the church, you’re showing that you value God more than you value your stuff. Anytime you share the gospel, or sacrifice your time to help people, or serve your community in the name of Jesus, you’re displaying a love for God because He first loved you.

We’re going to be talking more about that next week. But for now, I want you to simply ask yourself based on what we’ve been studying this morning if your faith can save you. I can’t answer the question for you. You’ve got to ask yourself and be honest with God whether your faith in Jesus is more than simply knowing things about Jesus. Do you trust Him? Do you trust Him enough to take a step of faith?

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

James is one of the most simple and practical letters in the New Testament written to encourage and instruct believers. The fact that this letter is in the Bible is interesting, though, because it actually almost didn’t make the cut. Some well-known Christians throughout history didn’t like it or think that it measured up to… (read more)

Bible Passages: James 2:14-19
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