Sorry, no audio available.

James 2:14-26


Try and follow me because I want to give you a little bit of church history as a means to helping you understand this passage.

300 years after Christ a man named Jerome translated the Greek Bible into Latin which was the language of Rome. His translation was called the Vulgate.  When Jerome came to the Greek word repent which is Metanoia, which literally means meta to change, noia your mind, thinking, attitude, Jerome chose the Latin word Penatentium from which we get our word penitentiary and penalty.

The word penitentium is nothing to do with changing your mind, thinking or your attitudes it means to be punished and to pay for your sins. And that is what a penitentiary is for.

For 1500 years Jerome’s Vulgate was the main Bible translation used by the Catholic Church and they taught that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but if you were to be truly forgiven, you not only had to believe in Jesus but you had to take some punishment or make some payment for your sins as well.  They called this penance.

The Catholic Church taught that you could do this by either punishing yourself or by making some financial payment to the church.

Ill. Some of you have been to Jerusalem and seen the Via Dolorosa, which is supposed to be the pathway upon which Jesus carried His cross to Calvary. The Catholic Church encouraged believers to go to Jerusalem and crawl along the 600 metre pathway on their bare hands and knees as part of the punishment for their sins. There were many other forms of self-inflicted punishments the church prescribed as penance.

In 1513 Pope Leo X needed money to complete the building of St Peters Basilica in Rome and so he decided to make good use of this word penitentium and sent his envoys throughout Europe telling the people that if they contributed financially to the project, it would help pay for their sins and get them to heaven.

Martin Luther, a monk with a legal background knew what the original Greek word repent meant and he protested against this abuse and distortion of scripture. He boldly declared that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not by any self-inflicted punishment or by any religious practice but by believing in Jesus Christ alone. Eph 2:8-9

Martin Luther’s protest brought about the Protestant Movement that changed the whole course of church history.

So where does James fit into all this?

Well, because the Catholic Church had taught for centuries that people needed to believe and do penance in order to gain God’s forgiveness, Martin Luther was absolutely adamant that the Bible taught we are saved by faith in Christ alone.

And so when Luther read this passage we read this morning he felt that James was saying exactly what the Catholic Church taught, that we are saved by faith in Christ as well as good works. And as a result Luther dismissed the whole Book of James calling it an Epistle of straw.

After that big introduction let’s look at the passage.

Deceptive faith and Genuine faith.


When James was writing this letter there were people who said that all you need to do to be forgiven and accepted by God was to believe the basic, central truths of the Christian faith: that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross for our sins and rose again.

The problem was that although they claimed to be Christians, there was no real evidence in their behaviour and attitudes. They were basically no different from the unbelievers around them.

They would probably have excused their stink attitudes and unloving behaviour by saying, “I’m a Christian, I’m saved, I’m going to heaven because I believe in Jesus, not because of my good works.”

That Bible truth that we saved by grace through faith in Christ alone has been used by many so called Christians as an excuse to live and behave in ways that are offensive to God and unloving towards others.

Over the years I have come across many people who claimed to be Christians, who claimed to believe in Jesus but their attitudes and behaviour was very un-Christian.

Many of those people attended church, were even involved in the workings of the church and yet they were bad tempered, uncaring, greedy, selfish, resentful, dishonest in business, critical and condemning of others, fowl mouthed and sexually immoral.

Now I know we all get it wrong at times, But I am talking about people who continually behave like this and somehow it doesn’t concern them.

Lois and I have often said, “How can these people behave like that and yet claim to be Christians?”

The favourite excuses are, “Well nobody’s perfect or I am saved by the grace of God not by my good works.”

Ill. When I was training for the ministry in the early 1970s I went down to Wellington to run a children’s programme in a Baptist church. The Baptist Pastor told me that one of the leading Pentecostal Pastors in Wellington  was carrying on an adulterous relationship with one of the women in this Baptist church. The Baptist pastor confronted the Pentecostal Pastor and this was his response, “I have got so much love, it’s too much for one woman to handle.”

There was no sense of shame or remorse and yet he claimed to be a Christian and believe in Jesus. He was deceiving himself. If he was a true believer, he would have felt terrible about his behaviour, confessed his sin and broken off the relationship and resigned from ministry. 

It’s interesting, but I came across this man many years later and to my knowledge he was no longer following Jesus.

Jesus spoke about people like this when He said,

“Many who call me Lord will not enter the Kingdom because they do not do the will of my father in heaven.”

Deceptive faith is that which claims to believe in Jesus but it has no effect on a person’s attitudes or behaviour.

James says here that this is the kind of faith Satan has. He believes that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again, but that faith has not made a scrap of difference to his attitudes or behaviour.

2 Corinthians 13:15 Pauls says, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine.”



Genuine saving faith is made up of 3 essential qualities.

Learned faith, lasting faith and living faith.

Learned Faith

What do I mean by learned faith?

I mean faith that is informed, faith that is based on strong, sound evidence.

Millions of people believe in things that have no solid evidence and are not even true. It is misinformed or unlearned faith. I’ve pointed out on a number of occasions that there is absolutely no evidence for the claims Mohammed has made.

He claimed that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and gave him the Koran. No one else could verify this claim. The whole religion is based on one man’s unconfirmed word. A man who in his life time committed adultery, incest, cruelty and murder.

Compare this to the life and teachings of Jesus. His miracles were performed in public and even his enemies never denied nor disproved them. His behaviour was sinless, even His enemies could find no fault in Him. He was executed publicly and over 500 people testified that they had seen Him and interacted with Him after His resurrection.

The evidence for the life, death and resurrection is so strong and compelling that it would stand in any modern day court of law.

Misinformed faith or even faith on its own is futile. It is so important that we place our faith in the right thing, because if we dont we are in for major disappointment.

I have heard non-Christian people say, “I’ve got faith that I’ll get through this difficulty.” Or another favourite is crossing fingers and believing for the best.

So I ask, “What was your faith in?” It’s just faith in faith or its faith in themselves. I cringe whenever I hear people say, “My faith in human nature has been restored.”

I have found that human nature apart from the grace of God is the most fallible, unreliable stuff around.

Listen to what God says in Jeremiah 17:5 “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere human beings, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. They are like a bush in the desert that will dry up and die.”

Philippians 3:3 “We put no confidence in human nature.”

Genuine saving faith is learned faith. It is not blind , uninformed or misinformed faith. It knows what it believes and can give an answer for the hope it has.

I am saddened by how many people in our churches don’t even know how to explain to a non-Christian how they could be forgiven by God, saved from their sin and get to heaven.

If you can’t tell someone else how to get to Auckland from Hamilton, I would assume that you don’t know how to get there yourself. Bombshell.

Lasting faith

I‘ve shared this with you before. Genuine saving is not something you exercise once in your life, it is something that you continue to exercise until the day you meet Jesus.

I often asked Christian parents the question, “Are your children following the Lord?”  And some of them said, “Not at this time, but we believe they are Christians because they made a decision to follow Jesus and were baptised when they were young.” “What is their attitude towards Christ now?” “They don’t talk about it and they have become so busy with all their own interests that they just do their own thing.” It may sound a bit hard but that is not genuine faith in Christ.

Genuine faith in Christ does not make a commitment to Christ and then drop out and give it all away. It perseveres – Those who endure to the end will be saved.

When John uses the word believe in his Gospel he uses the continuous present tense. Believing, exercising faith in Christ is not something we do once and then go on doing our own thing. It is something we do continually and that is why John 3:16 reads in the original Greek, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that whoever continues to believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Here is a word for those of us who are nearing the finish line. 1 Tim 1:19 “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately gone against their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.”

Living Faith

Genuine saving faith in Christ is living, active, growing faith. And this is what James is stressing in this passage.

If you say you have faith in Jesus but that faith is not actively responding to the Spirit of God, the Word of God then it is dead. It is no better than a corpse.

The thing about a corpse is that it has ceased to function and it is unresponsive. You can speak to it, Yell at it, kick it, punch it, but it won’t respond, because it’s dead.

When people claim to have faith in Jesus but they don’t respond to the Spirit of God, or the Word of God or the needs of their fellow Christians, their faith is as dead as a corpse.

James gives 2 examples of people who had a living faith in God. How do we know it was living faith? Because when God spoke to them their faith responded in obedience. When God told Abraham to offer up his son Isaac, he trusted God and obeyed.

Rahab believed in the Lord because of what she had heard about His mighty miracles among the Israelites. So when the two Israelite spies came to Jericho she took a huge risk, trusted God and hid the spies in her home.

Is your faith in Christ a living faith or dead faith? If it is living, it will be responding to the Spirit of God and Word of God as they speak to you. I want to give you some examples of how living faith works in my life.

Ill. Maori couple. 

Ill. The Johnsons. I had been out all day, I was really tired.

Ill. On the way to Te Puke.

I want to finish with a word to the older people here:  Is your faith in Christ living, active and growing?

Just in the last week I have heard older Christians say about their bad tempered, irritable, stubborn, proud, resentful Christian spouses, “They are too old they will never change now.”

What a sad, sad indictment. When a Christian gets to that stage where they are unwilling to change, to learn, to grow, to humble themselves and apologise, to forgive, to show compassion, their faith in Jesus is not living, it’s not functioning.

There may be some here this morning who know their Bibles inside out, who claim to have faith in Christ, but there is very little evidence of it in their attitudes and behaviour.

In fact if your faith is truly dead, like a corpse you will be completely, unaffected and unresponsive to what I am saying. Tragic.

But if you have sensed the Spirit stirring you this morning there is still some life left in your faith and there hope for you.

Listen to the Words of Jesus in Revelation 3:2 2 “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.”