The Book of James

Lesson 5 - "How To Know You Are A Real Christian"

by Pastor Frank J. Cuozzo

Pastor Frank Cuozzo

James 2:14-26, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”


-Introduction:

In the previous passage we discovered a "faith that works" is revealed in the way we treat people. Now James points out a "faith that works" makes a real difference in the way we live. This epistle is just what we need today because so many people are looking for faith that demands minimal or no change at all in the way they live.


Jesus said: wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat (Mt 7:13b). Many people today are looking for a church that teaches the way to heaven is through a wide gate and broad road. Jesus said in Matthew 7:14, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”


James warns us against faith that makes no real difference in our lives by revealing four ways to know if we are real Christians,

#1) Real Christians do more than just talk.

James 2:14 says, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”


James begins by asking a question to explain how saving faith reveals itself. He says, What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” Notice James doesn't say, "If a person HAS faith"; he asks, "If a person SAYS he has faith." In other words, if a person says "I am a Christian" but has not works by which to validate that claim, is that person a real Christian?

More than 70% of Americans say they are Christians. But do we see evidence in their lifestyles? They may claim to be Christians and know all the Christian jargon, but it takes more than talk to have "faith that works." Talk is cheap they say, but faith can and should be demonstrated by a consistent life that glorifies Christ!


The person who may say he hath faith without accompanying good works does not have faith that can save him. Faith without works (actions done in obedience to the will of the Father) is worthless. Talk is cheap, but genuine faith will prove itself in actions. In Matthew 7:20 Jesus says, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”


If you are a real Christian, your faith will reveal itself not just in words but in good works. We said first of all that real Christians do more than just talk,

#2) Real Christians do more than just feel.

James 2:15-18, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”


After bringing into examination a person who says he has saving faith without good works, James answers his own question with an illustration: If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food (2:15). This is not a professional beggar or moocher, but a Christian brother or sister in desperate need. James continues: And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (2:16).


If we see a legitimate need and try to show compassion by simply saying depart in peace, what good is that kind of faith? Therefore, James tells us if our faith hath not works, then it is dead, being alone (2:17). In other words, faith that only has feelings is dead or worthless. A true believer will do something to help. Jesus said in I John 3:17, “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”


James writes that faith without works is dead. It may seem James is contradicting what Paul writes: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul writes in Ephesian 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.


Salvation is by grace, through faith, unto good works. As someone has said, "It is faith alone that saves, but a faith that saves is never alone." That's why James writes: Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works (2:18a). Saving faith can only be verified one way; that's why James adds: I will shew thee my faith by my works (2:18b). If you are a real Christian, you will obey what command in Galatians 6:10?


If my faith doesn't make me want to take some action to help those in legitimate need, my faith isn't just weak or sick—it is dead. This is because a "faith that works"—genuine faith—is more than a feeling or emotion. We said that if you are a real Christian, you will do more than just talk and more than just feel, and...

#3) Real Christians do more than just believe.

James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”


To further show the absurdity of bogus faith without accompanying good deeds, James writes: Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well. Then, James says, “The devils also believe and tremble.” It says here that the devils believe so strongly they tremble. If you study the NT, you may be surprised at what demons believe. They believe Jesus is the Son of God, and they believe in hell according to Matthew 8:29. Demons are very orthodox in their beliefs.


Let's suppose next Sunday morning a demon comes to join our church. Because we are concerned, let's say I give him a doctrinal exam. I ask him, "Mr. 'D', do you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God?" The demon would respond, "Oh yes, I know it's true." Next, I ask him, "Mr. 'D' do you believe Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for the sins of the world?" The demon answers, "Without any doubt." Then, I ask him, "Mr. 'D' do you believe God raised Jesus from the dead?" He would respond, "Absolutely!" Finally, I ask: "Mr. 'D' will you repent of your sins and accept Christ as your savior and Lord?" He would respond, "Oh no, I don't want to repent. I want to stay as I am." A person can believe all the right things and still not possess "faith that works," a saving faith.


Just believing Adolf Hitler lived and died doesn't make a person a Nazi, and just believing Jesus lived and died doesn't make someone a Christian. Being a real Christian involves faith. The word translated repent means a change of mind or purpose. It is a change of mind that results in a change of lifestyle.


Real Christians do more than just talk, more than just feel, more than just believe, and...

#4) Real Christians show their faith by their works.

James 2:20-26, “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”


James makes an appeal by writing: But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (2:20). The word translated vain here means "empty." It is the idea of being empty of intellect or common sense.


If we believe we are real Christians and have no accompanying good works or deeds, we are foolish. To clear up any vain thinking about faith, James gives us two illustrations of how faith reveals itself. The illustrations are of two very different people, Abraham and Rahab. Abraham is a man, and Rahab is a woman. Abraham is Jewish, and Rahab is a Gentile. Abraham is the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and Rahab is a prostitute.


James writes: Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (2:21). In Romans 4:3, Paul seems to contradict James. He says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” However, James is not contradicting Paul. Paul is referring to Abraham's initial experience of justification in Genesis 15:6. James is referring to an experience recorded in Genesis 22, some 30 years later, when Abraham offered Isaac his son upon the altar. James is not saying Abraham was saved by works because he writes: And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness (Jas. 2:23a).


The word translated imputed means to credit or put on a person's account. This happened 30 years before he offered up Isaac. What Abraham did in Genesis 22 was the verifying works of his faith described in Genesis 15. How do we know Abraham really had faith in God? We can see it. He was willing to obey God to the point of sacrificing his own son. Therefore, James writes: Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (2:22). In other words, Abraham's actions verified his faith.


Because of Abraham's "faith that works," he was called the Friend of God (2:23b). The word translated Friend is the same word Jesus used in John 15:14, which says, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” The ingredient that makes us friends with God is not just what we believe but how we behave. When we live out our faith, we are truly God's friends. To be friends with God, we must be like Abraham and not hold anything back from God.

James continues: Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (2:24). James is saying what we do is the natural result of what we really believe.

In a practical sense, we can't separate saving faith and works. James is saying faith that does not verify itself with works is not faith that saves. "Faith that works," or saves, results in visible obedience to God's Word.


Jesus said not everyone who calls Him Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 7:21. Then in the next part of that parable it says that the only way we can enter the kingdom is, “He that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”


You may be thinking, "Oh, I could never be like Abraham. Is there any hope for me?" James knew that is what some would think, so he goes to the other end of the faith spectrum—from Abraham the patriarch to Rahab the prostitute. Therefore, he writes: Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (2:25).


Before Joshua leads the Israelites to attack Jericho, he sends two spies into the city. They find refuge in the home of Rahab, whose house is on the city wall. She hides the spies at risk of her own life and then helps them escape by lowering them from her window. Because of her "faith that works" she is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ and is included in Faith's Hall of Fame (Mt 1:5; Heb. 11:31).


She wasn't saved by good deeds, but her good works revealed her saving faith. James ends this section by writing: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (2:26). Just as a body without a spirit is nothing but a corpse, so faith without works is dead. A real Christian has "faith that works." Everyone needs to know if they are real Christians. II Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.”


If you are a real Christian, you will do more than just talk, feel, and believe. You will show your faith by your works.


Let’s pray.



Lesson 6  —>