When it comes to their relationship with God, a lot of people have this idea that God keeps a big scale on which He weighs our behavior here on earth. If the good we do on earth outweighs the bad, then surely God will one day let us into heaven. Such an idea leads many people to assume that their salvation is dependent on their own efforts. On the other hand, there are those who see good works as a thing to avoid altogether. Since salvation is by faith and not of works, some see works as being unnecessary. There are extremes in two opposite directions. You have those those think that they are earning favor with God by their own efforts. Then you have those who profess faith but there is no evidence of its outworking in their life.
What is the relationship between faith and works? This question is taken up by James in these verses. Some have referred to James as the epistle of action because of its emphasis on the practical nature of New Testament faith. Faith and works are mentioned in tandem a total of ten times in these 13 verses. James tells us that if we say we have faith, then there will be some evidence in our lives that backs up the claim. The debate hinges on the failure of some to make a distinction between the requirement for salvation versus the result of salvation. Faith is the requirement. Works are the result! Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. Yet that faith will never remain alone—it will always result in a life that is changed and characterized by obedience. Faith without works is dead.
I read where in the ancient world, someone who found a person who appeared to be dead would take a mirror and hold it under that person’s nose. If the mirror slowly fogged up, it indicated that life was still in the body though the person was barely breathing. If the mirror remained clear after a brief while, it was evident there was no life in the body.
James helps us here by holding up a ‘mirror’ of sorts to our lives. Are we full of vibrant faith that is full of good works that are pleasing and glorifying to God? Or, are we orthodox in what we claim to believe, but in reality are cold and dead? James says faith without works is fruitless, worthless, and lifeless.
For more, read James 2:14-26