“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:14, 17-19).
By John David Hicks
In the New Testament’s original language, faith means “conviction or persuasion” about something. The word action or works or deeds in the Greek means “corresponding action” that responds to your conviction or persuasion or what you say or demonstrate you believe.
If we insert the words [conviction or persuasion] for the word faith, and the words [corresponding action] in the place of deeds, we will clearly understand what faith means. With this working definition of faith, let’s read James 2:14-17:
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have [conviction or persuasion] but has no [corresponding actions]? Can such [conviction or persuasion] save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, [conviction or persuasion] by itself, if it is not accompanied by [corresponding action], is dead.”
James says your faith can be living or dead, depending on your corresponding actions. Living faith has conviction or persuasion plus corresponding actions. Dead faith has belief, conviction, or persuasion, but no corresponding actions. It is lifeless and powerless. Every reference to faith in the New Testament is talking about living faith, never dead faith.
“But someone will say, ‘You have [conviction or persuasion]; I have [corresponding action].’ Show me your [conviction or persuasion] without [corresponding action], and I will show you my [conviction or persuasion] by my [corresponding action]. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that [conviction or persuasion] without [corresponding action] is useless (dead)? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did [corresponding action] when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” (vv. 18-21).
Abraham was justified—made righteous—not by what he believed, but by his corresponding actions to what he believed.
“You see that his [conviction or persuasion] and his [corresponding action] were working together, and his [conviction or persuasion] was made complete (mature or finished) by his [corresponding action]. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (vv. 22-23).
Abraham’s faith was fulfilled when his conviction or persuasion met up with his corresponding action. He is made righteous and the friend of God because of his faith.
“You see that a person is justified (or made right with God) by what he does and not by [conviction or persuasion] alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for [corresponding actions] when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” (vv. 24-25).
Rahab’s corresponding action completed her faith.
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so [conviction or persuasion] without [corresponding action] is dead” (James 2:26).
The body plus the spirit is required for life. When the spirit leaves the body it is lifeless, powerless, and dead. Likewise, belief, conviction, or persuasion is dead without action. It takes corresponding action to put life and power into your conviction or persuasion to make it faith.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 nkjv). God’s revelation in your heart brings faith. You don’t get faith by asking God for it. Using our definition: “So then [conviction or persuasion plus corresponding action] comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Faith comes when you comprehend what you are hearing.
When John Wesley could not receive faith for salvation, his brother Charles told him to “preach faith until you get faith.” And it worked.
You only have faith when what you have heard becomes what you are hearing. “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:1-2). What you hear must be combined with conviction or persuasion plus corresponding action.
Let me illustrate this. Let’s say God puts it on my heart to teach or preach on the “Power of Blessing”—how God wants you to bless your children, others, and your enemy. You are moved by the Holy Spirit and say to your spouse, “Yes, we need to bless.” After the service, you tell me that God spoke to your heart—that is [conviction or persuasion]. The seed of God’s Word has the power to transform you. As you obey with [corresponding action] the Holy Spirit and put the seed-word into practice, it becomes a part of your experience to transform you.
But if in the next few weeks you do not have any [corresponding action] to bless your children, others, and your enemy, then that seed-word will be taken by the devil and the power that could have transformed you will be lost.
Yet, there is a greater tragedy. The truth is not taken from your mind, but it’s locked in. You believe it; you have [conviction or persuasion]. But because you did not have [corresponding action] to put it into practice, it has no power. It locked you into a form without power (2 Timothy 3:5), without a true faith. The next time you hear someone talk about the “Power of Blessing,” you say, “Amen, people need to bless their children, others, and their enemy. Boy, these people sure need to hear this.” You are not the example of the word that was preached, but you sure agree with it. Your faith cannot transform you; it is dead and powerless, like a body without the spirit, says James.
I can point to people who would fight to the death to defend the doctrine of ministering to the poor, but they never minister to the poor. Others believe in being filled with the Holy Spirit with the power to witness, but they never witness. Others believe in healing, but they never pray for the sick.
When your learning is intellectual, you are insulated from personal experience. You can know the Scripture by memory, but if you don’t apply it, the truth is powerless. When passion and desire are gone, there will be no personal transformation.
Jesus sums it up: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines’” (Matthew 15:8-9 nrsv). The truth got into their mind but not into their heart. The heart and soul of religion is to recite facts and principles. The result is knowledge without power—religion without God.
Christianity is not religion, tradition, or a program; it is a person. Faith comes from a relationship with God. Paul said, “I know in whom I have believed,” not what I have believed (2 Timothy 1:12). God cannot be separated from His Word. He is the truth that must be experienced and encountered. “Blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 11:28 nlt). That is how you experience faith.
(For more see the article on my web-site, “God’s Kind of Faith”).