Is your faith useless?

James 2:13-26

Jerry A Collins




v                 What does it mean to live by faith?

v                 How can faith by works save you?

v                 What does our faith demonstrate?


I just got rid of our snowblower. Last winter it broke down twice. I had to replace the rotor which snapped during use one afternoon. Then the new one did the same near the end of the season. The garbage guy picked it up this week. I got rid of it because it was useless. When something is useless it means there is no benefit from it. James is concerned about useless faith. It should concern us deeply that we could have a useless faith because a useless faith has no benefit for us. All people must walk by faith. God built a commitment before knowledge into the fabric of human experience. James main idea is that our faith which is unseen is useless upon this earth unless it is declared by works, which are seen.


Merciless vs 13  Judgment will be merciless to the one who does not show mercy—such as to the poor man, widow in distress, the orphan. You may say to God don’t judge me according to your standard of justice. God says okay I will judge you by your standard—the degree of mercy you showed to others. What is needed in that day is mercy—a willingness of our judge to assess our deeds and words with the fullest sense of compassion. To store that up is by being merciful ourselves in our words and deeds and it will win the day for us then because mercy triumphs over judgment. So the context is judgment for believers addressed in vs 14 ‘brethren’. The book of James is written to motivate us to pursue a useful life of faith worth rewarding by God at the rewards judgment (2:4, 12, 13; 3:1; 4:11; 5:9; 5:12). All of our actions are mixed with evil but God has chosen to allow these works to be rewarded anyway because of his mercy.

Useless vs 14     However, what profit is there from faith—that is unseen—which is not declared by work—which is seen? How is that faith going to rescue or deliver your life from uselessness so you can be rewarded by God? It cannot is the implied answer (1 Cor 3:13-15). James and Paul both agreed on this concept of saving from judgment for believers.

Illustration vs 15-16    James is fond of illustrating his point (1:23-24 how we receive the word cp. to looking in a mirror; 2:2-4 poor and rich man in meeting cp. to showing partiality). If you do not declare your faith by providing what is needed when your aware of the need your action-less faith is useless to benefit here on earth where it can make a tangible difference and useless for benefit at your rewards judgment. The person is still destitute and in need and your mercilessness will be used against you by God. So there is no profit at all. Do all the good you can, for everybody you can, every time you can. The one you help is the one like the Good Samaritan, who is in your path and is in need.

Conclusion vs 17 So faith which is unseen not declared by works which are seen is dead—that is, sterile, unproductive, useless, and inoperative. It has no effect. James wants us to practice our faith by works. Real actions based from our faith make a real difference in this life—people are clothed and fed and helped in distress and cared for and not shown partiality and not cursed and ridiculed and we don’t live for luxury and pursue our pleasures and not judge one another and pray effectually and confront sin in our brothers. These are real tangible works that James says our faith must declare for benefit here and at our rewards judgment.


First, faith without works is incapable of demonstration 18. There is always a connection between faith and works. Works declare the nature, depth, and content of your faith. If you want to declare your faith then do what God wants you to do. That is when you demonstrate that you have faith in God. This week was the tale of two faiths. On Friday I met with one who says he has faith but wants to pursue a sinful direction—a useless faith—and last night to another who called and to say he has decided to solve a business situation in way he understands God wants—a useful faith. And I think this is what James is driving at—while you live in this world do it with a faith that operates through your words and actions. A faith that resonates with the will and heart of God no matter the circumstances, as the scattered and persecuted ones James is writing to.

Second, faith without works is consistent with faith of demons 19-20. Men and demons both believe the same truth—God is one—but their faith does not produce the same response.   This may move us to ‘do well’ but not demons-all they can do is tremble. There is no built-in connection between faith and works. Belief that God is one is what demons do. Belief in God is what xians do. Believe that requires no works and believe in will be declared by works. So James concludes that this kind of faith is useless or barren like a woman who cannot have children vs 20. So what use is action-less faith vs 16? It is useless here and at judgment vs 20.


We have been given two examples of useful faith in action.

Abraham’s faith was declared by works 21-24 Specifically, Abe’s faith was justified by works when he offered up Isaac. Abe’s faith was declared through an action (Gen 22) he did over 30 years after Abe was declared to have faith (Gen 15). James point is that Abraham demonstrated or declared his righteousness. You could not see his faith in Gen 15 but you could see it in Gen 22. In vs 22 faith is said to be working together with his works. The result is that faith was ‘perfected’. So Abraham’s faith culminated in action. He committed himself before knowledge when he believed God’s promise to make him a great nation even though Sarah was barren and an older woman in Gen 15. That faith was declared 30 yrs later by yet another commitment before knowledge  when he was willing to jeopardize all that God promised by sacrificing his son as God commanded—believing while he did that God is able to raise even from the dead his own son thru whom the promise must be fulfilled Heb 11:17.

Rahab’s faith was declared by works vs 25. On the other side of the spectrum is a woman, a harlot. She demonstrated she was righteous by saving the Jewish spies. As soon as she protected those spies she declared for Israel and not Jericho even tho victory was not in site. Hebrews points to her faith stressing that she received the spies 11:31. James points to fact that she sent them another way. So her faith began to operate the moment she received the messengers. She could never be justified by works until she had sent them out another way. Their successful escape demonstrated her faith and that action declared a useful faith. In the process, she saved her own life and her family’s which is what James says a useful faith does—it rescues. In contrast, cp to a corpse, faith without actions is dead—useless vs 26.

1. There is no value in claiming to have faith. A claimed faith does not deliver you from anything. 2. Sincere faith will be demonstrated by works no matter what the faith is in. 3. Your works develop your faith. By actions your faith is strengthened. 4. Works define the focus of your faith when they involve irrevocable decisions that define your future—Abe and Rahab.