James makes important observations on the quality of faith that a believer needs. The Jews were good at reasoning and talking. We see that in the speeches of Job’s friends, and in the religious leaders who had encounters with Jesus. Their confidence came from being “the children of Abraham” (John 8:39). In his letter James emphasizes that having faith is not just something you talk about – you live your life by building on that faith, showing it by actions as well as words. Peter has blunt words; “you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation … if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes … may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:5-7).
James challenges, “Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). Bluntly he states “faith apart from works is useless” (verse 20). But what does he mean by works? Works alone, apart from faith are also useless, in the eternal sense. A lot of good works are encouraged, but they only have value for the here and now.
James gives the example of Abraham and all he did in serving God. He did what God asked him to do, even to the point of being ready to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice! Then James observes that his “faith was completed by his works” (verse 22). James then gives another example; “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what benefit is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (verses 15-17). Note what Paul writes on this, “… as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
In Revelation 2:23 Jesus says, “I am he who searches mind and heart and I will give to each of you as your works deserve”. That is, works done to complete our faith.