James 2:14-17

Our Scripture reading for today is:

James 2:14           What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 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? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


Our beloved Dr. Martin Luther of the Reformation rather disliked James. It is somewhat understandable as passages like this didn’t exactly (on the surface) harmonize well with his “Saved by Grace, not works” mantra.

But in all honesty, we really NEED the perspective of God’s message to us through James. And Luther really didn’t need to be suspicious of James because there is no contradiction between Luther and James. Nowhere in James does it indicate that we in any way “merit” salvation through our works. There is nothing we can do to “merit” salvation. But what James is here rightly saying is that IF WE HAVE A LIVING FAITH, OUR LIVES WILL SHOW IT! Plain and simple! And he gives the example of a faithless person as someone who sees his brother in need, wishes him well, but goes away without helping him.

Here is Dr. Luther’s famous AWESOME quote on the true relationship between faith and works:

Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith:
An excerpt from
“An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans,”
Luther’s German Bible of 1522
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith
Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63
(Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125]
August 1994

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream
is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by
good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they
speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they
say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.”
They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working,
creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I
believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because
this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything
from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this
`faith,’ either.

Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives
new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us
completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits,
our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with
it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this
faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t
stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone
asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without
ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an
unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good
works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are.
Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of
God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.
Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy,
joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The
Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you
freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve
everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who
has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to
separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from
fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard
against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough
to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools.
Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without
faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.


This text was translated for Project Wittenberg by Rev. Robert E.
Smith and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute,
copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or
suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary

E-mail: smithre@mail.ctsfw.edu

Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft. Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (260) 481-2123 Fax: (260) 481-2126


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