What Kind of Faith?
We tend to categorize faith rather simply—those who have it and those who don’t; those who have repented of their sins and those who have not. And yes, the Bible does make the distinction between believer and unbeliever. We can easily find those (2) categories throughout the pages of Scripture. But that is not where it stops. God puts down the broad brushes to paint a picture of faith that adds more categories for our consideration. James—the half-brother of Jesus—writes about (3) different kinds of faith that can be present in the lives of those who call themselves followers of Jesus.
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17)
James first mentions dead faith. It is quite possible to believe all the right truths concerning the gospel but never allow those truths to change you. We are not saved by our works, but works do come as a result of true faith. Dead faith is merely intellectual. There is no action behind our belief, no effort to advance the Kingdom of God, and no struggle present to grow in holiness. James also mentions that those who possess dead faith are likely to say they have faith but fail to show it. For them, faith is reduced to saying the right things at the right times. Many think they have faith because they can recite some facts about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Saving faith is not a true or false quiz; we don’t simply hear the gospel and check the true box and go merrily on our way. When someone truly receives and understands what God has done for them through the good news of Jesus Christ, they find themselves led to and delighting in obedience to God. Faith and works are two sides of the same coin—and we need both.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)
James continues to drive home his point about dead faith by mentioning an unlikely group—demons. He notes that demons believe true things about God (and even have an emotional response). Demons cannot be saved, but they are used here to teach us something about the nature of true faith. Demons believe the right truth about God, have a response, but have failed (and continue to fail) in conforming to God’s will. Demonic faith says we can be our own gods—we don’t need Jesus and His authority. We can walk out our lives in any way we choose to. True faith, on the other hand, humbly submits to God’s will and rule. True faith understands and recognizes that Jesus is the ultimate and highest authority.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
James wraps up his teaching on faith by showing us what true faith—or what I like to call effective faith—looks like. He reaches back to the Old Testament to give us two examples of real faith—Abraham and Rahab. In both cases, what they believed affected the decisions they made and the actions they committed. Their faith produced visible change. As we trust God for salvation, our lives become something they would not have become apart from God. True faith says, “I know God and I cannot remain the same; I cannot walk away unchanged!”