Futile Faith

Bible Book: James  2 : 14-26
Subject: Faith; Faith, Lack of; Faith, Believing; Works; Service; Christian Living
Series: James - Believing and Behaving - Minnix
[This is a sermon is one in a series of 10 messages from the Book of James entitled: Believing and Behaving.]

Futile Faith

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.com

James 2:14-26 ...

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without [f]your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

An old farmer had never been up in an airplane but with fear and trepidation he decided to take his first flight. After the planted had landed and he was back on good old terra firma, he was asked by the pilot how much he enjoyed the flight. He said very shakily, "It was alright, but I never really put all my weight down on that thing!"

A Christian is a person who puts all the weight of his life on Christ and Christ alone. In fact, that is what faith is - it is putting all our hope and trust in Christ. He sings ...

“My hope is built on nothing less

than Jesus blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

but wholly lean on Jesus name.”

Maybe you heard about the other farmer who went with his wife to the airport for their first airplane ride. The pilot put the farmer's wife in the back seat and the farmer sat in the front seat beside the pilot. He said, "Now, if you scream or cry out during the flight it will cost you double; but, if you can fly with me without yelling or begging for mercy, I won’t charge you anything." The farmer agreed. The pilot flew the plane like a wild man. He did loop-the-loops. He flew straight up and then straight down at lightning speed. The farmer held his tongue. The pilot turned off the engine and let the plane fall for a while, then he re-started it and turned in over and over again. Still, the farmer said nothing. The pilot landed the plane and said to the farmer, "Well, your flight was free. I just didn't think you could fly with me without begging for mercy." The farmer said, "Well, it weren't easy neither, especially when my wife fell out of the plane on one of them loops you done up there."

The truth is, it is hard to remain calm when everything in your life is turned upside down; however, one great truth is that the believer can't fall out of the grace has given him. The Christian is called upon to have faith in God through everything. But, James tells us that a real Christian cannot sit silently by while others are hurting. He informs us that real faith in Christ is accompanied by positive action. That brings us to our great question for today. Can a person have faith and still be lost? Is it possible to have religious faith, a faith in God, and still die outside the realm eternal life with God? The answer is yes! There is a faith called Futile Faith.

I. This Faith is Deficient - The Operation of it

James 2:14-18

A. It cannot Save

The question James asks in verse 14 presupposes a negative answer. Can such faith save him? No! There is a faith in God that does not save. There is a faith that leaves one without eternal life. There is a faith that opens the gates of hell instead of the door of heaven!

James tells us that the ineffective faith is worthless because it is deficient. What does that mean? It means that there is a faith in God which is based on words without action. Warren Wiersbe states that James is speaking here of a faith based on intellect. One can know all the right stuff without having the right stuff.

Do not be confused at this point. A person is not saved by works, but is saved and then works. Works cannot saved the lost, but works will always follow salvation. A faith that does not change your life is a faith that cannot give you eternal life.

Some people believe that Paul and James are at odds with each other. After all, Paul states clearly that one is saved by grace through faith and not by works least any person should boast (Ephesians 2:8). James seems to say that one is saved by works. William Barclay wrote that a person who believes these two are at variance has misunderstood them entirely. Paul was speaking of entering into eternal life, while James was speaking of being in eternal life. One was speaking of the door to salvation, the other was speaking of the living room of salvation. Paul spoke of how to be saved, while James spoke of how a person will live after he has real, honest-to-goodness salvation.

William Marsh was a preacher who lived over 100 years ago. He said that salvation could be viewed from four different perspectives.

  • 1. We are saved Freely by Grace;
  • 2. We are saved Meritoriously by Jesus;
  • 3. We are saved Instrumentally by Faith;
  • 4. We are saved Evidentially by Works.

Our works serve as evidence that we are saved. Jesus said that you could know a tree by its fruit. Once he saw a fig tree that had many leaves but upon approaching it he noted that it had no figs. It was a deceptive tree. The tree was saying that it was a fig tree but its leaves, but the lack of fruit, made it unfit. No fruit could be found on the tree. In essence, the tree had lying leaves! Jesus cursed that tree and it withered. If you and I have leaves without fruit, we can be sure that the axe of God's judgment will be laid to the root of our lives.

B. It will not Serve

Note the example which James gives for deficient faith. Do not misunderstand this example. James is not saying that people who clothe the naked and feed the hunger are automatically saved. He is showing how some people soothe their conscious through an emotional catharsis. That is, by simply sharing how sad they feel about the poor or needy they are made to feel good about themselves. Likewise, a person may say the right words about God without actually accepting Him as Lord. Such a person will not serve God or others in a proper spiritual manner. A deficient faith will not serve!

In a dual sense, futile faith fails the person who claims to have it and the people who should be blessed but aren't because the person doesn't have it. Real faith blesses the possessor and all others with whom he or she comes in contact.

II. This Faith is Demonic - The Origin of it

James 2:19-20

A. It is Assent without Action

The devils acknowledges that God is God and that He is the only God. In other words, they give assent to the "shema", which was the Jewish confession that the Lord our God is One. This, however, does not save them. Assent alone is not enough. We repeat the fact that all one has to do is “believe” and he will be saved so often that people fail to connect belief with real faith. Faith that saves is a faith that completely changes a person. The devil and his followers believe in God but they are not changed. True faith submits to Jesus as Lord as well as Savior. We are called to follow Him, and following Him will make us laborers in His work. True faith does not leave a person with the demand to work for Jesus, but rather grants us the joy of working for Jesus.

B. It is  Respect without Response

Devils tremble at the thought of God. They have respect for God but they do not respond in believing faith - which means much more that believing in one's head and even in one's emotions. In fact, futile faith is faith in the head and even in the emotions, but not a faith that changes the person into a true child of God. You can do good works and not be saved, but you cannot be saved and fail to do God’s work.

Are you listening? You can believe in your head and even feel in your emotions the existence of God, and yet be lost. Real faith, saving faith, changes a person.

III. This Faith is Dead - The Outcome of it

James 2:21-26

There is not much one can do with a corpse. James says that futile faith is dead faith:

  • Dead faith cannot produce anything
  • Dead faith cannot experience anything
  • Dead faith cannot accomplish anything
  • Dead faith cannot receive anything

Dead faith is dead!

Do you have a right faith or a wrong faith? I read the other day about a judge who tried a case in California which he declared to be strangest case of his career. A man named Mr. Rongg was sued by a Mr. Wright. Mr. Rongg spoke up in court and said the suit was out of order. He said, “My name may be Rongg but I am right in this case.” He produced a letter to prove that Mr. Wright had no basis for his suit. The judge deliberated for a while and then returned his verdict. The judge declared, “I have never in my life sat on the bench and made the statement I am about to make; however, I must say in this case that Rongg is Right and Wright is wrong. Rongg has proven his case to be right and Wright has proven his case to be wrong. May I never have to make this statement again in a court of law."

Friend be sure of this, wrong faith will never be right and right faith will never be wrong. James tells us now about right faith.

A. Living Faith Obeys

In 1992 a store manager had someone come into his store and admit to having switched price tags on an item he had purchased. He wanted to make it right. Then, a little while later another man came in and said that he had shoplifted and was ready for the authorities to be called if that was necessary to make things right. The manager asked an employee what in the world was going on. The employee informed the manager that a Billy Graham Crusade was going on in Portland and those people coming in had gotten right with God in one of the crusade meetings. Friend, true faith obeys God no matter the cost.

B. Living Faith Operates

When Paul got saved he not only asked, “Who art thou Lord?;” who also asked, “What would you have me do?” True faith is not based on head knowledge, or feeling alone, it is based on the will to do what God tells you to do.


Robert Chesebrough believed in his product. He's the fellow who invented Vaseline, a petroleum jelly refined from rod wax, the ooze that forms on shafts of oil rigs. He so believed in the healing properties of his product that he became his own guinea pig: he burned himself with acid and flame; he cut and scratched himself so often and so deeply that he bore the scars of his tests the rest of his life. But he proved his product worked. People had only to look at his wounds, now healed, to see the value of his work ‑‑ and the extent ‑‑ of his belief. (Ralph Walker, Concord, North Carolina. Leadership Magazine, Winter Quarter, 1991 p. 49).

Do you have a faith that is proven in your works and perhaps even in your scars for Christ?

A.N. Wilson tells his story of moving from faith to atheism, and then back to faith. It is one of the most interesting stories I have ever read. He shares how he thought he had real faith, but that he slowly evolved away from it and became a flaming atheist. In fact, he even argued for atheism against Christians for a time in public debates. Then, something interesting happened. He obtained real faith. He came to Christ and now says that he would never again turn his back on Christ. In my opinion, what happened to Mr. Wilson was a step from futile faith to firm faith. He went from religion to redemption. (http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2009/04/conversion-experience-atheism - September 15, 2014)

Do you have real faith? Do you have saving faith? It is a good thing to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the faith! If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? If you are not sure of your salvation, you can settle it today. Turn to Christ with full faith.

Some of us are saved, but our public display of that faith has waned. If you are a Christian, and have a desire to show it more faithfully, this is a good day to rededicate your life to Him!