Two Types of Faith
James 2:20-22 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
Two kinds of faith are described – one genuine, legitimate and true and the other insincere, illegitimate and counterfeit. James says it like this: one is “faith … made complete” (v. 22) and the other is “faith without deeds” (v. 20).
In the Book of James, God teaches us that there is an incomplete faith, a faith which has no actions attached to it. This faith is useless. It does not witness to God. It does not do great things. It cannot save from hell. This is what useless means – it is good for nothing. Not for salvation, not for God’s glory, not for building His Kingdom.
Alternatively, a complete faith is shown by the actions that come forth from it. This genuine faith results in all the things that the insincere faith does not. It is this faith that saves, builds God’s Kingdom and glorifies Him. Dead faith is knowledge without actions. Complete faith is knowledge with actions.
James uses Abraham as an example to ensure we understand this point. He assumes we understand that Abraham, the father of the faith, is a man of great faith. So he asks the question, “How do we know that?” He answers that question by reminding us of what Abraham did. What he did was offer his son, Isaac, on the altar. In other words, he sacrificed his son.
Some might point out that Isaac was not actually sacrificed, but that is not the point. The point is in regards to the faith of Abraham. In Abraham’s mind, Isaac was sacrificed. Not only in Abraham’s mind, but in God’s mind as well. In Genesis 22:12, we read:
He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Notice, God says, “you have not withheld from me your son.” God knows that Isaac has been sacrificed already and has accepted that sacrifice, even though Isaac was not actually killed.
The Omniscient God Knows Us
God’s point in the Book of James is that He can see into our hearts. He knows what our true faith really is. He knows that we will do – an action – what God has called us to do because He knows we have a genuine, legitimate and true faith. We show this faith by what we are willing to do and how far we are willing to go for God.
The writer of Hebrews explains:
“Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19).
To the God who wrote the Book of Hebrews, Abraham knew God could raise the dead and he knew that he would receive Isaac back from the dead. Isaac was considered dead – to God, Abraham, James and the writer of Hebrews. Abraham’s faith was honored by God because of what he did. Abraham’s actions was based on his faith in God. This is “faith complete.”
A Useless Faith
However, we also learn that there is another type of faith. It is that faith that is dead. It is useless. It is considered dead because there is no action that comes out of it.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19
Look after orphans and widows. – James 1:27
Too often, people read these verses, and scriptures like them, and when they do these things, they say, “Look at me! I have done these things! I must have complete faith!”
This is not what James is telling us. We should do these things. However, acting upon a couple of scriptures is not necessarily living in faith. Anyone can do these things. It does not take someone of faith to do them. Many unbelievers do these exact things.
James has shown us the activities of moral Christians, but he is not saying that those things alone are evidence of sincere faith. For example, here are a few other things he mentions that are better barometers of our faith.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. – James 1:2
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:4
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. – James 1:9
Anyone can be slow to anger and look after widows and orphans. Only someone with a true faith in Jesus and the Father can consider trials to be joyful, persevere to maturity and be satisfied in humility.
True Faith versus Useless Faith
The point is that only those with real faith can do these things. Only someone with true faith can do what Abraham did.
“Doing good things” and “doing things in faith” are not the same. James writes that only the second is a sincere faith. Many unbelievers serve at the food lines. But not many unbelievers will begin something they know they cannot accomplish. Only someone with sincere faith, who believes God will do it for them, will step out in faith and attempt something they know they cannot accomplish.
That is the point of the Abraham account. Abraham knew God promised a nation through Isaac. Yet, he went out to sacrifice him. How would God provide a nation through a dead son? Though he had no idea how God would accomplish this for him, he followed God’s will. His action was one of faith.
So you say you have sincere, legitimate, true faith? When was the last time you tried something you knew you could not do but you did it anyway because God called you to it?
Too many professing Christians will recall something they did that God called them to do. But they did only what was within their own abilities. That is not a display of true faith.
When was the last time you did something you knew you could not accomplish in your own power?
This is when most professing Christians begin with the rationalizations and the explanations:
“I’ve never done that before.”
“I can’t speak well enough.”
“What will happen to my children? My spouse? My job? My reputation?”
The list goes on. When people say these things, they are not wrong. They should be concerned with all those excuses. But it shows a lack of faith. What you are really saying is that God cannot take care of these things, that He cannot do it better than you.
God challenges us. He tells us to show our faith by our actions, just as He did with Abraham.
Next time God brings you to a place of decision, where you know He is telling you to go but you know that you will fail, do not make the faithless decision not to go. Trust that God can take care of you and all that concerns you. These are the precious stones, gold and silver that result in our rewards in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:11-14).
Then you will show the world that your faith is complete and you will bring glory to God through your deeds.