I have been very concerned lately with James 2, starting with verse 14, especially with actions related to faith:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, "Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well"—but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, "Some people have faith; others have good deeds." But I say, "How can you show me your faith if you don't have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds."

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can't you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Don't you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. (James 2:14-22, NLT-SE translation)

I would like an overview of how published Bible commentaries have addressed the following questions in reference to this passage:

  1. What specific action or actions show one's faith?

  2. Are these actions required for salvation, or simply evidence of living a Christian life?

The motivation for this question is that I want to become a Christian and not just believe in Christ. I would like my actions to speak by themselves as a testimony of Christ in me. My end goal is to build a list out of your answer, so if possible please quote verses.

  • Welcome to the Christianity Stack Exchange. We are glad you stopped by and hope you stick around. If you haven't done so already, you may want to read up on how this site is a little different than other sites. In particular, this is not a religious site (although many/most participants are Christians) and questions generally have to request a specific denomination/tradition from which you want answers since different Christians have variant beliefs on many subjects.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 18:37
  • 1
    If you want an answer purely from the text (i.e. what James has in mind), the question is better suited for the Biblical hermeneutics site. Otherwise, you could ask for a specific denomination's view or for an overview of how theologians\Bible commentaries have answered the question. Let us know which option you prefer. Thanks!
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 18:40
  • I think I would like an overview of how the Bible would answer the questions. Thank you! Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 18:43
  • I have made an edit to bring the question in line with site guidelines, while hopefully retaining your intention. Feel free to re-edit as needed, but try not keep the focus narrow enough to be answered in the SE format (entire books have been written on these subjects)... As it is, this should probably be split into two questions.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 18:51
  • Related question on BH.SE Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 19:23

4 Answers 4


In the Protestant belief, works are a sign of faith, and the Holy Spirit working in the life of the believer.

The ESV commentary elaborates on this interpretation thusly:

Faith without Works Is Dead. James continues the theme that hearing/faith must lead to doing/works. It may seem that James contradicts Paul’s “by grace you have been saved through faith . . . not a result of works” (Eph. 2:8–9). In reality there is no contradiction between faith and works. Paul and James agree that the basis of salvation is grace alone through faith. Works are not the basis of salvation but the necessary result (Eph. 2:10).

Similarly, from the HCSB Study Notes:

2:15-17 Giving a blessing to someone in need without offering tangible aid is useless. If faith is not accompanied by works, it is dead by itself. 2:18 The argument turns to the relationship between faith and works. Beginning in this verse James answered a “straw man” argument (but someone will say) against his assertion that faith without works is dead. 2:19-20 The demons also believe—and they shudder is an answer to the mistaken assertion that belief in God by itself is sufficient for salvation. Demons believe, but it is impossible for them to be saved. Saving faith entails more than mere knowledge. It includes trust and obedience, for faith without works is useless.

As to what specifically the good works are, James cites 2 historical examples of works as a result of faith in Abraham, and Rahab.

From the ESV published commentary:

James 2:21 Abraham . . . justified by works. James may seem to contradict Paul here (compare Rom. 4:2–3). However, while Paul cites Gen. 15:6 to show that Abraham was justified by faith, James bases his claim on Gen. 22:9–10, where Abraham was willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Thus James apparently has a different sense of the word “justify” in mind here. Paul uses “justify” to express being declared righteous by God through faith, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:24–26). James seems to use “justify” to stress the way in which works demonstrate that someone has been justified (compare Matt. 12:33–37). Paul emphasizes how one is justified; James focuses on what justification looks like in practice.

But to your question, about application, I would start broadly with the Great Commandment. Jesus tells his disciples:

37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." - Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

And similarly:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35 ESV

So, worship is loving the Lord with all your heart and your actions, and good works is the love and actions you show one another. To drill down deeper to see what some examples of these works of love might look like, there are a couple of verses in which Jesus elaborates:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' - Matthew 25:34-40 ESV

Another example given by Jesus is in Luke:

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." - Luke 10:29-37 ESV

These are a few of the biblical examples of the good works of those of faith, but they are by no means intended to be complete or exclusionary. We are commanded to love our neighbors and seek ways to be servants to others as Christ served and lived on Earth.

  • 1
    In what sense your answer does address this part of the question: "an overview of how published Bible commentaries have addressed the following questions in reference to this passage"? Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 19:36
  • Good observation. I have expanded my answer to addres the request for commentary in interpretation of works as a result of faith, as well as a separation of the analysis of the examples in James from the request for verses for application. Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 19:55
  • I wonder if there's any available Catholic or Orthodox commentary? Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 20:15
  • Thank you very much for your answer and your time @JontheArchitect. I waited a little to have more answers prior voting. It actually pretty hard to vote, I find both your answer and Brian's very accurate, both actually answer my question. Thank you very much! Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 1:13
  • It makes me glad that you found it helpful! Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 12:14

The apostle Paul, in recounting his conversion experience to King Agrippa, speaks of the same things in Acts 26:19-20 (NKJV) (emphasis mine):

19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision [I received on the road to Damascus], 20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

Acts 26:19-20 (NIV 1984) (emphasis mine):

19 "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven [I received on the road to Damascus]. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

Basically anyone can say he has repented, but only his deeds will prove that true repentance has taken place. This is illustrated by Jesus' words in Matthew 7:24-26 (NKJV) (emphasis mine):

24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

John the Baptist gave instruction to those who asked him what they should do in Luke 3:7-14 (NKJV) (emphasis mine):

7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”

11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”

So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Actually doing what God says is also mentioned in Ezekiel 33:30-32 (NKJV) (emphasis mine):

30 “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. 32 Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them."

The people loved to hear Ezekiel speak, as if he was a great musician or singer, but they would not actually do what he said. Read Ezekiel 18 to find more concrete examples of what to do and not to do, such as:

  • don't defile your neighbor's wife (v6)
  • don't rob anyone (v7)
  • give bread to the hungry (v7)
  • do not exact usury (v8)

Jeremiah has similar words in Jeremiah 7:1-11, such as:

  • thoroughly execute judgement between a man and his neighbor (v5)
  • do not oppress the stranger, fatherless, or widow (v6)
  • do not shed innocent blood (v6)
  • do not steal, murder, commit adultery, or swear falsely (v9)

The above examples are not a complete list, and I encourage you to read the full passages. I also encourage you to read other passages such as the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 5-7, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to get more of the concrete examples you seek. And if you have more questions about these passages or others you may run across, don't hesitate to come back and ask them! :)

To answer your second question (using your own words), these actions are in part required for salvation in the sense of simply being evidence of living a Christian life. If certain actions were required for salvation, then it would be possible to "earn" your way to heaven and belief (or faith) in Jesus would not be required. True Christians are those who want to keep God's commandments out of love for Him, not wanting to do anything that He doesn't like.

After all, Jesus himself said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15 NKJV). This is reiterated in 1 John 2:3-4 (NKJV): "3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

Finally, you asked for commentary references, so here are a few.

Snippet from John Gill on verse 14:

it is clear that the apostle is not speaking of true faith, [...] but of a profession of faith, [...] by which a man...only says he has faith, but has it not....

Snippet from Adam Clarke on verse 14:

As the Jews in general were very strenuous in maintaining the necessity of good works or righteousness in order to justification, wholly neglecting the doctrine of faith, it is not to be wondered at that those who were converted, and saw the absolute necessity of faith in order to their justification, should have gone into the contrary extreme.

Snippet from Albert Barnes on verse 14:

[The apostle] doubtless had in his eye those who abused the doctrine of justification by faith, by holding that good works are unnecessary to salvation, provided they maintain an orthodox belief.

A large collection of other commentaries can be found at StudyLight

  • Welcome to the Christianity Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 22:25
  • @AlbertVonpupp - You're welcome. I won't be upset if you pick Jon's as the best answer. =)
    – user24994
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 3:54

The Biblical response with commentaries I believe is what you are asking for.

My first biblical observation is from Saint Paul, what does he suggest a Christian needs to be Equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the Sacred Writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Saint Paul here is referring to Old Testament Scriptures, specifically the Greek Septuagent which were the writings familiar to Timothy.

The Fallowing reference comes from Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” by Dave Armstrong

1) Faith is not solely or primarily trust. 2) Faith is not solely or primarily intellectual assent or belief or adherence. 3) Good works (after regeneration) enabled by the grace of God are part of faith. 4) Obedience to God’s moral commands is part of faith. 5) Justification and sanctification and righteousness are part of faith. 6) Attainment of eschatological salvation is part of faith. 7) The above elements taken together make up the biblical conception of faith.

Dave goes on in his commentaries explaining each of these points. I however will take a more direct route.

Using those scriptures which Paul suggests will equip us for every good work. I give you the Prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 66:20-21

And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the sons of Israel bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

Isaiah here speaks of an offering in the New Covenant which Priests and Levites. In this context, a Christian should look for works where priests and ministerial Priests are Present.

Additionally I Give you the prophet Malachi

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi speaks of a place incense is offered and also a pure offering of which there is only one, Christ.

Ezekiel teaches us about backsliding and the importance of new covenant people following Gods ordinances.

Ezekiel 37:23-24

23 They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 24 "My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes.

Quoting Catholic apologist Steve Ray "Faith is a pregnant word". It means so much more then what many will lead you to believe. continue reading 2Timothy 4:2 , a warning.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings,

So often I here of people shopping for a church, or looking for one that fits them in some way. Somewhere, somehow, a person of faith has lead you to Christ. Now that you have found him, conform yourself to him not him to you.

We are indeed saved by Grace through the obedience of Faith, a faith which includes the 7 points Dave Armstong makes, a Mineserial priesthood pointed out by Isaiah, A Pure Sacrific offered Daily highlighted by Malachi as well as ordinances and works of Charity and Love.

James 2:23 "You see we are saved by Works and not by faith Alone"

  • Thank you very much @Marc for your answer. Great references I learned a lot! Thanks! Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 1:15

One of the most beautifully compiled Bible commentary on this topic is from the Seventh Day Adventist Bible Commentary by Ellen White.

Bible Religion Means Constant Work—Genuine faith always works by love. When you look to Calvary it is not to quiet your soul in the non-performance of duty, not to compose yourself to sleep, but to create faith in Jesus, faith that will work, purifying the soul from the slime of selfishness. When we lay hold of Christ by faith, our work has just begun. Every man has corrupt and sinful habits that must be overcome by vigorous warfare. Every soul is required to fight the fight of faith. If one is a follower of Christ, he cannot be sharp in deal, he cannot be hardhearted, devoid of sympathy. He cannot be coarse in his speech. He cannot be full of pomposity and self-esteem. He cannot be overbearing, nor can he use harsh words, and censure and condemn. The labor of love springs from the work of faith. Bible religion means constant work. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” We are to be zealous of good works; be careful to maintain good works. And the true Witness says, “I know thy works.” While it is true that our busy activities will not in themselves ensure salvation, it is also true that faith which unites us to Christ will stir the soul to activity (Manuscript 16, 1890).

See also (Galatians 5:6, Philippians 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:12; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:22; Revelation 2:2; Titus 1:9-11).

Faith works by love from God, grabs hold of the promises of God, and brings forth fruit in obedience. The action here is works that spring forth from unselfish love, and it is a fruit and evidence of living faith, but not a reason for salvation. As fallen men, selfishness is a part of our natural inclination. As Christians, we must fight faithfully against what is natural, and walk according to what God wants, because God has given us the power to fight this fight. It does not matter if you lose some battles during this experience, but you must win the war, as all who are faithful can.

The commandment to love one another as God loves you (John 15:12) is impossible, except we exercise faith and reflect the love that God showers on us.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .