Understanding James 2:26

In the course of a study on Ephesians, Tabletalk magazine discusses the relationship between a person’s good works and his justification before God. Examining James 2:14-26 (“faith without works is dead”), the magazine offers good insight into James’ teaching. Since Mormons regularly misappropriate this Bible passage as a proof-text to support the LDS doctrine of salvation by faith plus works, the Tabletalk article is here offered for your consideration.


Faith and Works

Whenever we approach the Word of God, remembering the distinction between concept and doctrine can be very helpful. Concept refers simply to the use of a specific term in a specific context. Doctrine refers to the full-orbed biblical understanding of a certain point of theology, which understanding is deduced by examining all the references to a certain concept in the Bible. When we read a term in the Bible, it may refer to the full-orbed doctrine or a limited concept.

Let us illustrate this principle, and since we are considering James’ presentation on justification, we will take the term justification as our example. We are no doubt used to seeing the term justification in Scripture and reading into it our full-orbed doctrine, which states that God declares men and women righteous and acceptable to Him on account of the perfect righteousness of Christ, which He imputes to believers when they trust in Jesus alone for salvation. In his use of the terms justification, justified, and so forth, the apostle Paul is usually speaking doctrinally, having the full-orbed biblical doctrine of justification in view (Rom. 4; Gal. 2:15-16).

Justification also appears in Scripture as a concept. Jesus says in Luke 7:25 that “wisdom is justified by all her children.” Obviously, our Lord does not have the doctrine of justification in mind, for it makes no sense to say that an abstract concept like wisdom is declared righteous through faith in Christ alone. The primary sense here is demonstration – wisdom reveals its presence through wise actions.

Actually, the conceptual use of the term justification to mean demonstration falls under the full-orbed doctrine of justification. The Protestant Reformers, in summarizing the biblical teaching, were clear that justification is by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. We are not saved by a mere profession of faith but by the possession of faith, and when faith is truly present in the heart, it necessarily, inevitably, and immediately bears fruit as good works of service to God and neighbor. These works in no sense merit a right standing with God, but if they are not present, neither is justifying faith. James 2:14-26 speaks of works as a justification of faith – as faith’s demonstration – and is not claiming that our deeds earn a right standing with God. “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (v. 26).

(Tabletalk, May 2011, Vol 35 No 5, 65)

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Salvation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Understanding James 2:26

  1. WWJD says:

    What a clear summary of a verse that is difficult to understand. As Christians, we know that once we are saved, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that moves us to do good works. Those works are a product of our saving faith, not what saves us. My pastor teaches that once we have put our faith in Christ for our salvation, we must then find out what pleases God and do it. I think that James is a good example of that when taken in context. James 1:22 “22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” The NT clearly shows in many passages that we are saved by faith and not faith + works. Ephesians 2:8-9 8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. “

  2. Kate says:

    This is one subject that my mom and I butt heads on. I have a hard time explaining this verse. One thing that I don’t get is how Mormons use this one verse, but throw out verses like Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20,28; Galatians 2:16. When I point out these verses to my mom it’s like her mind is shut off to these. She won’t even give them a thought. She’ll throw out the verse in the Book of Mormon which says that “We are saved after all that we can do.” After being out of Mormonism for awhile, I can see right through Joseph Smith. He had to throw doubt on the teachings of the Bible, otherwise he wouldn’t have followers. If Mormons would just trust in His Word, testing everything else against it, but they don’t. They test the Bible against Joseph Smith, his teachings, and the Book of Mormon and they throw out the Bible. The Bible warns us of this very thing in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

  3. Mike R says:

    Kate, it must be frustrating talking with your Mom , but remember the power of the Word
    of God [ Heb 4:12] , quote the Word to her at the right time and love her , the Holy Spirit will do
    the rest . Deep down in her heart she knows that she is not doing all she could do in her religious
    duties , there is always something more she could have squeezed in before the day is done etc.
    We can’t make a person be honest with themselves , hopefully soon it will dawn on her that she
    has no settlement in her heart concerning being totally forgiven , that it is Jesus’ “work” in her
    stead that can give her an acceptance with God . God bless your time with her.

  4. gpark says:

    I’m always more than a little bit amazed when people actually think that they can earn their righteousness before Almighty God! Of course, that is why Joseph Smith and his followers had to keep ‘chipping away’ at who God is until they convinced people that he was just a ‘flesh and bone’ former man incapable of creating anything without already existing materials provided by already existing ‘intelligences’ and incapable of providing anything more than a ‘general salvation.’

  5. gpark says:

    I am humbled and privileged to serve the Great I AM, the Almighty God, the Alpha and the Omega, The King of kings and LORD of Lords, the One Who “save[s] them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

  6. TJayT says:

    Sorry for not being around much of late. The colder it gets the busier my job will be and the less I’ll be around.

    I greatly enjoyed the artical Sharon. I especially liked the way you described justification as “by faith alone and not by faith that is alone”. I may have to steal that line.

    My two cents on the issue (whatever that’s worth) is that Mormon culture is far to works based, and it’s a shame. I personally don’t feel that anything I do other then having faith in Christ saves me. I’d go so far as to say I don’t believe any temple ordinance grants exaltation. Anything and everything I do is because I love Jesus and feel he has asked me to, not because they bring me any sort of saving effect.

    Maybe I a strange Mormon, and if that’s the case then so be it. The scriptures are to clear that faith is what saves us for me to think differently.

    P.S. If I don’t have the chance to get back on marry Christmas and a happy New Year

  7. Mike R says:

    TjayT, I would’nt call you a strange Mormon, I would call you a person who is struggling
    with how to break free from the Mormon church in a way that is not to painful . You’re not
    the only person who finds themselves in this situation. There are many who know in their
    hearts that their leaders do not provide the consistent trustworthy spiritual guidance that they
    claim to provide . When you said, ” I don’t believe any Temple ordinance grants exaltation” ,
    you’ve just acknowledged what’s in your heart. I believe God is leading you to fully follow
    Jesus , so I’m praying for you to take that step. Don’t wait until you have all your beliefs
    figured out , trust Jesus to finish the work that He has started in you and walk over to Him
    today, He will take care of the rest. May you and your family have a Merry Christmas .

  8. falcon says:

    Well let’s see here, TJayT, a Mormon, writes the following:

    “My two cents on the issue (whatever that’s worth) is that Mormon culture is far to works based, and it’s a shame. I personally don’t feel that anything I do other then having faith in Christ saves me. I’d go so far as to say I don’t believe any temple ordinance grants exaltation. Anything and everything I do is because I love Jesus and feel he has asked me to, not because they bring me any sort of saving effect.”

    I’m a little confused. What brand of Mormonism is he expressing here? It certainly isn’t modern day Mormonism. It kind of sounds like Mormonism circa 1832 or Mormonism as practiced by the Community of Christ or perhaps Temple Lot. It’s not modern day Salt Lake City Mormonism. Now don’t get me wrong, I”m not ridiculing our Mormon contributor.
    I do have a few follow up questions for TJT. What do you believe about the nature of God? Who do you think Jesus is? Who is the Holy Spirit and do you separate (the Spirit) from the Holy Ghost?
    In “classic” Mormonism, the system of works is responsible for men becoming gods. I don’t think there’s any place within Salt Lake City Mormonism for a faith that results in deification. A Mormon has to earn god status and the planetary system to rule that comes with it. A successful completion of the Mormon works system will allow the Mormon husband to resurrect his wife so she can rule as his goddess and they together can give spiritual birth to spirit children who will populate their planetary system.
    This scenario will not play out because someone confesses faith but doesn’t do enough within the Mormon religious system to achieve exaltation as a god.

  9. falcon says:

    To follow-up with TJayT,
    what is the “salvation” that you speak of? My understanding is that there are two levels of salvation within the Mormon religious system. The first form of salvation is that which is granted to everyone who ever lived. It’s a universal salvation. The second form of Mormon salvation is that which results in a Mormon male becoming a god. That form of salvation depends on doing all you can do within the Mormon religious system (works), to complete the deification program, which few ever know if they’ve done enough. It’s pretty much an unknown.
    I’ve always thought that it must be sort of a bummer for a woman to be married to a man who is a slacker within the Mormon system. Some of the Mormon guys, of course, are really gung ho and they make no secret that they are going for it. I have no experience within the Mormon program but I’d love to hang out and get to know the folks and identify those men who are sold out (for the system).
    Can any of you exMormons venture a guess as to how many Mormon men within the ward you attended were pedal to the metal seekers of deification? I mean they were going for it full bore. There has to be contenders, pretenders, also rans and slackers.
    Anyway, I get why Mormon men have to “work”.
    If there’s anything that Mormons get totally wrong is that Christians believe that they can sin with impunity because they have faith and are saved (by that faith). Works are an expression of faith. Works are verification that faith exists in someone who confesses (faith in Jesus). Should we continue to sin so that grace might increase. May it never be! I think Paul said something like that.

  10. Mike R says:

    Falcon, I sure don’t envy the position that TjayT is in . For him to admit what he did is to
    effectively say that Mormon prophets and apostles are terribly wrong on how a person
    is saved ( exalted) . Mormonism is quite clear that it is only through the Temple that the
    ultimate position in heaven can be attained . To flatly reject that doctrine is as serious as it
    gets . No doubt there are many Mormons who are in the difficult position of knowing that
    their leaders are wrong on salvation issues but because of friends or employment these people
    are hesitant to leave . We need to pray for TjayT that he does follow God’s leading and
    study his Bible as Matt did in the preceding thread . God will lead him all the way to the
    salvation truths just as He did for Matt. It’s refreshing to see a Mormon like TjayT striving
    to honor Jesus and to be as open about his life as he is . My wife was in a similar situation as
    a JW. She knew something was amiss with how they portrayed Jesus and that salvation was
    in an organization . When she finally took that difficult step to stop attending her church ,
    she made the decision to immerse herself in the Bible alone asking God’s help with her study.
    She came to see Jesus for who He really is and then asked Him to save her . This journey was
    very difficult for her as she had been taught that to leave the organization was the same as
    leaving God. I pray that TjayT will follow God’s leading and step away from his Ward and into
    God’s Word.

  11. falcon says:

    You made an important point about having faith in the organization. I’ve mentioned a few times about how Andy Watson spent months on Saturdays interacting with the JWs who were trying to convert him. He became acquainted with a man who had been a JW for something like thirty years and I believe had held a responsible position in the group. The bottom line for him was that it’s pretty useless to play Bible ping pong with the JWs because of their mind set. He confessed that the best way to get them thinking was to destroy their faith in the JW organization itself. Just looking at the number of prophecies that Watch Tower has promoted over the years that haven’t come to past should be an eye opener for a JW.
    It is true, as Paul writes in Ephesians, that we are engaged in a spiritual battle and not a battle with flesh and blood.
    With Mormons, I think it’s important to delineate and define the purpose of works within Christianity and the purpose of works within Mormonism. When we “work” as Christians, we are bringing honor and glory to God. When Mormons do the work of their religious system and in conducting their lives in a moral manner, it’s to bring honor and glory to themselves. It’s about personal deification. Now I’m sure they’d bristle at such a suggestion but it’s apparent to me that the goal for Mormons is to enter into a deified state through adherence to moral principles and the completion of religious rituals performed in their temples.
    It’s all pretty heady stuff when you think about it. The amount of arrogance that results from such a view is breath-taking. Couple this with the claim of priesthood authority and a Mormon male can get intoxicated.

  12. Mike R says:

    The New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ “work ” for us , as it
    is impossible to do enough works to merit/earn eternal life with God in heaven. Mark Cares’s
    rightly notes : ” Yes, faith without works is dead . But again the works that follow faith are not
    additional qualifications for living eternally with Heavenly Father . When people are converted
    they cross over from spiritual death to spiritual life. They become new creations.They are filled
    with life and thus naturally want to do good works . That is why the Bible often calls them fruits
    faith. They come after faith and are the visible proofs and evidence that people have a living
    faith. Christians are very careful to keep works in their proper place. They abhor ant thought
    that their works in any way qualify them to live with their Heavenly Father. That idea to many
    Christians, dishonors Christ tremendously. Not only that, since the Bible says grace and works
    don’t mix as causes of being accepted by God ( Rom.11:6), Christians say any mention of works
    in the discussion of how people qualify for living eternally with Heavenly Father actually
    disqualifies a person to live eternally with Heavenly Father.” Mark has a gift for articulating
    this Biblical truth to the Mormon people. It’s the righteousness of Jesus that merits for us not
    merely a resurrection, but eternal life with God. We are credited with Jesus’ righteousness and
    therefore are accepted by God — Phil3:9 ; Gal. 2:16 . God wants our heart , our will , when we
    surrender our will and ask for forgiveness , trusting in Jesus’ merit alone , at that moment we
    receive pardon and eternal life.

  13. Mike R says:

    What a massive difference there is between how the New Testament reveals about receiving
    eternal life with what Mormon apostles have taught. The great truths of Eph.2:8-9, and James
    chapter 2:14-26 are distorted by these men. Latching onto the word “works” in James ch.2
    these men resort to building a elaborate system of rules, commands , laws , all crafted and then
    labeled as “the gospel ” by these so-called modern day representatives of Jesus . One such
    apostle proclaims that all men must comply with ” the works of the gospel ” [ Spencer W. Kimball]
    These men advertise that they promote the same gospel as Jesus gave His original apostles, yet
    they proceed to add laws and commands to Jesus’ gospel as revealed in the New Testament.
    Claiming they are actively being directed by Jesus to preach His gospel, to teach His saving
    truths, their gospel stands in stark contrast to the true gospel that Jesus taught in the New
    Testament. All the Mormon gospel does , with all it’s laws, commands, is heap undue weight
    upon the shoulders of their followers—-submissive LDS. Trying to merit eternal life by the
    works of this gospel is a heavy load , in fact an impossible feat . But aren’t these “good” works ?
    Perhaps, but either God declares what is required of us to receive eternal life or man has good
    ideas of what is required —Mark 7:7; Prov 14:12 . A quick look at some of the laws
    of the Mormon gospel that have supposedly come from Jesus thru Mormon apostles:
    it was once against the law of God to marry a Negro ; it was once God’s law to embrace
    polygamy as part of the gospel ; God’s law today= no tea allowed.

  14. Mike R says:

    The Bible is not silent on the behavior of religious leaders who try and keep their organization
    “clean ” by heaping laws, rules, commands on their followers. After all , these men are only
    striving to help their followers become “worthy” before God in order to not incur His
    judgment, right ? When these men claim to be personally appointed by Jesus Himself to
    issue His gospel , His plan , for their followers to just submit to that claim can become a recipe
    for spiritual deception. May the precious Mormon people take time to test their apostles by the
    gospel that Jesus left with His original apostles, we all have access to it in the New Testament.
    May the Mormon people realize that not all false prophets/teachers are immoral , violet , or
    conniving men, they can be moral, humble and well dressed . God wants us all to embrace the
    true gospel , it’s simple and un-cumbered with the innovations of Mormon apostles .

  15. falcon says:

    Yes, it is true. Jesus did the work for us.
    Unless someone is able to live a perfect and sinless life, he needs a Savior, someone to redeem him. Some sects of Christianity believe a person once saved can lose their salvation. Other sects believe that once someone is elected to salvation, they cannot resist God’s grace and having received the gift of eternal life God offers, that person will persevere in that faith.
    I was raised in a “now you have it now you don’t” religious denomination. I was taught that we could never really know our final spiritual destiny until we stood before the Lord and we were either pronounced spiritually fit or unfit. To support this type of doctrine, there was a system of levels of sin and a means by which a person could get themselves right with God after having sinned. It was a system that resulted in me being pretty miserable.
    It God’s Word the apostle John says, “I write these things to you that you may know you have eternal life.” I wished I had known that growing up; that God wants us to know our status before him. Some religions keep the members continually off balance and insecure regarding their spiritual status. It’s a good way to keep people in line and under control of the religious authorities.
    God never meant salvation to be complicated.
    Mormonism bears no resemblance to Christianity. It did at one time but that resemblance disappeared when Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets began having continuous revelations that didn’t even have to agree with what had been “revealed” previously.
    God is calling Mormons to come to an understanding of who He is based on His one and only revealed Word, the Holy Bible.

Leave a Reply