What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
How many times do we see people walk an aisle during an invitation time at church, make a “profession of faith,” then are never or rarely seen or heard from again? How many people do we see do that and never follow The Lord in Baptism, or show any other outward results of their salvation? How many do we see do that, and we know that outside the church walls they are living like the devil? Well, that is exactly what James is talking about here.
Though a man “say” he have faith. That really represents the person who merely makes a “profession of faith.” Then James asks the question, “Can faith save him?” Let’s clarify quickly before anybody gets concerned. Of course, faith saves us; we are saved by Grace through faith, period. That verse in some translations can be misleading. What is really meant is something to the effect of, “Can that faith save him,” or “can such a faith as that save him.”
James is not, by any stretch of interpretation, teaching that works contribute in even the smallest way towards our salvation. So, then, what is James trying to teach us?
It’s quite simple. A simple verbal “profession” of faith does not represent a genuine conversion. A mere intellectual assent to the facts of Jesus Christ does not represent a genuine conversion. James’ point during the entirety of his book is that true, saving faith will produce works, or fruit, in the life of a believer. James will repeat several times over the course of his letter that faith without works is dead.
Not only is there the chance that faith not accompanied by works is not true saving faith, but our works are the only way believers have to illustrate to a nonbelieving world that our faith is a real faith. Here is a quote I found in The Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible that seems to express the thought perfectly.
The proof of the pudding is still in the tasting. The only test of a man’s salvation is through his works. A silent believer may be indeed considered a saint before God, but he remains a sinner before man until he walks the walk and talks the talk of Christian service