These verses are a continuation of the warning given by the man who has a faith that produces good works, godliness and obedience, to the man who boasts of a faith without works. He is declaring that while works are not an infallible proof of faith, the absence of works is certain proof of the absence of faith!
(Vs. 19.) Faith without works is no more than the faith of devils who are damned. "You believe that there is one God; you do well," for there is but one God, proved by the light of nature, the works of creation, providence and the Scriptures. But the devils also have this same historical faith and knowledge. They know and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah! (Luke 4:34; Acts 16:17; 19:15.) These devils tremble at the wrath of God and the thought of future torment (Mark 5:7; Matt. 8:28, 29).
(Vs. 20.) "O vain, foolish man, do you want proof or evidence that faith without deeds is useless and as dead as a body without life? I will give you proof that good works necessarily flow from true faith as breath, movement and warmth flow from a natural body that lives."
(Vs. 21.) An example is Abraham. "Was not Abraham justified by works?" One must remember the subject! We are not discussing the justification of Abraham"s soul before God (Rom. 4:2-5; 3:28; Gal, 2:16; 3:11), but the truth of his faith and the reality of his justification. The faith that Abraham claimed was demonstrated and confirmed by his willingness to offer his son upon the altar. One cannot separate true faith and obedience, If Abraham had refused to leave his country or refused to offer his son, it would have been proof that he did not really believe God, though he may have claimed with his words that he did! His faith was attended by good works and evidenced by them!
(Vs. 22.) "Do yon see how that Abraham"s faith and his actions were working together?" When God gave a contoured, Abraham readily obeyed because he believed God. His works and obedience declared his faith to be sincere, true and genuine! His faith in God led him to obey, even though he knew not why, how, or where. There is no "perfect" faith! A better word may be "complete", or "genuine". By his works his claim of faith is justified!
(Vs. 23.) Genesis 15:6 speaks of Abraham"s faith and the imputation of it to him for righteousness long before Isaac was born. The sacrifice of Isaac was a fulfilment of this Scripture. His obedience is a clear proof of the truth of his faith and gives reason to believe that he was a justified person, loved and favoured by God. Abraham also loved God and showed himself friendly to him, trusting in him and yielded to his will (Isa. 41:8).
(Vs. 24.) It may appear that James is contradicting Paul"s statement in Romans 3:28. This is not true! Paul speaks of the justification of the soul before God. James speaks of the justification of our faith before men (Vs. 18). Paul speaks of our works as a cause, saying that good works cannot be the cause of justification. James speaks of good works as an effect, flowing from faith and showing the sincerity of faith. Paul warns the legalists and self-righteous who sought acceptance by works. James warns the libertines and worldly who sought acceptance by an empty profession of faith that had no regard for holiness and good works!
(Vs. 25.) Rahab is another example. She believed God, and her faith was shown to be true and genuine by her works. Wherever there is faith, in Jew or Gentile, male or female, greater or lesser believes, there will be good works to follow. Therefore that person is a vain and foolish person who lays claim to faith, boasts of favour with God and looks upon godliness and good works as unnecessary!
(Vs. 26.) As a body when the spirit, breath and life are gone out of it is dead and useless, so faith without works is a vain, useless, unprofitable thing that can neither justify, save, nor give any reason or comfort that a man will be saved!