What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (ESV)
We assume that faith is always good, don't we? I have heard people say, "Well, as long as you have faith, that's all that matters." A good question to ask when someone claims that all we need is some kind of faith is, "Faith in what?" Faith is irrelevant if it does not have an object. We have faith in something or someone.
In the context of this verse James is referring to saving faith in God. The object of faith is God. James goes further than just question the object of a person's faith. Here he questions also the genuineness of their faith in God. James is concerned about those who have false confidence. They may think that they are right with God, and even claim to have faith, but that faith is false.
James makes the claim that the person whose faith will not save him has no works. At first glance this verse seems to contradict a fundamental truth of Scripture that we are saved by the grace of God, and not by works. In fact, there was a time when the great Martin Luther referred to the book of James as a "book of straw," because he was offended by this verse.
What does James mean then by insisting on works accompanying our faith. Very simply, James is not suggesting that works, in any way, save us. James is talking about works being the evidence that we have genuinely received the grace of God's salvation by genuine faith. We can put it this way, "We are not saved by works, but we are saved to do good works!"
Faith that is genuine is evidenced by works. Do you claim to have faith in God? Is there any evidence by your actions? Ask the Lord to help you answer this very important question.