Faith Without Works Is Dead (the surprising James 2:26 meaning) 

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. James 2:26

This verse is one of the most popular verses in the book of James, but it also one of the most misunderstand and misinterpreted. Many take this passage out of context to say that you have to do good deeds to earn salvation. But the James 2:26 meaning, and the rest of Scripture, does not support this view. 

The true meaning of this verse is powerful and one that should change how we approach our life and faith. And if you spend a few minutes diving into what this verse says you might find yourself surprised, and challenged, by what God’s Word says. 

What does faith without works mean? Let’s take a look at this verse and see how it applies to our lives today. 

The Context Of James 2:26

The book of James is one of the most practical books about how to live out your faith. In chapter one we see James challenge his readers to not just listen to the Word but to live it out (James 1:19-27). In other words, our beliefs aren’t something we believe in our head, but should change how we live. 

It’s important to note that James isn’t saying that we need to do something to earn our salvation. Our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross is what saves us. But our faith should lead us to action. 

In other words, how we live shows what we believe. 

In James 2 we see James arguing that you cannot have true faith without acting upon it (James 2:14-18). Believing in God is the starting point, but it should lead us to action. Again, he’s not saying good deeds are required to obtain or keep salvation. He is saying that evidence of faith is good works. 

This leads us to James 2:26 where James gives us an illustration of what this looks like. 

The James 2:26 Meaning 

Now that we know the context, I want to dive into this illustration that James gives us. To help us better understand the James 2:26 meaning I’m going to break this verse into two sections. 

What we are going to see is a like-for-like comparison to help us understand how faith and good works go together. 

As The Body Without The Spirit Is Dead Meaning 

The word James uses for spirit here is pneumatos (πνεύματος). It comes from the Greek word for wind and was often used to describe breathing. In the Bible this word is used to describe our spirit or the Holy Spirit. 

James here is using both uses of this word. He’s saying a body without the spirit is spiritually dead. Just like a physical body that doesn’t have breath in it is physically dead. 

This shows us the importance of this message, it’s life and death. If you stop breathing you stop living. 

Similarly, faith without deeds, or good works, is dead. There’s no life in it. 

Faith Without Deeds Is Dead Meaning 

The word dead is translated from the Greek word nekron (νεκρόν). And James here is using this word as a synonym for useless. 

James is not saying that a person with dead faith has no faith or that he is unsaved. Rather he’s saying that this person is not living by faith, he’s not trusting and obeying God. This results in a useless, or dead, faith. 

James here is not saying we must do good works to earn salvation. What he’s saying is good works should be in response to the gift we’ve received. 

Really what James is doing in this verse is encouraging his readers to put their faith in practice. Put their money where their mouth is. If you believe in God then you should act like it. If you don’t, then your faith is dead. It’s useless. 

We are saved by faith in Jesus, and that saving faith should produce good works in our lives. 

What Does Faith Without Works Mean For Us Today? 

So what does “faith without works is dead” mean for us in our everyday lives? Really what it comes down to is living out our faith. 

This really shouldn’t be a radical idea. When you believe in something it should change how you live. If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus then your life should reflect that. 

So, what are these good works? In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus tells us we are to love God and love those around us. This is the greatest commandment

In the verses prior to James 2:26 we see that good works are loving others as we love ourselves. He places a special emphasize on meeting each other’s physical needs. 

If we believe in God this is what we should be doing. Again, this isn’t to earn our salvation. Rather we do these good works because we were given such an incredible gift. Faith without works is like a body without breath, lifeless and useless. 

Followers of Jesus should continue to trust and obey God. Their faith should be seen by how they treat and love those around them. Their good deeds are evidence of a faith that’s alive and active. 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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