I See Dead People.

A study on the practice of love in the church. James 2

James the brother of the Lord Jesus saw walking dead men, declaring complete faith and confidence in the life giving Son of God. Their bodies stinking with the decay of death, these men claim to have been born again.

The apostle James, moved by the Spirit of God, wrote a letter that included a warning to Jewish Christians about certain walking dead men who professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and new life in the Spirit, and how they can be identified.

The truths taught are fundamental to the faith of Christians in every generation.

In the second chapter of James’s letter, he uses very descriptive language to distinguish between two types of professing Christians: those who are alive in the Spirit, and some who are literally walking corpses.

Before we look at James’ use of the word “dead,” (literally means: corpse), we will follow his train of thought from the beginning of the second chapter.

 James 2:1-4

(1)  My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. (2)  For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; (3)  And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: (4)  Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges with evil thoughts?

TRUTH: Partiality, discrimination, “respect of persons” is an evil that is inconsistent with, and cannot be practiced along with faith in the Lord Jesus. They are like oil and water: they cannot mix.  They are like night and day, darkness and light, evil and good.

The one who discriminates is a judge, who reasons and thinks in an evil way.

It must be kept in mind, that this is a study on the evil of discrimination among professing Christians, and the necessary spiritual virtue (work/labor) of love.

This truth regarding the supremacy of love  can be found in every NT Gospel and epistle.

Some teachers maintain that James contradicts Paul’s teaching in Romans where we are justified by faith without works. They say James belittles and weakens faith in this chapter.  But, LOVE is greater than Faith! This NT truth is extremely important. see 1 Cor. 13:13, 1 John 3:10,11,17,4:7,8,20 etc. More on this later.

James 2:5

(5)  Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

TRUTH: We should hear and understand, that scripture teaches: God chose the poor of the world to be rich, (wealthy,) in faith, and to inherit the kingdom which he promised to the ones who are loving Him. God does not discriminate against the poor, He does the opposite, He has favored them. cp 1Co_1:26-28

It is clear from the words used, that the apostle is painting a picture concerning true and false wealth, status, success, and poverty.

James 2:6-7

(6)  But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (7)  Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

TRUTH: But, those to whom he writes, do the opposite of God’s example. They mistreat, despise, treat shamefully the poor, while showing favor to the rich. The rich, in return, oppress them, and speak evil of their God. This was true throughout the NT history. Compare: 1Co 11:22, Luke 10:30-37, Act 6:1, Joh 4:9, Mar 2:16

James 2:8

(8)  If ye fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well:

 TRUTH: If you truly fulfill the royal (of or belong to a king, kingly, royal, regal) law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. Lev. 19:18 Jesus said that on the law of love hang all the law and the prophets (Mat 22:40).

James 2:9-13

  • But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
  • For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

(11)  For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. (12)  So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. (13)  For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

 TRUTH: Professing Jewish Christians, to whom James is writing, should have understood the truth that all the law must be obeyed in order to escape judgment. Romans 2:17-23

Discrimination is a merciless sin that violates the royal law of love, and will therefore be judged without mercy. But, the merciful, loving ones, will rejoice at judgment time.

James 2:14-16

(14)  What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (15)  If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, (16)  And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

TRUTH: Returning more directly to his original point in verse 1 –faith in the Lord Jesus and discrimination are diametrically opposed– and continuing the idea of the evil reasoning (thinking) of those looking for profit (used twice in these three verses) or gain by showing favor to the rich while despising the poor.

Faith is professed, 2:1, by those who do not execute/fulfill/practice/work  the royal law of love, (which is demonstrated by mercy and compassion to poor brethren);  yet they hope to be saved from the judgment of God that they know awaits merciless discriminators.

They sought earthly profit and eternal reward, but, will gain neither. As for the former (earthly profit) verses 6 and 7 shows they have only received oppression, ill treatment and defamation from the rich. And the latter (eternal reward), is promised only to those who love God and love their brother as themselves.

Now James draws an even sharper line of distinction. A more vivid picture is painted of the true evil nature of discrimination.

James 2:17-26

(17)  Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Matthew chapter 23 is a parallel passage to this chapter of James and should be used to help interpret James. Matt. 23 sheds a bright light on the meaning of “dead works”. Both James and The Lord Jesus (Jam 1:1, Matt. 23:2) refer to and discuss similar problems recorded throughout the New Testament regarding the Jewish religious leaders opposition to the gospel and it’s message of grace to all people.  Discrimination against gentiles was a way of life.

For example:

Mar 2:15  And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. 16  And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

Also compare: Mat_9:10; Mat_9:11; Mat_21:31; Mat_21:32; Luk_5:29; Luk_5:30; Luk_6:17; Luk_15:1;Act_11:3; Gal_2:12;


Matthew chapter 23 represents the most severe condemnation recorded in the gospels from God Almighty against any person or group. It is remarkable because it is leveled against the religious leaders of the Jewish people, not the prostitutes, murderers, drunkards, or criminals.

This passage should be carefully studied. Why was Jesus so harsh? Did he leave any likelihood of repentance or forgiveness? Were these men who devoted their lives to transcribing, reading, protecting and teaching the holy scriptures deserving of so harsh a treatment? If so, why. Did this group of men represent the very worst of sinners? If so, why? Was their sin so much worse  than those who rejected religion altogether?

Mat 23:3  All therefore whatsoever they bid (say) you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Mat 23:5  But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

Mat 23:6  And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,…

Mat 23:27  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers (grave), which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Mat 23:28  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity…

Mat 23:37  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Mat 23:38  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Luk 11:44  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.

Back to James:

(18)  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast (to have, i.e. own, possess) faith, and I have (to have, i.e. own, possess) works (an act, deed, thing done): show (expose to the eyes; to give evidence or proof of a thing) me thy faith without (separate, apart from) thy works, and I will show thee my faith by (out of, from)  my works.

TRUTH: Faith can only be seen by deeds. It does not exist apart from deeds. v.17, v.20 Very close parallel with Matt. 23, ie. The scribes and Pharisees say one thing but do (demonstrate) another v.3.

The word faith or belief is a word that reaches outside of oneself to embrace another for the purpose of life and direction. It is inconceivable to understand it apart from the effect it has on the one who possesses it.

(19)  Thou believest (to have faith in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing) that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also (in the same  manner) believe, and tremble.

 note: “and” connects, it is cumulative; (also, even, so then, too etc.).

 Interesting use of “belief”, here twice and v.23 . Their belief is compared to the belief of devils as to genuineness.  

Robertson’s Word Pictures: “The demons do more than believe a fact. They shudder at it.”

Thayer Definition: Belief: pisteuō 1.) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence (trust)  in 1a) of the thing believed.

      TRUTH: The devils show their faith (belief) by their trembling. Faith cannot be known otherwise: “If you love me keep my commandments…” “Go and bring forth fruit consistent with repentance”Matt3, “Ye shall know them by their fruit..”, Mat 7:21  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” etc.

(20)  But wilt thou know, O vain (empty, of places, vessels, etc. which contain nothing) man, that faith without works is dead (a corpse)? 

“Vain”: another powerfully vivid picture, similar to Jesus statement in Matt.23 ” white washed tombs”.

Proof that v.18a is impossible i.e. true faith cannot exist without works. These people are empty talkers, devoid of true faith and lacking when compared even to demons!

(21)  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (22)  Seest thou how faith wrought with (Thayer Definition: to work together, help in work, be partner in labor 2) to put forth power together with and thereby to assist) his works, and by works was faith made perfect (to complete, to carry through completely)? See below: The Apostle Paul taught… (23)  And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

  • Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (merely, alone).

More repetition for emphasis! Faith is not and cannot be known without deeds. The record of Abraham’s justification proves it. No other proof needed. But…

  • Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

See also Hebrews 11 for proof that true faith is visible and tangible.


Gal 5:5-6  For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth (to have strength) any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh (be at work) by (through) love.

Religious ceremonies- even circumcision- are powerless/useless in the life of Christians but, faith which works through love is powerful. Faith is definitely a verb.

Contradiction from Paul??

Rom 3:28  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without (separate from) the deeds of the law.

Some scholars falsely believe this verse completely contradicts James, and therefore reject the epistle of James altogether.

  1. Paul clearly, along with Jesus, taught this same truth regarding the inseparable relationship between  faith and love. Eph. 3:17, 6:23; Col 1:4; 2Tim 1:13 etc  also See “Proof’s”  below.
  2. Rom. 3:28 deals with the objective nature of “the God kind of righteousness”(which comes only through faith,) without a description of the subjective qualities or characteristics of that faith, which he identifies later (5:2-*5, 6:22, 7:6, 8:5, 12:1-21, 13:8-10).  James is focusing on the genuineness of faith.
  3. Rom 3:28  is referring the Law of Moses and it’s commandments, while James is referring specifically to the Law of love (Jesus’ 2nd. Commandment , vv. 1, 8) which characterizes all of the Spirit indwelt offspring of God. compare also 1John 3-5

There is therefore harmony between James and Paul.

Peter on Faith and Deeds:

2Pe 1:5-7 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love.

John on Faith and Love:

1Jo 5:2-5  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?


176 times in NT the word works is used!

2Co 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 11  Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; also Col 3:25

Rev 2:2  “I know thy works…” The judgment of each of the seven churches by the Lord Jesus is according to their works!

Rev 14:13  And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.

Rev 20:12-13  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

Rev 22:12  And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. 


READ Hebrews 10:35-12:2 – Maybe the greatest passage on faith in the NT.  Their works proved their faith!


  • For (The reason, the explanation) as ( just as, exactly like) the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

 The body without the spirit is a dead body. In the exact same way faith without works is dead faith. A person professing faith without works is a spiritually dead person. Love is the essence of the works.

Love is the very breath of spiritual life.  Love is the spirit of faith:  “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” 1Jo 3:23,24

TRUTH: The person confessing Faith without possessing Love is a dead man; 1Co 13:13-  And now faith, hope, and love, these three things remain; but the greatest of these is love. 

Love proves faith as breathing proves life;

No love=No Faith; No breath=Death;

No Love = Spiritual Death


The work of true saints:

Joh 13:34-35  A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Joh 15:12-14  This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Heb 6:9-11  But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

1Jo 3:14-19  We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

1Jo 3:23-24  And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.  And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

Gal 5:14  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Gal 5:18  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

(Why? Because the work of the Spirit is love, against which there is no law.  Gal. 5:23, Rom 13:8)

Gal 6:2  Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Joh 13:35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.


Mat 5:16  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Joh 3:19 –21 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Eph 2:10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

1Pe 2:12  Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Rev 3:1  And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

No Love = Spiritual Death


True faith is accompanied by spiritual life which produces the activities (deeds, motions) consistent with life in the Spirit. These works are produced by the Spirit of God and are characterized by LOVE.

Those who are alive in the Spirit show the work of the Spirit ie. LOVE, all others are dead, no matter their profession. Lack of love (1John 2:9-11) is sure evidence of spiritual death.

The Jewish religious leaders: Scribes, Chief priests, Elders, Sadducees and Pharisee’s were the prime biblical examples of this spiritual death.

Professing to be a Christian while discriminating against your poor or lowly Christian brother is the profession of a corpse and absolute evidence of spiritual death.

Love is the very breath of spiritual life, the visible birthmark of children born from God.

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loves not his brother abides in death.  1Jo 3:14

Eph 4:15, 16  but speaking the truth in love, we may grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, the Christ, from whom all the body, having been fitted and compacted together through every assisting bond, according to the effectual working of one measure in each part, produces the growth of the body to the building up of itself in love.

…a more excellent way. 1Cor. 12:31

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