Though James presses into fresh territory, he actually has not changed the subject in the second half of chapter two. He is still calling us to embody the faith we profess. And James still appeals to our treatment of the poor as an index of our spiritual condition. He registers shock that professing Christians would turn a blind eye to the hungry and destitute among them. Faith without works bears a strong resemblance to the “worthless” religion he describes in chapter one.
James challenges what was apparently a growing attitude among the professing Christians in Jerusalem that obedience to God – works which embody the love and compassion of Christ – have no direct relationship to the quality of the faith they claim. Simply put, there seems to have been a growing number of Christians who believed that saving faith had no direct relationship with Christlikeness. It is an idea which persists today. It is the belief that being a Christian is about praying a prayer or affirming a set of doctrines but not about obeying our Lord.
But what are we to make of a faith that is not accompanied by good works? James says that such a faith is dead. That is, faith that is unaccompanied by growing Christlikeness is not actually faith. It is something more akin to the belief that demons possess; a belief that cannot escape the facts but will not issue in love for God and neighbor.