Updated: Feb 12, 2020
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? James 2:14.
Surprisingly, most Fundamental Baptists answer, "yes". It is no problem to them at all if a person professes faith but never has a single work that would indicate the presence of faith. Their ears are deaf to John's admonition; Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous, 1st John 3:7. They wave a little flag called dispensationalism. By waving that flag, they can pick and choose what applies to them and to what they are exempt.
We will look at the doctrine of what James is saying, but first I want to clear up the very definition of dispensation.
1. For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me, 1st Corinthians 9:17.
2. That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him, Ephesians 1:10.
3. If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward, Ephesians 3:2.
4. Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God, Colossians 1:25.
The Oxford English dictionary has a number of definitions for "dispensation". It was Wycliffe who first used the word. He chose a word that at that time meant: The orderly administration of things committed to one's charge; the function or office of administrator or steward; stewardship. archaic. The King James Bible kept that word and accordingly, kept that definition.
There is another more troubling definition of that word: The action of dispensing with some requirement; medieval Latin dispensātio. (See dispense v. II.) 8.Thesaurus »Categories » a. Ecclesiastical. An arrangement made by the administrator of the laws or canons of the church, granting, in special circumstances or in a particular case, a relaxation of the penalty incurred by a breach of the law, or exempting from the obligation to comply with its requirements, or from some sacred obligation, as an oath, etc.; the granting of licence by a pope, archbishop, or bishop, to a person, to do what is forbidden, or omit what is enjoined, by ecclesiastical law or by any solemn obligation; the licence so given.
Oddly enough, the effort by Dispensationalists to define a dispensation as a specific time period in which God's laws and rules are changed for the administration of man's salvation is much more in line with the Roman Catholic definition of the word than in Wycliffe's definition. Wycliffe himself spoke of this manner of dispensation; Dispensacioun wiþ þis lawe winnes miche money. (Dispensation with this law wins much money.) Dispensationalists don't sell their dispensations, they just sell books about them.
According to a Dispensationalist, a person who has never shown any inkling of obedience to the laws of God since making a profession of faith is just as saved as a person who has wholeheartedly obeyed the word of God. When they read James or John, they dismiss the warnings as not applicable to them. How like a rich man in medieval Europe! He too believed that by special dispensation he could contravene the laws of God with impunity. Does a modern convert curse, drink and fornicate? He is held to be saved because he was saved under the dispensation of grace wherein faith is not demonstrated by any works whatsoever. Did the medieval noble curse, drink and fornicate? Yes he did, but he is excused by a special dispensation.
To say that a person claiming faith must show his faith by works as James has said, or to state that righteous people will do righteousness is not mixing faith and works. Faith is given to broken sinners who are sickened by sin, made aware of its poison and who receive the grace of God. There is no work imaginable whereby that grace could be given. That same grace immediately begins to teach the hitherto fore fallen sinner. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world, Titus 2:11,12.
The saving faith that can deliver that same fallen sinner will demonstrate itself. We know that Abraham had faith. To this both Paul and James attest. Paul is very clear about the effect that faith had upon the flesh of Abraham. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? Romans 4:1. By that faith, God brought forth an heir from the flesh of Abraham. We find though that God was not done testing Abraham.
God required of Abraham that he show forth that faith by works. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Did Abraham really believe? Was his faith a substance of things hoped for? Was it evidence of things not seen? Yes, Abraham showed his faith by his works. Works without faith are dead, but faith without works is dead. My converts tend to impress their social workers, family, friends and co-workers by the changes in their lives. The man stocking the beer cooler at the local convenience store knows that something changed.
I'm not claiming sinless perfection. God knows that I myself took many years after my conversion to walk a blameless life. He also knows that with halting steps I took my first steps as a Christian and people noticed. I am assured by the Apostle Paul; For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live, Romans 8:13. Those times wherein I strayed and those times wherein I sought to live after the flesh were met with a severe chastisement from God. But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons, Hebrew 12:8.
One of the last places that Oliver Greene preached before his death in 1972 was the Faith Baptist Camp in Resaca, Georgia. He warned then that if you claim to have been saved 30 years ago and you have been living in sin all of this time, do not expect to go to heaven.
God chastens those he loves. True faith will always manifest itself. the last half century of dispensational teaching that relegates James and John to a different time period have just about snuffed out faith in the western world. If you don't believe that try to find a church which has consistent converts who are growing in faith. They have soul winning numbers which they want you to take by faith because there is no corresponding change to their church therefrom.