What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
Let’s take a look at this verse phrase by phrase.
a) What use is it my brethren...notice the word use. It is also translated profit. Notice he is also speaking to his brethren. Notice by way of context that in verse 1, the author begins teaching these believers how to live.
b) if someone says he has faith...here the idea is referring to anyone talking about his faith.
c) but has not works…the picture is of a believer talking of their faith but that’s where it ends…just talk.
d) can that faith save him? The word that here can also be translated the. So it could also read, can the faith save him? This helps to understand it is not the kind of faith he is speaking of but the faith by itself.
Without going too far we can see this verse is not talking to unbelievers about having ‘saving faith’ or how to be saved. As if unless faith is accompanied with works then it is not real. No! What the author is getting at here is the walk of the brothers. Faith that is not accompanied with works is useless. It is not profitable to anyone. It cannot save (sanctify) the person or save (rescue) anybody else in a moment of physical need (see next verse as he gives an example).
Either we are saved by faith without works which harmonizes with grace or we are saved by works which is not by grace but would be something earned. This is no small matter and those who try to somehow say this verse is talking about true saving faith need to re-study this passage because their interpretation goes against the whole of Scripture. Either salvation is by grace or by works but it cannot be both (Rom 11:6).