Have you ever had a “dead” battery? We say it is dead, when actually, we mean it is not producing. We do not mean that if you looked under the hood, you will not find a battery there! Many Christians misunderstand the context and obvious application of James 2:17. “Faith without works is dead, being alone.” The very fact that James recognizes their faith shows they have it, BUT IT WASN’T PRODUCING. That is the issue.
The word “dead” does not mean non-existent. It is the word “nekros” and means barren, useless, idle. The root word means “like a corpse.” This same word is used in the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15. If you remember the story, the son took his portion and went away in rebellion and wasted it. After a while he came to his senses and came back home. Did he ever cease being a son? That would be ridiculous. The father though says that his son was dead and is now alive again. Simply put, the son had been barren and fruitless, AS GOOD AS DEAD, but not literally dead. He had been idle, but now by the fact that he was coming back, he was showing signs of life again.
Simply put James is telling us that faith alone, if it is not manifesting itself by works, is idle and useless. It is dead in that it is showing no signs of life. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it. God’s desire is for us to have lives that have purpose-lives that accomplish something for His kingdom and not just take up space like some cow out in a field.