2:14-26 – Faith Producing No Change Is NOT Faith
This to me is one of the main points of all of the New Testament. All I will say here, and I could say a lot, is that you can call yourself a Christian, but if you do that and you live like it has made no difference in your life, then you have not really believed, and you are not really a Christian. You can get mad at me all you like about that, but Christ is meant to be at the very center of your being, and influence everything you do. If He isn’t you aren’t, and worse, an very solid argument can be made that you are ACTUALLY taking the Lord’s name in vain.
People in these modern or post-modern times go to church thinking this is what makes them a Christian. You may have heard me say this before, but that’s like going to McDonalds and thinking it makes you a cheeseburger. It’s a subtle form of insanity and is a complete deception. If Jesus is not the Lord of your life, and you are not following him, you are not an actual Christian. Fortunately, if you really want to BE His follower, you can change that.
You see, Faith, the Greek word pistis, is actually the Greek word that means a firm persuasion or opinion held so strongly that it motivates you to action. This isn’t something you work up, but if it happens, and you should ask for that to happen, then it motivates literally everything you will say, do, or even think. It is called regeneration (a term used by Paul in his letter to Titus, 3:5) or being born again/from above (it’s a deliberate word play Jesus used in John 3). When the Lord does this in you, you are truly free, and it will cause your life to change! It turned mine upside down, and that was a good thing. God gloriously saved me and set me free from my sin! And he will do it for you if you will but humbly turn from your sin (the very meaning of the Greek word metanoia, “repent”) and ask his forgiveness. After all, He died to pay the penalty for your sins! Will you not accept such grace from our King?
It is my firm belief, not a simple opinion, but something far stronger that moves me to actions in my daily life is that it is possible to be intellectually persuaded to be a kind of follower of “Christ,” and I am using quotes around Christ for a reason here, but not actually live for the real and risen Christ, which means you are what Ray Comfort (and others, I just heard the term from him first) would call a false convert. I’m sure we’ve all met these folks, and I’m also sure I have been accused of being one at certain points in my life. To express the kind of individual that I’m speaking about, this is the kind of person that claims the name of Christ as Saviour, but then lives in open sin against that creator by espousing things like our euphemistic pretend organization “Car Thieves for Christ,” or any other form of open rebellion against the Law of God.
I of course speak of God’s MORAL law, also know as the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments. Really, if you read through the New Testament, which is what all of humanity is under in terms of biblical covenant, it still contains more than 500 “laws” to which we should adhere, and more, if you are really HIS, you should actually WANT to adhere to. If you DO not adhere to these, you are living in open sin and rebellion, whether you know it or not.
To be fair, I have met new believers (and I even used to be one) that just don’t know any better. This group is NOT who I am talking about. When you show them the truth from the Scriptures, they come around, often immediately, sometimes, after a short period of thought and checking their facts. Heck, sometimes a LONG fact check. That’s how I came to the doctrines of grace–a very long fact check years in the making. Again, this is not who I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the so-called “pastor” [again, please note the use of the quotes to indicate I am using a word in a way that is not defined by its original and accepted meaning] that told me I did something wrong by counselling a new believer against euthanasia for their terminally ill loved one. Beloved, self-murder is still murder, and is a direct violation of that sixth commandment. This guy said that I had upset the wishes of the family. Um…okay…not the point of pastoring, EVER. Pastoring is supposed to be about the safeguarding of the sheep against predators and their care and feeding, today in a spiritual sense. If an actual believer is entertaining assisted suicide for a terminally ill person, they NEED to be instructed in what the word says, not made as comfortable as possible while they are escorted by flights of fallen angels to their new infernal home! Clearly that pastor is a false convert. I should probably say that it isn’t our job to run around “checking people’s papers” on purpose, but if they are going to volunteer their information, we should check it carefully! After all, they volunteered.
Often, a decision made by a false convert is about their own level of comfort. It would have been easier to deal with killing one’s own mother than living with that person that may not have been well-liked for good reason and just get them out of the way. Beloved, that’s MURDER! Assisted or otherwise. Real Christianity gets in peoples’ faces about sin, the violation of God’s holy standards for people. It challenges us all to true introspection about our own situations and demands a godly response…and if that response is not forthcoming, there needs to be real mitigation as a reason why. The Corinthians were instructed by the Apostle Paul HIMSELF to “unfellowship” a man that was sleeping with his own father’s wife. We HOPE it was his STEPmother, but you know, it doesn’t actually say. Such an individual was left to the not-so-tender mercies of the enemy with the stated purpose of being able to save his spirit in the day of Jesus Christ. A verse that kind of goes with that was shared by Paul with Thessalonian believers–if a man will not work, he shouldn’t eat either. A person has responsibility to handle his or her own affairs before God, and if they will not discipline themselves to do that, they should get no help from the church until they DO, status as convert notwithstanding. Why?
Because FAITH, without the accompanying works that DEMONSTRATE that faith, isn’t REAL faith, it’s as dead as a doorknob. I broke the text down as follows.
KV17: Faith without Works is Dead
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
14-17: If Christ makes no difference in your life, You are not Christian.
18-20: Faith with works and faith without works contrasted
21-24: Faith in action: The example of Abraham
25-26: Faith in action: The example of Rahab
Let’s begin our study of the text right here.
KV17: Faith without Works is Dead
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
This passage is one of the passages that gave Martin Luther apoplexy, to be sure. To be fair to Luther, all of this “salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone” was all newly rediscovered from the Scriptures, and an understanding of how the text all fits together sometimes takes time. Sometimes a LOT of time. However, I agree with Luther, that a superficial reading (and I am NOT suggesting that Martin Luther was reading superficially) does kind of hit at a salvation-by-works scheme, and the Catholic organization used this passage to rebut Luther and then set up their own false religion revolving around salvation by good works, just like every other false religion does.
As I said at the beginning in much more clever words having something to do with going to McDonalds does not make you a cheeseburger, this is really cart-before-horse thinking. One does not do good works to BECOME a Christian. One does their good works to please Christ after He MAKES you a Christian by regenerating you, or causing you to be born again/from above and justifying you before God in regards to your SIN. Nothing we can ever do to remove our own sin-debt to God will work. Isaiah literally says that all our “righteousnesses” [the word is plural] are as “used menstrual rags.” In other words, it’s a sticky, stinky, unclean, smelly mess. No wonder we try to cover it up and hide it! But beloved, Christ removed all of that need to hide it on the cross! He did the very thing we were unqualified to do. He laid down His sinless and perfect life to pay the penalty for our wrongdoings! We must turn to Him for that reason in faith, or this is all a painful and pointless exercise in self-flagellation. See what the text says.
14-17: If Christ makes no difference in your life, You are not Christian.
This first section is where James makes a gospel reference, so I will also, and I will do so by quoting the Third Commandment in its entirety: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 5:11)
Beloved, what does it mean to take the name of the Lord in vain? This paragraph answers that question. Let’s look at the text.
14: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
- As with all rhetorical questions, as we discovered in our studies of the Pauline epistles, the answer is obvious from the question. James here asks TWO questions, the first of which is, “What good is it if a person claims faith in Christ [the actual object of James’ examination here] but does not DEMONSTRATE IT by their actions (including spoken words, which comes in handy if you’re encountering one of those less and less rare people that thinks it’s okay to be both communist and Christian at the same time). James is actually answering that question rhetorically by the form of the question, but for the record, the official answer he would give here is something like, “not one bit of good at all.”
- The second question that James asks, is if that’s the kind of faith one has, that faith that has no accompanying works, can that faith save that one? Again, this is a rhetorical question with the glaringly obvious answer of, “No. No, it cannot.”
15: If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
- Some have used this verse in the past to guilt Christians into helping people that don’t really deserve help. Wait, what’s that Gerry? There are people that do not deserve help? That’s not very Christian! I beg to differ. If a drunk wants you to buy him another bottle, would you? I would hope your answer here would be something like, “No, of course not!” It would be feeding their specific weakness in a way that leads them further into sin and away from that amazing grace of Christ that we are always talking about. If an alcoholic asks you to buy him a drink, that’s the very LAST thing that he or she needs. RATHER, you should get them to a meeting or a program! Help them face their addiction and solve their need that way! There are other examples I could mention here. If a lady has a problem manipulating men into driving her around all over the city so she can go shopping, and then manipulates those same men into paying her expenses with sexual favours, do you think you should give her a lift to the grocery store? Because I don’t. Let’s take a moment here to see what is actually happening. SHE IS BEING MANIPULATIVE, and is using her natural talents to manipulate men into getting what she wants. The only reason such a person usually calls you is because they need something, or they are intent on “cultivating” a “friendship” with you. That is to say, she would be grooming her servant to slave for sexual favors. That isn’t even CHRISTIAN. God help those who try to use this kind–or any other kind–of manipulation to conform His servants to some kind of sin in helping them fulfil their needs outside of the will of God. She’s an adult–let her get a job and earn her own money to pay for her own groceries!
- No, James is clearly speaking about the actual needy people in our midst, and these individuals may not want to identify themselves. There is a kind of shame that goes with this kind of humble state, I can tell you. But with his use of “brother or sister” we know he is speaking of believers. With his use of the phrase, “is without clothing and in need of daily food,” we can assume this is a real case of need, and an apparent and obvious one. James in this verse is setting up the scene for his very next phrase.
16: and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
- Okay, James here says we know about this obvious case of real need among the believers. “One of YOU says to them…” Remember the difference between “knowing” and “doing” that we have already spoken of in previous studies. What is it that the one of us says to them?
- “Go in peace. Be warmed and filled.” These are gracious words of blessing, are they not? I do wish peace on people, and I do it at the end of most every conversation, as do all of you that I know on the call this evening. And I even mean it, in that I am sincere in my well-wishing. I DO want my all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present God to bless people, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ! But even that isn’t what James is on about.
- “…and yet you DO NOT GIVE THEM what is necessary for their body…” Beloved, it isn’t enough to SAY Be warmed and filled if you are not willing to the warming and the filling! “What use is that?” cries James! And he is right! Now–the folks that need the help are not asking for it at all, or James would have said so. If you are in need, it isn’t a sin to make it known. However, it is a sin to manipulate people into helping, so don’t do it like that. Just speak to the church leadership and see what happens. It may not be possible to help you right away. If you’re foundation on your house is cracked, I don’t have the spare cash it would take to pay for it for you, and I do not have the knowledge or physical ability to do the fixing myself. And I shouldn’t have to call around for you and do the work for you. But you do have the right to ask the church leadership for help, and you should. We can at least pray for your situation, and that IS a correct response.
- But if you’re a mason by trade, and the church asks you to intervene on behalf of a brother or sister in Christ, it would behoove you to do some pro bono repair work! If that lady we talked about earlier actually needs food and has to basically prostitute herself to get fed, wouldn’t a grocery card and a ride in your truck (with your wife or another sister in Christ) to and from the grocery store be appropriate? Of course it would be!
- Much of the “church” [again please note the use of the quotes to indicate a use of the word that is not a usual use, in this case I mean a body that calls itself a church but is really a social club] today is designed to either collect money (like the Catholics) or to avoid responsibility (like the protestants in general) or to avoid real Christian action (like the Baptists and Presbyterians specifically) for real Christian causes and interests (like abortion or euthanasia) in the realm of public policy. We can be emotionally stirred, but then we get to go home and watch television. I ask with James, “What use is that?!?”
17: Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
- James says it just like that. We have said it this way in our prior studies of James: You will act out on your true beliefs. Your “faith,” those foundational opinions and axioms that you hold that dictate your true beliefs WILL be displayed in the very things you do, although it might take a while, and might not show for long. Ultimately those that are watching will be able to see if you are for real or if you a huge raging hypocrite, an actor that plays a part, as one that wears a mask, as they often did in the Greek theatre of the day.
- If you claim faith in Christ, but do not actually DO the accompanying works like loving your brothers and sisters in Christ and meeting the needs they have that you can help with, and the things they actually need, not the things they always tell you they need (like my example of the alcoholic that wants a drink), and not the manipulative people that tell you that you should do everything they ask because…”Christian…” because that’s antichristian manipulation, if you do NOT do those things–you quite simply are NOT a Christian. This is not a complicated statement. That faith (the so-called Christian one without the accompanying works) will NOT save you. It is a dead and useless thing, filled with hypocrisy.
I began this paragraph by reading the third commandment, the one dealing with taking the Lord’s name in vain. Many people think that just stops with the idea of using the name of God as a curse word to express disgust. It has a lot more to it than even that, and that is decidedly wrong and a part of this.
What I want to point out here is that what we have already been saying–that if you will claim to be a Christian, that is a follower of Christ, and YOU DO NOT LIVE LIKE Christ matters or that what HE says is unimportant compared with what you really and actually WANT to do, THAT is taking the Lord’s name in vain. It is also a convenient way to blaspheme the name of God. If you should die without ever finding that forgiveness that Christ gave us on the cross, or without asking God to forgive you or your sins and then turning from them (I know that can be incremental at times), then dying in that condition means you have not followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit–and there is no longer forgiveness for that, because your character is fixed at death, and you will have no further opportunity to turn. Beloved, I ADJURE you–turn and repent of your sins and place your faith in the real and living Christ.
18-20: Faith with works and faith without works contrasted
We have already started down this path, but there is more to say, and we must see it if we are to be true disciples, and if I am to “accurately handle the Word of Truth” as a pastor is supposed to be doing, so let’s look at the text and what it says.
18: But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
- I actually had this conversation in a modern sense back in the late 1980s with a Catholic friend of mine, whom I have lost touch with over the years. His name was Darcy, and he and I took biology together at Carleton. At the time I didn’t know how to handle all of that canon law nonsense he would throw out, and he had a pretty vast knowledge of councils and edicts and the like. I learned some of the Latin I know from him. He and I were working on papers for a course assignment, and we were at my place, and I finally in frustration said something like, “Can’t you see all that this word of men you are placing your faith in is just works-based salvation?” I didn’t intend to be offensive, and he didn’t take it that way–but it stood him up for a minute, and of course if you give me a space and there is opportunity to preach the gospel, well…you can imagine where I went.
- Darcy’s faith, I hope, has moved on to Christ, I don’t know the results of that even after about 30 years. His line of thinking was something like what James is saying here. You have your faith in Christ, and I have my meritorious works that I do in obedience to Christ. Both get to the same place. He wasn’t actually asking that as a question, and I won’t imply he was. James here is giving a bit of a test here to measure.
- Show me how your faith stands on its own. What is your faith really in? Because I can state confidently it is not in Christ if you aren’t living like it. I can also state that it is possible to have a guilt- or performance-based soteriology (the study of how one is saved, based on the Greek word for salvation, soteria). That still won’t save you, because you cannot effectively deal with your sin before God that way. Only the perfect man can do that, and there has been only one, and His sacrifice was actually accepted by the Father. Beloved, anything that says you have to earn your standing before God is a LIE. In fact, Paul calls it THE lie in Romans 1.
- You see, your “faith,” the things you actually believe, WILL work themselves out in your thoughts (which no one can actually see), words, and deeds (which are actually measurable). If all you have is work to save you, ultimately you will either break wide open and potentially go insane because you will realize you cannot do it (I have seen that, and it’s terrifying to watch), or you will become a fool that will not quit trying to save yourself. Your faith is never “without works,” as James has facetiously said (we know it is facetious because he says so in the last phrase of this verse). “I will show you my faith BY my works.” Beloved, your faith always has accompanying works. The question is not whether you have faith. The question is what you are placing that faith in, what your are trusting, clinging to, relying on, to save you. James’ point is that only real faith in Christ will save you.
- Faith as a nebulous concept only exists for charlatans that want to steal your money, like many of our oh-so-fine false prophets. We won’t name them here because we have in the past, and that list is growing all the time, but really, they will always deliberately mis-define it. Some have publicly stated that it is an actual substance (based on a modern misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:1 in the English of King James VI of Scotland (yes, also I of England, just testing my audience to see if they were awake)). This is not what the word means in Greek, as we have stated MANY times over YEARS here at BereanNation.com. Faith is the Greek word pistis and literally means a firmly held persuasion or opinion so strongly held that it moves you to action (the action of faith, called “belief” sometimes). Interestingly, the Greek form of the word “believe” is pisteuo, the verb form of pistis. There is no real difference between them other than noun and verb. These false-teacher ne’er-do-wells would say otherwise, and have on occasions I have heard. I could probably make an hours-long episode about this, but I’ll leave that to our dear brother Chris Rosebrough to handle, because he does it so much better than I do.
- Suffice it to say that if you show me a faith that has no works associated with it, it is because you literally believe nothing. Faith without works is dead. It always has accompanying works, and those works always tell us what kind of faith it really is. The problem is that there can be little to no difference between the works of faith and the works of those that are trying to get there on their own. Only motive is the difference, and motive is only sometimes reliably detectable, and that is what is meant by not “judging” other people. It is supposed to be dealing with others’ motives. What do you know? Only God can judge me. But that should make you afraid and humble, not proud and puffed up about things. I’m lookin’ at you, Perry Stone. Nice tattoo. You are aware that He is actually going to judge you, right? He will me too. That makes me humble and fearful of falling into His hands, not proud and defensive of my past alcoholism, bro. Repent and get to a meeting, okay?
19: You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
- The first phrase here seems very Jewish to me, and I’m not surprised knowing that this was Jesus’ brother writing the letter. That was their big rally cry in the Old Testament wasn’t it? “God is one!” In fact, Jews today STILL call this the Shema. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God!” Their big problem is that they always fell short of obeying the words that immediately follow it, you know, to love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, might, and strength.” That can be our failing as well. I also think this is James tipping his hat at the idea of the concept of the trinity, although he doesn’t say it. His own brother was God. Fully God, all while being fully man. But this isn’t actually James’ point here. So what is?
- You do well: “You got the right answer!” You know the Truth! But the demons also know the truth. It makes THEM shake in their boots! Are you…yawning? Are we boring you? Wake up! Look, this is serious as a heart attack, something with which I have had an unpleasant experience! Knowing orthodox doctrine is not a guarantee of your justification before God. Even living out that orthodoxy out of guilt or some other reason apart from faith in Christ does not mean God has regenerated you. You must actually believe that Christ died for YOU! And I must say this, you MUST make HIM your LORD! You must live for Him, because He bought you! Beloved, that’s what is keeping my arthritic hands typing right now, with as much pain as this is every week, especially at this time of year when the weather changes! You NEED to hear this and UNDERSTAND it! I like Glen Kaiser’s word for this. You can say the words, and not live the life, and what good is that? It’s EMPTY! (Glen Kaiser is the frontman for the Christian Music Group Resurrection Band, which was initially an outreach of the church he attended and pastored if I’m remembering rightly in Chicago.)
- I ask you. Will demons be saved? They not only know, but actually believe the truth. But they are still in rebellion to the truth of God. Beloved, we don’t have to be in rebellion. We need to turn our steps from our own way and into His way. Those are the works that He wants of us. John 6:28-29 says, “Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”” For us, at any rate, that is where it starts. Do better than the demons, friends.
20: But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
- Or maybe you aren’t willing to accept any of this. I won’t say I didn’t ask you to, I downright implored you! I am begging you now! TURN FROM YOUR OWN EVIL WAYS! This is the true meaning of the biblical word “repent!” If means to turn around 180 degrees and move in the opposite direction! When we say “repent of your sins,” what do you think we are saying? One of the meanings of the Greek word for “repent” [metanoia] is to “change your mind, ostensibly to the opposite point of view.” Think differently about your sin! Realize and admit that it is in fact sin, a high crime against the Holy One, creator of the universe, who has the power to make or unmake you! And He is a perfect and just judge. Did you think you could talk your way out of punishment for sin? NO, my friend, you cannot! He isn’t just going to wink at crimes committed against Him and have a laugh with you. There is a penalty for those crimes and it MUST be paid! Fortunately it already has been: by God the Son, who died in our place as punishment for OUR crimes. God was so pleased with that sacrifice that He raised Him from the dead to show the price had been paid and that we were now accepted in the Beloved, God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Or maybe you don’t want to believe that. Because it is your choice. But “THAT faith without works is useless.”
Maybe it isn’t fair of me to say that accompanying works always go with faith. New Testament writers consistently only speak about the accompanying works of faith in Christ, and how they change a person from the inside and work out. It isn’t anything WE do, that’s for certain. Dead works is another phrase I have heard over the years, and it is used to describe the actions of false religion or other actions that do not edify the church, the living body of Christ on earth. Let’s speak in terms of those definitions, not of my own expanded ones based on my own observations. Another way of saying this is that the works of a living faith and dead works of a false faith are being compared, and that is true. But what you really believe is what will still work its way out into action with or without your consent.
I know what we need here–we need examples. Isn’t it convenient that James supplies two? Abraham and Rahab.
21-24: Faith in action: The example of Abraham
The kind of saving faith that I am talking about here is seen best in these examples of what it means to have a living faith. “Having a living faith” should be seen as a bit of a code phrase for “obeying what God says regardless of what you may think or what it may mean for you. You’ll see what I mean in the very first example.
21: Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
- Okay, this is a BIG example. And it’s the one James goes for. I love his no-nonsense, money-where-his-mouth-is style. Let’s talk about when God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. What? GOD demanded a child sacrifice? Yes, He did. But he did it with a point in mind. Let’s have a look at the original passage in Genesis for this. Genesis 22:1-2 reads, “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”“
- There is absolutely no mistaking what God told Abraham to do here. He was meant to tie up his son Isaac, the son of God’s promise, through whom God had promised to bless all the nations of the world, stab him through the heart with a knife to kill him, and then burn his remains as an offering to God. Some commentators try to explain that away or soften the language here, but I cannot and will not. God gave Abraham a son, and now He was asking for that son to be sacrificed.
- Okay, I can already hear the angry mob of protestors outside convicting God of being inhuman without understanding a thing here. I need to say something about this. Look, HE IS GOD ALMIGHTY. If He says strip naked, paint yourself blue, and hang upside down 200 feet off the ground in a ponderosa pine, YOU DO IT. (I might be asking for some ID if that really happened, but if it checked out, I would do it! That might be the ONLY way I’d climb a Ponderosa pine, because I’m terrified of heights after an incident with an explosion, a ladder, and a fire hose. Another time maybe.). God is GOD, beloved. We SHOULD be in fear of Him. He is coming to judge the world in righteousness. You DO what God SAYS. That’s James’ entire point here! Your faith must have appropriate accompanying works, or it isn’t faith in Christ! Certainly Abraham would agree. Look at his response in verse 3 of that text: “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.“
- Doubtless some would say that God is no better than Hitler in WWII, and Abraham was no better than the officers that gassed the Jews (ironically) in concentration camps for just following the orders. Beloved, that isn’t what is going on here. Wait and see. If the story ended here, I might agree with you, but it isn’t over. Look at ALL the evidence before you convict someone. [Works for Kyle Rittenhouse too, no matter how that situation turns out for him.]. Why would Abraham obey that command? It meant, at first appearance, killing the promised son, and killing the blessing to the nations that God Himself promised! We need to look at a New Testament text here, because it explains what was going through Abraham’s brain. Hebrews 11:17-19.
- “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.“
- There are several things I need to highlight here, and this might get a little “machine-gun rapid fire,” but hang on, because it’s all important. First, God was testing Abraham like He tests all of us, to see if we will obey. God will often require us to abandon ideals or people that are crucial to us in order to teach us to trust Him in any circumstance. I could tell you stories about my own kids, and days and nights spent in mental facilities or ERs after suicide attempts. I have two kids that have mental disorders, guys. I’m not asking for your pity or even your understanding. Your prayers, sure if you want. But God has used these two precious gifts from Himself to me and my wife to draw us closer together and to teach us to trust Him regardless of what the “experts” are saying (because a lot of times they don’t really know either). And all of it was to glorify His own name. My suicidal child is now grown up and has a faith in Christ, though she is still dealing with these issues, and will be for the rest of her life. But beloved, she’s alive to do it, and that is a minor miracle if I can use the term.
- Second, God is teaching Isaac things too. Isaac, though he doesn’t have a lot of lines in the scene, does have a few. “Dad, we have the fire, and we have the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” What must that question have done to Abraham inside in this drama that was unfolding? He had to answer His own son without scaring the boy off! “The Lord Himself will provide the lamb.” Isaac knew something was up. He must have figured it out when Abraham started to tie him up. What could have gone through Isaac’s head at that moment? “I’m the sacrifice!” might have gone through my own mind. Then his dad took a knife, and after a moment that must have seemed like eternity in a bottle, he raised it over Isaac’s heart. I would have been very afraid for my life in Isaac’s position, I don’t know about you.
- And then a voice spoke from NOWHERE, and the world froze. Gen 22:11-12 says, “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”“
- Some say that this angel was actually Satan, but I doubt that because he stopped the sacrifice, and because of that, I think it was the “angel” of the Lord, or God Himself in some kind of recognizable form that Abraham had met before. Also, He said “Me.” You have not withheld your only son from Me.” Who demanded the sacrifice? GOD. Who was speaking here? GOD! It’s context, context, context, the first rule of biblical interpretation.
- And now for the part that literally brings me to tears. God was demonstrating to anyone who would ever read the story the level of commitment and the emotional attachment that was required to redeem all of us. Abraham had not withheld his son from a demanded sacrifice to God. This is reminiscent of another Father that did not withhold His only Son when it was demanded. And NO ONE, not even the Father, stopped that sacrifice. I was once taken to task by an atheist for displaying an image of a nail through a human wrist holding it to a piece of wood. He said it was the most disgusting thing he had ever seen. I had to agree with him. It IS disgusting. But whose hand was it that I was portraying? It was Christ’s hand, nailed to the cross, something they had come up with especially for Him, because they normally just tied the person to the cross. The two thieves weren’t nailed to the cross. It was absolutely hideous. And He knew it would be ahead of time! And He still didn’t withhold His only Son. And the Son did not withhold Himself, either! He knew what was going to happen! Heck, He provoked it deliberately so that it WOULD happen! What the Lord was showing all of us, including Abraham and Isaac, is called an object lesson of the kind of love that God has for those He chose from before the foundation of the world. And we don’t know who those people are, so we have to tell EVERYBODY about what He did not withhold!
- Right. James said that this work of sacrificing his own son and then not at the very last second, all by the command of God, justified Abraham. What is this saying? Was Abraham actually saved by these works? Well, yes. But this will require some explanation. The Greek work for “justified” here is diakoo, and it has two general meanings. The first of those is indeed the idea of acquittal of a verdict, what we have called the voiding of a guilty sentence for some reasons, in this case because another had paid the price, or served the sentence as it were. We call this justification by faith, and that is the classic understanding of the word and how it fits with the gospel. However, this is not the ONLY meaning that is attached to this word. The idea that James seems to be expressing if the Scripture is remain consistent is that of vindication before men, not the vacating of a guilty verdict before God. Abraham here was shown to be right in believing God, because (as the text (Gen. 22:5) indicates Abraham knew would happen) they BOTH came down from the mountain. When we understand that second possible definition, Biblical interpretation becomes more clear. If we will not recognize that and see the contextual difference, then it becomes less clear, and engenders all of the error we see in the so-called church today.
22: You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
- And here, we begin to see a unity between what James is saying with what Paul and Peter taught about SANCTIFICATION, something we have been saying from the start. Faith that does not have the accompanying works to go with it is faith that is working against what you are actually doing, and is useless. We saw that in the previous paragraph, and that is KEY to our understanding here. But in Abraham’s example, what Abraham actually believed drove his actions in unity with God’s plan and purpose, even though it seemed very dark at the time, and I might add, it usually does. James tells us that Abraham’s faith (we think, it might have been Someone else’s faith as per Galatians 2:20, either way this works) was working WITH (in unity with) his works, and as a result of those works in the trouble that the Lord exposed Abraham to, faith was “perfected, the Greek word telioo, perfect or complete. Beloved, isn’t that we describe as sanctification? I mean exactly that process? Yes, I know the actual bible word sanctification comes from the Greek hagismos, but it is by this very process we are finished or completed, or “perfected” for eternal life with Him! And you thought we just got to go to heaven when we died! Oh, Beloved, there is a LOT more than that coming! Allow this in your life! Respond to it! Obey it! Derive the intended benefit from it.
23: and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,
- That is the quote from Genesis 15:6 6 that Paul and the writer of Hebrews also quote, incidentally. That is the actual vacating of a verdict for cause, that cause being that Abraham ultimately stood with Messiah, and yes, he did know about the promised One. It was that very blessing that the Lord God gave him in this very chapter. That accompanying work of obedience to what God said was a fulfilment of that justification before God. And that’s what Paul said in Romans 4. These men are saying the same thing!!!
24: You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
- So with that understanding of what James is saying, Paul and James are now saying the same thing. Faith saves, and the accompanying works are the proof you are in fact God’s child. Some call that sanctification, and it certainly is at least a part of that process if not the whole nine yards of it. Faith ALWAYS has accompanying works. The question is what your faith is actually in. Is it in the Lord Christ? Or is it in an idol of your own making that you may even have named Jesus that fits your desires and wants? Do you even know what those are? Sometimes that can be a tangled knot even to the person that has them. But one of the reasons that we encourage daily time reading the Scriptures and prayer is so that we can start to untie those knots for ourselves. You didn’t think we were without responsibility before God to WALK IN A WORTHY MANNER, did you?
And with all of that, James still has another example.
25-26: Faith in action: The example of Rahab
In every way I can think of, Rahab is the exact opposite of Abraham. Abraham was a noble Chaldean (there were no Jews yet), and she was a Canaanite Gentile. He was a man’s man, she was a woman,. He was a man of possessions and property, she was a prostitute. I could go on, but the interesting thing that I see here is that no matter the nation or status within it, the means of salvation are still the same for all, by grace through faith in Christ, and that not of oneself.
I doubt either Abraham or Rahab had any idea of what the coming Messiah would mean when he arrived, and neither would have had any conception of the church today (and apparently neither do most of us, and we live with it). Yet, they both had the faith that God wants in all of His followers. The faith that recognizes Him as first and then does what He says needs to be done.
25: In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
- This time, the story may be joined in Joshua 2-6. It is a bit of a longer text to read, so I will simply make references, but the text is there for you to read for yourself, and I think you should, so I will trust you to do so. Rahab took in two Israeli spies at her little establishment on the Jericho wall. They had been sent to spy out the city, and their arrival had not been unnoticed by the king of Jericho, and that placed them in immediate danger. Somewhere in there, the spies had a little chat with Rahab, and she disclosed some information–that everyone in Jericho was terrified of Israel, because they heard how the Lord had split the seas for them pass through and then used the closing of the same to drown the entire Egyptian army, chariots and all. Then how they had crossed the wilderness. Then how they had dealt with the pagan kings of Og and Bashan, and what they had done to them. Rahab knew who the real Lord of all was, and it wasn’t the king of Jericho.
- That king of Jericho had sent troops to arrest the spies to Rahab’s little shop on the wall, and Rahab made a choice. She put her trust in the God of Israel. She hid the spies in with the flax containers on her roof. If she would have been caught, it was instant death for her and the spies. However, God had mercy, and they got away with it, and the spies escaped and returned to Joshua. God saved Rahab and her family, and God even made her King David’s Great Grandmother I think, and that puts her, a Gentile prostitute, into the lineage of the Messiah! She married one of the Jewish spies, and nature just took its course. This action because of what she truly believed was her vindication before men of her pre-existing faith in the God of Israel. She believed, and she acted. I will say it again, Faith ALWAYS has accompanying works. What do you place YOUR faith in? I could actually go on for days with many other examples, and so could have James, but he didn’t so neither will I.
26: For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
- And here, after all of that is the key argument of the entire New Testament. Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without those accompanying works is dead. I have repeated this as a direct implication of this many times, both in this study and in almost every one previous to this. If your faith in who you call “Christ” does not make a difference in your life, and you are not displaying appropriate accompanying works for that faith you claim, then you don’t really have faith in the risen Christ! Sometimes, I hear this called Lordship Salvation, and I have to say I am a proponent of it.
- Many times over decades now, I have heard individuals say (in person or otherwise), “Jesus is my saviour, but he’s not my Lord.” Beloved, if Jesus isn’t your liege Lord, then He isn’t your Saviour either, because he doesn’t leave that option open to us.
- Look for a moment in your Bibles with me at Matthew 7:15-23.
- ““Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.“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 will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’“
- That last set of verses that starts in verse 21 with “Not everyone who says to me…” should be a slap in the face to wake us all up! It is possible to be deceived about the state of your eternal soul, friends! You can think you are a Christian, and you can even have orthodox belief, and you can be on the road to hell. This is a dangerous state of affairs! You will likely either be feeling like you want to dismiss what I am saying because of my own worthless character. I will save you the trouble. I am worthless. I am an unprofitable servant AT BEST. You shouldn’t listen to a word I say! You should read the Scriptures for yourself and ask God to show you His truth! Because I’m just reading what that says to you.
- Or perhaps you might be trying to come up with how that verse and that guy Gerry aren’t really talking about you, he’s talking about those hypocrites over there, wherever there is. Friend, I’m not. All those good feelings you have that make you want to applaud? I don’t know why you have them, because I’m talking about you, to quote Paul Washer (loosely). What about it? When is the last time you looked at your own life and motives? You are the only one besides God who can, and even though you are much less effective than He is, He will help you see it if you ask! King David knew this method, I might add. He had a particular porayer that he even recorded for us to pattern our own after: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)
- Beloved, for the true disciple of Christ, this should be a DAILY quest! Root out all of those sins that must be killed on the cross of Christ as Paul suggests in Romans, or “mortified” as the puritan John Owen wrote in his treatise on the subject, The Mortification of Sin. To paraphrase Owen on the matter, we MUST be killing the sin within us, or you can rest assured it will be killing us.
We started this study this evening with the title that “faith without works is dead.” We have looked at examples of what living faith actually is in the examples of Abraham and Rahab from different times in the Old Testament. Those are the very words of James.
To summarize, I will repeat this, because it really is important. Faith always has accompanying works. If you have faith that the chair you are sitting in will hold your weight, then you will sit in it comfortably. If you believe the chair will collapse, you might not sit in the chair at all, or you might be very careful about how much weight you put on the chair. If you have faith in Christ as the living God, you will do what He says. If you do NOT have that faith that He is the Lord of all, you won’t. You’ll perhaps even find yourself a way of living out a fake faith based on an understanding of orthodoxy that will hide that, even from yourself–but the facts of the matter don’t really care how you deceive yourself about it–they are still the facts of the matter. And your actions will always reflect what you really believe, just as they have all the way through history, right down to today.
If you want to follow Christ, then follow Him! We’d love to help if you need it. But if you don’t want to do that, then don’t! No one will stop you around here from getting on with your life. We will, however, warn you that a very dark eternal destiny awaits you, and that is never a good thing, and it will become permanent if you die in that condition.
If that’s where you find yourself, and you don’t want to be there, then call out to God! Repent, or change your mind, about your sin! Admit that it’s sin and think differently about it! Ask God to forgive you for these capital crimes against Him! If you do that sincerely, He will do that, and send Jesus, His Son to make you whole amd teach you to walk with Him.
And that’s what I saw in the text.
Next study will be Section 5 of James, which covers Chapter 3:1-12, which will be a bit of a fruit check for us all.
Close in prayer.