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Guest Article – An Exegesis of James 2 by Pastor David Curtis

James & Salvation, Pastor David Curtis (preached April 7, 2019)

We have been talking for that last couple of weeks about the fact that you don’t get to heaven because of what you do or don’t do. You go to heaven because you believe in Yeshua. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. Every time I talk about the fact that “good works” are not necessary for salvation, that a person is saved by what he believes, faith alone, not what he does, James 2 always comes up. “But what about James?” So, this morning we are going to be looking at James 2 to see if we can figure out what James is saying. The trouble with James starts in verse 14:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 ESV

A literal Greek rendering would read more like this,

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Faith cannot save him, can it? James 2:14

This translation is based on the original Greek and is crucial to a correct interpretation. The form of the question that James asks in the last part of the verse is one which expects a negative response. The expected answer, from James’ point of view, would be: “No, faith cannot save him.”

I could show you 200 verses from the New Testament that say that salvation is by faith apart from works and people will run to James chapter two to support the idea that works are necessary for eternal life. It seems that James 2 is a trump card for works being necessary for eternal life. These few verses in James 2 trump everything that Yeshua said, everything that Paul said, James seems to have the final say on the necessity of works for salvation. Why? Where did James get all this authority?

There is no doubt that these verses in James are some of the most difficult verses in the Bible. These verses are surrounded by a lot of confusion and multiple interpretations.

This verse in James caused Martin Luther to call the book of James, “The Epistle of Straw” and to even question its inclusion in the cannon of Scripture.

Mike sent me a video link of a message that Kelly Birks did back in December of 2013, entitled, Why The Church is Bound to Only One Baptism Pt. 3. And in that video at the 38:00-minute mark Kelly says, “There is no such thing as justification by works, James was wrong, James got it wrong. I don’t think that James should have ever been in the cannon…I don’t think it’s inspired.”

James seems to be contradicting the biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone. He seems to be contradicting the Reformation principle of “Sola fide”—faith alone! Look at what James says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 ESV

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17 ESV

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? James 2:20 ESV

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:26 ESV

James says, without a doubt, “works are necessary for salvation.” That is clearly what he says here. Now if you hold to the verbal inspiration of Scripture, If you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then you must admit that something is wrong here. Either Scripture contradicts itself or we’re interpreting something wrong. Now, which one of those are you more comfortable with?

James is not discussing a doctrine of salvation, which is based only on faith. James insists that works are necessary for salvation. Many interpreters have seen James as standing in opposition to the Pauline Doctrine of justification by faith alone. I’m sure you can understand that. Look at what Paul writes:

and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Yeshua, …For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:24 & 28 ESV

Paul says that a man is justified by faith apart from any works. Paul goes on to say:

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Romans 4:5 ESV

Does that sound like it contradicts James 2:14?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 ESV

James says that faith alone cannot save, but Paul says it does. Paul says it is all of faith, and works play no part:

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:6 ESV

Paul is saying here that grace and works are mutually exclusive. If salvation is by grace, then works play no part. Can you understand why people have a problem reconciling James and Paul? James says, “Faith alone cannot save,” and Paul says, “Faith alone saves.”

Martin Luther, using Romans, began the Reformation on the principle of “Sola fide”—faith alone. No wonder he called James a “strawy epistle.” James clearly states that works are necessary for salvation.

Many expositors have tried to harmonize James and Paul, but all harmonizations with a doctrine of “Sola fide” are awkward and forced. Guthrie wrote, “It may well be that James is correcting a misunderstanding of Paul or vice versa, but it cannot be said that James and Paul are contradicting each other.” What is the difference? Is he saying that one of these guys is wrong and the other is straightening them out. What about inspiration? How can an inspired writer of God’s Word be wrong? The Bible, all of it, is God’s inspired inerrant Word.

Albert Barns, commenting on James 2:14, writes:

“He doubtless had in his eye those who abused the doctrine of justification by faith, by holding that good works are unnecessary to salvation, provided they maintain an orthodox belief. As this abuse probably existed in the time of the apostles, and as the Holy Ghost saw that there would be danger that in later times the great and glorious doctrine of justification by faith would be thus abused, it was important that the error, should be rebuked, and that the doctrine should be distinctly laid down that good works are necessary to salvation [emphasis mine DBC]. The apostles, therefore, in the question before us, implicitly asserts that faith would not ‘profit’ at all unless accompanied with a holy life, and this doctrine he proceeds to illustrate in the following verses. [Barns’ Notes on the New Testament, James—Jude, page 42.]

So, according to Mr. Barns, we are saved by faith plus works. In other words, we must “earn” our way into heaven by our good works. Barns’ statement, “faith would not ‘profit’ at all unless accompanied with a holy life” is probably held by most folks in the Church today.

John Piper writes, “Works of any kind are not acceptable in the moment of initial justification. But when James affirms ‘justification by works’ he means that works are absolutely necessary in the ongoing life of a Christian to confirm and prove the reality of the faith which justifies.”

Prove to who? Others? To God? So, I would interpret what Mr. Piper is saying as, Works are not necessary to get saved, but they are necessary to stay saved. He says, “Works are absolutely necessary in the ongoing life of a Christian to confirm and prove the reality of the faith which justifies.” So, if you don’t have these works, then you don’t have a faith which justifies. Which means, works are necessary!

Johnstone writes, “That faith can save a man, and that nothing else can, is written throughout the Scriptures as with a pencil of light.” I agree whole heartedly! The Scriptures clearly teach that salvation is by faith alone.

Because of the conflict between James and Paul, a desperate effort has been made to avoid the impact of James 2:14 by translating it as “that faith” (NASB, ESV) or “such faith” (NIV). Indicating that there is a “kind” of faith that does not save. We talked about this last week, there are not different kinds of faith, just different objects of faith.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faithsave him? James 2:14 NIV

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faithsave him? James 2:14 ESV

Translating it this way is an unjustified exaggeration of the “article of previous reference” in the Greek and has nothing to commend it here. The article of previous reference says that since there is a definite article with faith, “the faith” (ten piston), we can substitute words such as “that faith” or “such faith.” With abstract nouns like “faith” or “love,” the article is perfectly normal when the noun is used as the subject. The construction of James 2:14 is identical to that found in:

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:4 ESV

But no one attempts to translate this as “And let ‘that’ steadfastness, or ‘such steadfastness have its perfect work.” The same construction is found in:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV

We don’t translate this as “that” love or “such” love is patient.

In James 2, the definite article also occurs with “faith” in verses 17, 18, 20, 22, and 26. The attempt to single out 2:14 for specialized treatment carries its own refutation. Why do they try to change what James is saying? They are trying to make James say that it is a certain kindof faith that saves you. But, James point is clear, faith alone cannot save.

Did James really disagree with Paul on salvation being by grace through faith alone? Notice what he wrote in:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:17-18 ESV

While doing a verse-by-verse study of James these are the verses that brought me to Calvinism. Good gifts come from God, and salvation is one of those good gifts. God, by a sovereign act of His own will, gives us grace and faith to believe His Word. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth”—James sees the new birth as a sovereign act of God. Salvation happens because of God’s will, not man’s will.

James and Paul were in fundamental harmony about the way eternal life is received. For both of them, it is a gift of God, graciously and sovereignly bestowed.

What then does James mean in 2:14?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 ESV

We need to apply a very basic rule of hermeneutics: “Determine carefully the meaning of words.” The Greek verb sozoused in 2:14 for “save” has a wide range of possible meanings. It can mean: “physical healing, rescue from danger, spiritual deliverance of various kinds and preservation from final judgement, the wrath of God.” We must determine its meaning from its context. To help us understand how James uses it, look at how he closes this letter:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 ESV

Here the meaning of the verb “sozo” is clear. It refers to preservation of the physical life from death. The Greek expression “sozin ten psuche” is a standard and normal way of saying, “to save the life.” There is no text in the Greek Bible where it can be shown to have the meaning “to save the soul from eternal wrath.”

The theme of the book of James is found in:

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 ESV

Save your souls is “sozin ten psuche” in the Greek. It is the normal way of saying, “to save the life.” James is talking to Christians, telling them that they can save their lives (they’re already Christians) from the damage that sin brings if they will walk in holiness. He has already warned them of the death dealing consequences of sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:13-15 ESV

Again, he is writing to believers. In verse 21 he suggests that the antidote to the kind of consequence spoken of in 1:15 is the life saving capacity of God’s Word. This theme is repeated frequently in the Proverbs:

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die. Proverbs 11:19 ESV

In 1:21-25, James says that his readers will be “saved” from the destruction that sin brings if they are doers, rather than just hearers, of God’s Word. And in 2:14-26, he is saying that they will be saved in the same sense, not by what they believe (faith), but by what they do about what they believe (works).

The reason that James 2:14 seems to be contradicting the doctrine of justification by faith alone is because many have missed James subject. James is not talking about eternal life and how to obtain it. James is writing about preserving temporal lifeand the damage that sin brings to the life of a believer:

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:12-14 ESV

James is asking, “Does the fact that you are a believer save you from the temporal judgment of God if you live in sin?” His question demands a negative answer. We saw last week that the idea of temporal judgment in the life of a believer is also taught in the parable in Matthew 18 on forgiveness where a believer is turned over to the torturers.

If we are saved by grace apart from works, does it matter how we live? Absolutely! God brings temporal judgement on those believers who do not live out the principles of their faith. If your faith doesn’t work—living out the teachings of Christ—you will suffer temporal judgment because of it.

The solution to the problem of James 2:14 is simple—understand the correct subject. No text can be read correctly when the writer’s real subject is not perceived. James’ subject is “deliverance from temporal judgement [physical preservation], not eternal redemption.” He has already made it perfectly clear that eternal life is a gift of God’s sovereign choice.

Now, someone is bound to be thinking, “Are you trying to tell us that for many centuries of Christian teaching the Church has missed the true meaning of this passage?” Yes, I am! You do consider yourself a Protestant don’t you? Would you have discouraged Martin Luther or John Calvin in their attempt to reform the Church?

Emperor Charles the V said of Luther at the Diet of Worms, “A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for 1,000 years must be wrong.” The greatest conviction of the Reformation was the supremacy of an appeal to Scripture over the tradition of the Church. We must stand in the fundamental principle of the Reformation, “Sola Scruptura”—the Scriptures alone!

The way I see it, we only have two options; We either see James opposing Paul and denying “Sola fide” or we see his subject as different. As I have already said, every time I talk to someone about the fact that salvation is by grace alone, their first response is, “What about James?” It is not too strong to say that the misreading of James 2:14-26 is one of the most tragic interpretive blunders in the history of the Church. It is a misreading of this text that has caused believers to encourage people to find assurance in their good works. We tell them, “If you don’t live a holy life, you must not be saved.”

If good works are really a condition, or an essential fruit of salvation, I can never really be sure of my eternal salvation. How do I know that I won’t quit working some day? An insistence on the necessity of works undermines assurance and postpones it, logically until death. When an end cannot be achieved apart from certain things being done, those things logically become conditions for the end in view. To add works to faith is to make works essential to salvation. Is your assurance based on your works, or on the grace of God?

What does James mean by “dead faith”?James 2:14-26 is the only New Testament passage which speaks of a dead faith. Please notice that the distinction in James is between dead faith and living faith, not false faith and true faith. James is clearly teaching that works are necessary for salvation—physical preservation. He states his argument in verse 14:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 ESV

Then he illustrates his argument in verses 15-16:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? James 2:15-16 ESV

The fact that the preserving of life lies at the heart of this illustration is apparent. Can the fact that a man holds correct beliefs and is orthodox save him from the deadly consequences of sin? Of course not! That is like giving your best wishes to a destitute brother or sister, when what they really need is food and clothing. It is utterly fruitless. Neither will your faith do your physical well being any good if you live in sin.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17 ESV

What are works? In the prior verses the failure was to help the needy, which is love. I think if we examine the context of chapter 2, we will see that the works that James is talking about is love.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8 ESV

If your faith doesn’t produce love, it is a dead faith and in danger of temporal judgement. The moral dynamic of faith is love. Since faith is invisible, a persons’ possession of faith is dependent upon his verbal testimony alone. How can you tell if a person has faith? They don’t smoke, or drink, they live a very moral lifestyle. They witness to others of their faith. They give money to the church, they study their Bible, they are a sacrificial and giving person. Is that how you spot faith? I have just described a Mormon, who does not believe in the deity of Christ or in salvation by grace alone, and is under the wrath of God because of his unbelief.

Faith is static, but love is always active, it does something, and without it faith dies. Verse 17 says that if faith is by itself—no love—it is dead.

Believers, faith and works are connected. It is by works that faith is made mature. As we act on what we believe and live out our Christianity, our faith grows and matures. But if we fail to work—love, our faith will die. And a dead faith, one that is unproductive, will come under the temporal judgment of God. Keep your faith alive—walk in love.

Beginning in verse 18 James introduces the words of an imaginary objector to his ideas:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! James 2:18-19 ESV

Both of these verses belong to the objector. The response of James only begins in verse 20. The literary format James uses here was familiar in ancient times from the Greek diatribe. The diatribe was a learned and argumentative form of communication. The two phrases “But someone will say”(verse 18), and “But do you want to know, O foolish man”(verse 20) clearly show that the diatribe format is being employed. These two phrases bracket the words of the objector in verses 18 -19.

In a large majority of the Greek manuscripts of this epistle, we read “by” in verse 18 in the place of the word “apart from.” The literally Greek would read like this:

“You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith from your works, and I will show you from my works, my faith. You believe that there is one God; you do well. The demons also believe; and tremble” (James 2:18, 19).

The objector is in effect saying, “Faith and works are two distinct entities.” “It is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. For the sake of argument, let’s say you have faith, and I have works. Let’s start there. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and demonstrate what it is that I believe.”

The impossibility of showing one’s faith from one’s works is now demonstrated (so the objector thinks) by this illustration: “Men and demons both believe the same truth (that there is one God), but their faith does not produce the same response. Although this article of faith may move a man to ‘do well,’ it never moves the demons to ‘do well.’ All they can do is tremble. Faith and works, therefore, have no built-in connection at all. The same creed may produce entirely different kinds of conduct. Faith cannot be made visible in works!”

Gordon Clark’s question is appropriate: “The text says the devils believed in monotheism. Why cannot the difference between the devils and Christians be the different propositions believed, rather than a psychological element in belief?” In other words, the text does not say that the demons believe in Christ as Savior, or even that they believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. Those who use the illustration of the demons’ faith to prove the existence of a false intellectual faith that does not redeem, are “comparing apples with oranges.”

Even if demons believed the truth of the gospel they cannot be redeemed. Christ did not die for demons but for man. Demons cannot be redeemed and that is why they “tremble.” Judgment was certain for them.

Are faith and works in the Christian daily experience dynamically related? Does faith really die without the sustaining energy of works? “Such thoughts,” the objector is saying, “are contrary to reality.” He maintains that there is no visible, verifiable connection between faith and works. “Faith and works are not really related to each other in the way you say they are, James. So, don’t criticize the vitality of my faith because I don’t do such and such a thing.”

Now, in verses 20-26, we have James reply to the objector:

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  James 2:20 ESV

“Foolish person”— what a stupid argument, how foolish you are to make it. Are you willing to know that faith apart from works is useless? A thing can properly be said to be useless/dead when it fails to respond to its environment. So, dead faith would be faith that does not respond to its environment.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18 ESV

Dead faith is a faith that does not love. Love is action, love is obedience to God’s laws. Dead equals barren or unproductive. The Textus Receptus uses the word “dead” in verse 20, but the modern critics generally accept the reading “barren” as most likely the true meaning. There is a subtle play on words here in the Greek, ergon – arge, which is: “works – workless.” If you don’t work, your faith is barren.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV

The word “ineffective” is the Greek word argoswhich is often used of things from which no profit is derived. Faith without works is “ineffective/barren.”

To prove his point, James uses the illustration of Abraham in verses 21-24. If one could not see the dynamic interaction between faith and works in Abraham’s famous act of obedience, he could not see it anywhere. Abraham had a living faith because he acted on what he believed.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  James 2:21 ESV

When James says, “our father” he is not using it as a term that speaks of the Jews racial tie to Abraham. In the New Covenant, Abraham is only the father of those who believe in the Lord Yeshua the Christ (see Galatians 3:7-9).

James says that Abraham was “justified by works.” This would have caused paroxysms! Abraham was the father of faith. To be “justified” is to be right with God. Paul taught in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by faith. Paul makes it clear in Romans 4 that justification is by faith alone. Paul also says this in:

just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?  Galatians 3:6 ESV

So, Paul says that justification is by grace through faith and he uses Abraham as his illustration, and he quotes Genesis 15:6. But James is saying justification is by works and he also uses Abraham as his illustration, and he too quotes Genesis 15:6. How do we reconcile this? I think that the key to understanding this is in:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  Romans 4:2 ESV

Notice the phrase “but not before God,” you cannot be justified by works before God, only by faith. When you believe the gospel, the righteousness of God is imputed to you. In Romans 4:3, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Romans 4:3 ESV

When you trust in Christ, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to you:

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  Romans 4:6 ESV

“Counts” here means: “to deposit to your account.” It is a gift of God’s grace. We were all bankrupt, we stood before God with nothing in our account. God, by a sovereign choice of His will, deposited Christ’s righteousness in our account when we believed the gospel.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.  Genesis 15:6 ESV

That is how it has always been, Old and New Testament, we are made right with God by his grace. He dispenses that grace to us and we respond by believing and are saved, works are not involved. Does James believe this? Yes, he does—in James 2:23 he quotes Genesis 15:6. Well, what then does James mean in:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  James 2:21 ESV

Listen carefully! James says here that he was justified when? When he offered Isaac on the alter. That was forty years after the time when he is said to have believed God. If works are necessary for justification, Abraham went forty years believing God without being justified.

This problem is resolved by understanding that there is “another” justification, and it is by works. There is a justification before God, by faith. And there is a justification before man, by works. It should be clear that James and Paul are not using the word “justified” in the same sense. Remember our hermeneutical principle; determine carefully the meaning of words. James uses the word “justified” in the sense of: “vindicate.”

  1. Wiersby writes, “By faith he was justified before God and his righteousness declared: by works he was justified before men and his righteousness demonstrated.” L. Strauss writes, “There is one’s justification before God and one’s justification before the world of men.” George M. Gutzke writes, “James uses the word justified with a different emphasis than Paul did. When James writes about justification he is referring to the experience of a person being made acceptable before God in actual practice. It is one thing to be cleared from all guilt because Jesus died for us. It is another thing to have our way of life acceptable in the sight of God.” I agree with this statement.

There are two kinds of justification. Abraham was justified by faith before God but he was also justified by works before men. The only way we can demonstrate our faith before men is by love.

For in Christ Yeshua neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.  Galatians 5:6 ESV

Living faith is demonstrated in love. Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6, and he was justified by works in Genesis 22 which was forty years later. Before Isaac’s birth Abraham had nothing to rely on but a promise. In Genesis 22 we see that forty years after he was promised a son and he finally got his son and now he was told to kill him. Would he act on his faith and obey God?

Abraham’s faith in the covenant keeping God was alive and he acted. This is an incredible act of faith. God had made Abraham a very specific promise of blessing to the whole world through Isaac. Abraham might have thought, “I don’t know how God is going to keep His promise if I kill Isaac, but that is for Him to work out, my responsibility is to obey.” Abraham tells his son that God will provide the sacrifice — this is a prophecy of the atonement of Yeshua, the Lamb of God. You know the story.  Abraham put his son on the alter, raised the knife to kill him, and God stopped him and provided a ram for the sacrifice.

This was an incredible act of faith on Abraham’s part. He believed God’s promise and he acted on what he believed.

The word “justified” can be used in one of two ways:

  1. To declare and treat as righteous.
  2. To vindicate, to show or demonstrate as righteousness.

Paul uses the first and James the second. So, James is using the word “justified” to speak of vindication or a demonstration of his righteousness.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  James 2:21 ESV

Here we see that Abraham was justified WHEN he offered Isaac on the alter. Remember, this was forty years after his justification by faith. Then he goes on to say:

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  James 2:22 ESV

One might conclude from this that the main factor in reaching the goal was works, so this can’t be referring to the first use of justification—to declare righteous. Works strengthen his faith and give it vitality. “Completed” is: “matured.” Our faith is matured by works. As clearly as faith had generated obedient activity, so too, had obedient activity generated a richer faith. When you act on what you believe, your faith will grow.

Could Abraham have believed God and not acted to offer Isaac? Yes. Do you believe that God sovereignly controls all things? Do you believe that Romans 8:28 is true? Yes, but do you always act on what you believe? No!

Point: Like Abraham, we too have been accounted righteous before God by faith. Yet, that original confidence in God can be expanded and developed by a life of active obedience.

and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.  James 2:23 ESV

Yeshua said in John 15:14 that the friends of God are those who do what he commands them to do

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  James 2:24 ESV

The shift to the second person plural shows that the argument with the imaginary opponent has been dropped and he returns to the point. James never speaks of justification by faith and works; it is either faith or works.

In verse 24, James is saying that justification by faith is not the only kind of justification there is. James does not say that justification by faith cannot exist apart from justification by works. If this was true, it would have been forty years before Abraham was justified.

Next, James moves to the illustration of Rahab.

And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  James 2:25 ESV

In this illustration, he returns to his fundamental theme of saving the life from judgment. Abraham and Rahab were as different as they could be; Jew/Gentile, man/woman, good/evil, God fearer/pagan. But Rahab was like Abraham in that she acted on what she believed. What did she believe?

And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.  Joshua 2:11 ESV

She believed Yahweh was God. By acting on what she believed she literally, physically saved her own life. She would have died with the inhabitants of Jericho had she not acted on her faith. By her “love”, she saved her own life and the life of her family. Josephus accredits Rahab’s safety to her good deed.

James’ readers could do the same thing, save their lives, if they were committed doers of the word. So can we. If it was a case of escaping physical death which sin could so greatly hasten, faith alone could not save anyone. But faith that worked could. Do you see the connection between faith and works? There is a vital connection. Life preservation is at the core of this whole passage.

What kind of works vindicate faith? Love is the work of faith.

For in Christ Yeshua neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Galatians 5:6 ESV

Abraham and Rahab both laid their lives on the line for what they believed. Their love caused them to be willing to sacrifice all for what they believed. Their faith was alive!

James closes his argument with this:

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.  James 2:26 ESV

“For as”is literally: “just as even so.”In this analogy, in both cases, if the second member is missing the result is death. A person’s faith, like his body, can die. James’ point: works are actually the key to the vitality of faith. His point is not that a vital faith is the key to works. When love separates from faith, that faith becomes lifeless and useless. When our faith dies we loose our fellowship with God and come under temporal judgment. Abraham’s obedience to God was an act of love. Rahab’s risking her life was an act of love. Biblical love is defined as obedience to God and sacrificial service to a neighbor. Love is the spirit that keeps faith alive. The Corinthians were believers but they lacked love and were temporally judged because of it.

How would you characterize your faith? Is it living or dead? Are you a doer of the word or only a hearer? A dead faith is in danger of temporal judgment. It is a living faith that preserves the physical life and brings temporal blessings.

So there is no disagreement between Paul and James, both believe that eternal life come from faith in Christ. But acting on what you believe will bring a life of full joy.

This message was preached by David B. Curtis on April 7, 2019. Media #954.

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Mike Sullivan