THEME: Real Faith
TITLE: “Genuine Faith” – Part 2
TEXT: James 2:20-26
James 2:20 = You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
The Greek word that is translated “foolish” literally means “empty.”
It refers to an intellectual deficiency.
But in the context of the NT, it also has a moral and spiritual flavor.
The man who is being addressed in this verse is one who has no comprehension of spiritual truth.
He does not see “that faith without deeds is useless.”
This faith without deeds is described as something that does not work; it accomplishes nothing.
The evidence is found in vv.21-25.
It consists of two Old Testament examples – Abraham and Rahab.
James 2:21 = Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
Genesis 22:3 = Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
We don’t know all that went through Abraham’s mind but we do know that this was a hard thing to do.
Genesis 22:5 = He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Abraham knew that, regardless of what would happen on Mount Moriah, both he and Isaac would return alive.
Although no such thing had ever happened before. Abraham knew that, if necessary, God could raise Isaac from the dead.
Hebrews 11:19 = Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
The phrase “considered righteous” in James 2:21 could also be translated by the word “justified.”
It basically means “to declare righteous.”
It describes the act of declaring a person righteous.
Abraham was declared righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar.
Now, be patient and don’t jump to any conclusions.
Let’s go on to verse 22.
James 2:22 = You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
It is clear from here that works was not the only source of Abraham’s justification.
Instead, Abraham’s “faith and his actions were working together.”
Faith and works are inseparable.
It is possible for one to look at this verse and conclude that Abraham’s justification was the result of a mixture of faith and works, each being equally effective in bringing about a saving faith.
If this were true, it would be in conflict with what we find in Ephesians 2:8-10.
I explained Ephesians 2:8-10 two weeks ago but it is important for us to go back and take another look at it to help us understand this passage in James.
Ephesians 2:8-10 = For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, there are 3 prepositions in these 3 verses:
“for good works”
The prepositions are “by”, “through” and “for”.
If you get these out of order, you’re in trouble.
If you think you are saved “through good works for faith” instead of “through faith for good works”, you will have a salvation problem.
There are other New Testament passages that show plainly that a person is justified by faith alone.
James assumes the fact that a person is justified by faith alone.
Assuming this fact, James declares that justifying faith or saving faith has a certain quality, a vitality that leads to good works.
It is an action-producing faith.
Abraham’s faith was validated by his deeds.
If there had been no good deeds, Abraham’s faith would not have been genuine.
James 2:23 = And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
The Scripture to which James refers as “fulfilled” is Genesis 15:6 which says: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
The account of the offering of Isaac on the altar appears in Genesis 22:1-14.
Thirty years may have passed between the events of these 2 chapters, Genesis 15 and Genesis 22.
The obedient offering of Isaac in the latter passage “fulfilled” the statement of the former passage.
This is not to be understood as the fulfillment of a prophecy.
Rather, it is fulfillment in the sense of completion.
What Abraham did in Genesis 22 was the outworking of the faith described in chapter 15.
Abraham lived about 2,000 years before Christ.
So how could God have justified and saved Abraham when apart from Jesus Christ no one can be saved.
Romans 14:9 = For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Jesus said this: Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad. John 8:56
Despite his limited knowledge, Abraham’s trust in the Lord was sufficient.
It was equivalent to belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah and Savior of the world.
Abraham, along with all true believers who lived before Christ, was enabled by God to understand that a Savior would come.
Hebrews 11:13 = All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. . .
In the last part of verse 23, we read that Abraham “was called God’s friend.”
This is another way of saying that Abraham was right with God.
James 2:24 = You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In this summary statement James assumes that a person is justified by faith but “not by faith alone.”
It is by faith AND “by what he does.”
Taken by itself, this verse may seem blatantly contradictory to what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10.
However, if both passages are studied in context, the contradiction disappears.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, Paul in Ephesians and James here in the book of James are talking about different things.
Paul was speaking out against the problem of legalism.
Some of the Jews thought this way: “I’ve got to keep all the Jewish laws and regulations to be a Christian.”
James, on the other hand, is not dealing with legalism.
James is dealing with laziness.
James is addressing those who say “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe.”
Paul and James are addressing 2 different audiences.
They use the word “works” in different ways.
When Paul uses the word “works” he is talking about Jewish laws such as circumcision.
When James uses the word “works” he’s talking about the lifestyle of a Christian.
Paul focuses on the root of salvation.
James focuses on the fruit of salvation.
But both Paul and James would agree that good deeds are the product of genuine faith.
Paul states in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works . . .”
Some people come to Christ late in life or on their deathbed so the evidence of their salvation is not always obvious.
James 2:25 = In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
The second person James refers to as an example of faith is Rahab.
She stands in stark contrast to Abraham.
Abraham and Rahab were two very different people.
Abraham was a man, Rahab was a woman.
Abraham was Jewish, Rahab was Gentile.
Abraham was a patriarch, Rahab was a prostitute.
Abraham was a moral man, she was immoral.
He was a great leader, she was a common citizen.
Abraham is a major character in the Bible.
Rahab is a minor character.
So what’s the point in picking two very different people as examples of faith.
I think James uses these illustrations to show us that it doesn’t matter what our background is.
What’s important is that we come to a place in our lives where we experience a living, saving faith.
Abraham and Rahab had only one thing in common – their faith in God.
It was a living faith, a saving faith that led them to an action.
Rahab the prostitute is listed along with Abraham in the great gallery of the faithful in Hebrews chapter 11, the faith chapter.
Rahab was even in the human lineage of Jesus, being the great-grandmother of King David.
Rahab had been a pagan and a prostitute but she chose to become identified with the people of Israel, a decision based on faith.
This is what she said to the Israelite spies who stayed in her home:
. . . the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Joshua 2:11
Hebrews 11:31 = By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
Rahab’s faith moved her to risk her life to protect the spies.
James does not give approval to Rahab’s former life but he commends her for her faith.
Most likely, Rahab knew nothing of salvation as Christians understand it, or even as the ancient Israelites understood it.
Yet, her heart was right before God and He graciously accepted her faith for righteousness.
God also accepted her protection of the spies as an act of obedience to Him.
As with Abraham and every other true believer, her genuine faith led to good works.
Her outward life of faithfulness was a manifestation of her inner life of faith.
But it is important to remember that deeds without faith are useless in the light of eternity.
Some people simply do good deeds even though they do not know God personally.
Good deeds apart from faith have no eternal or saving value.
James 2:26 = As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
“The body without the spirit” is nothing but a corpse.
“Faith without deeds” is as dead as a corpse, and equally useless.
Life is an incredible mystery.
In James 4:14, life is described as “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Some of us have watched someone die.
It is a moving experience to see the spirit of a person depart leaving behind only a dead body.
James uses this to illustrate a dead faith.
James tells us that faith that is only intellectual or cerebral is not enough.
It is dead!
Abraham and Rahab did not merely talk about faith – they acted on it.
They did not only believe in God, they believed what He said.
Jesus pointed out on several occasions that the purpose of a plant is to grow and to bear fruit.
The fruit may be figs, olives, nuts, flowers, apples, oranges, or whatever.
Jesus said: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Bearing fruit is not a function added to a plant.
Bearing fruit is an essential part of a plant’s design and purpose.
Even before it is planted, a seed contains the genetic structure for producing its own kind of fruit.
When a person is born again through saving faith, he is given a new nature by God.
You might say that in that new nature, he is given the genetic structure for producing good deeds.
Remember Ephesians 2:10 = . . . we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works . . .
Just as a fruit tree has not fulfilled its goal until it bears fruit, so also faith has not reached its goal until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life.
God wants us to act on our faith.
Have you ever spoken with anyone who has taken his or her faith and acted on it and then came back and said:
“Well, what a waste of time that was!”
If we take our faith and act on it we will find that we will be blessed.
God wants us to put our faith into action.
A story is told of a town where all the residents are ducks.
Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church.
They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews.
The duck choir waddles in and takes its place.
The duck pastor then comes forward and opens the duck Bible.
He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings, and you can fly like birds!”
All the ducks then shout “Amen” and then they all waddle home.
Instead of flying, they continue to choose to waddle.
The ducks refused to put their faith into action.
Our faith is not DETERMINED by what we do, it is DEMONSTRATED by what we do.