Sermon: The Character of Faith Pt. 2 (James 2:14-26)

The Character of Faith Pt. 2

James 2:14-26

 

James 2:14-26 (ESV) 

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  [15] If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  [16] 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?  [17] So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    [18] 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.  [19] You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!  [20] Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  [23] 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.  [24] You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  [25] 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?  [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

This genuine saving faith that is centered in and has laid hold of Christ, as we learned last week, is a faith that will show itself in obedience to Christ.

Many have claimed that these verses in James’ letter contradict what Paul taught in his writings.  Even the great reformer, Martin Luther struggled with this epistle.  So, before we begin it’s vital to the understanding of these verses to realize a couple of things.

Introduction-

-First is the context-

-Paul was refuting those who denied salvation was by grace through faith apart from works. 

-James, on the other hand, was encouraging believers to persevere in their faith.  He was showing what genuine faith is.  He is saying faith worthy of Christ is a faith that will express itself in works. 

-Second is the word meaning-

-Works

-Paul used the word works, he had in mind works of the Mosaic Law.

-James didn’t have in mind the works of keeping the Jewish law, but works of love, self-denial etc.

-Justified

-Paul used this word in the sense we often think in the doctrinal meaning.  He has in mind being acquitted or declared righteous by God. For example in the statement, “God justifies sinners through the work of Christ.”

-James used this word in its other sense.  This is the idea of having a just claim to one’s profession.  Having a rightful claim to Christ verses an empty claim.

 

1- Christ-Centered Faith Is Not An Empty Claim (vss. 14-17)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  [15] If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  [16] 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?  [17] So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Notice James does not say that this person possesses faith.  Important to see that James here is referring to a person who claims he has faith.  All this person is doing is professing faith.  This person makes a claim to possess saving faith with his words but his life is not in sync with his claim.  

We could paraphrase verse 14- Does it really do any good, brothers, if someone merely claims to have faith but has no changed heart to produce good works?  That type of faith can’t save him can it?

John Bunyan in his classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress” says it this way using his character, Talkative, “Religion hath no place in his heart, or house, or conversation [conduct]; all he hath lieth in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise therewith.”

James then gives a very good example to further explain what he means.

James pictures for us a fellow believer who has nothing.  This Christian does not have the necessities of life.  James then pictures for us another man one who claims to be a Christian and claims to possess faith in Christ. 

This second person has means to help.  Rather he simply uses words.  He says, Go in peace, be warmed and filled.  This is the equivalent of saying, “Good-by and don’t worry.”

James says what good is that? 

If the person really meant Go in peace, be warmed and filled, they would have taken them and fed them and clothed them and sent them off in peace.  The words alone are meaningless.  Sympathy void of action is dead sympathy, so faith without works is dead faith.

 [17] So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James and John agree talk is cheap and meaningless if it’s not coupled with a changed heart and life.

1 John 1:6-7 (ESV) 

    If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  [7] But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

2- Christ-Centered Faith Is Not A Mere Agreement to a Confession (vss. 18-19)

 [18] 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.  [19] You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 

Verse 18 is James showing his opponents that he expects opposition.  He is using a similar tactic that Paul uses in Romans when he expects opposition to sound doctrine.

James is anticipating disagreement and what the opponents will most likely say.  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. 

James takes this “Straw Man” who professes faith but has no works a step further. 

He says your faith declares that there is one God.  You believe that God is one; you do well.  James is declaring that such a belief is good and correct but falls short in proving someone possesses saving faith.  James probably uses this to counter the paganism’s belief that surrounded the believers in those days.  Many religions believed in many gods.  So he’s saying, even if you have taken a step away from paganism’s belief in many gods and acknowledge the truth, namely that there is only one true God that in itself is not proof of your conversion.

John Calvin writes, “mere knowledge about God can no more connect man with God, than the sight of the sun [can] carry him up to heaven.”

A person who’s faith is only a mere assent to a creed or confession is not alone.  This person has some company, according to James.  Even the demons believe—and shudder! 

He says that the Demons believe truths about God.  The difference between the person claiming faith because of a belief about God and the demons is that the demons believe this to the point of shaking in their boots while the person claiming this as proof of faith is really doing this in a boasting way…he isn’t trembling.  It’s a dangerous position to be in when the demons believe more strongly than we do. 

In his sermon on this verse called, True Grace Distinguished From the Experience of Devils, Jonathan Edwards makes this point, “It may also be inferred from what has been observed, that for persons merely to yield a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.  My text tells us, that the devils believe that there is one God, so they believe the truth of the doctrine of religion in general.  The devil is orthodox in his faith; he believes the true scheme of doctrine; he is no Deist, Socinian, Arian, Pelagian, or Antinomian; the articles of his faith are all sound, and in them he is strongly established.”

Edwards clearly points out that mere assent to doctrine…even true doctrine is not grounds for confidence that one possesses saving faith.

3- Christ-Centered Faith Does Produce Christ-Like Living (vss. 20-26)

A- The Invitation to Learn (vs. 20)

[20] Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?        

B- The Faith of Abraham (vss. 21-24)

 [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  [23] 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.  [24] You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 

Abraham had saving faith and it was proven by his actions.  When God called Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice his faith was confirmed as genuine.  Abraham believed what God told him.  He was justified (Paul’s meaning) by his believing God.  But he was justified (James’ meaning) by his works. 

It is very important we get this.  Abraham was saved the same way we are, by believing God.   In this sense it can be said Abraham was justified by faith. 

Also, Abraham is proven authentic (Justified) by his works.  His works prove his faith is real. 

Hebrews 11:17-19 (ESV) 

    By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,  [18] of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  [19] He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 

How do we know that Abraham was not saved because of his works? 

God declared Abraham justified by faith alone in Genesis 15:6.

Genesis 15:6 (ESV) 

    And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

It is much later in the account that Abraham was tested and challenged to offer Isaac that account came in Genesis 22.  So, when he was told to offer up Isaac, Abraham was already justified (declared righteous) by God.  His obedience in no way helped his status before God but it did prove his status with God.  That’s why James says in verse 23, the Scripture was fulfilled.

 [24] You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 

C- The Faith of Rahab (vss. 25-26)

 [25] 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?  [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

We read about Rahab in the Book of Joshua 2.

She was proven genuine by her works the same as Abraham was.

What is James referring to when he says, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 

I believe he has the whole account in mind.  We read Rahab’s response to the messengers.

Joshua 2:8-11 (ESV) 

    Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 

    [9] and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  [10] For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.  [11] 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. 

Everything she heard about God she believed.  She also believed God was about to destroy the city. 

That’s why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  So he could perform all the mighty wonders in the land of Egypt that the other nations would see the power of God.  A lowly prostitute heard of the power of God and God sent her grace and she believed.  She had real faith because she just didn’t make those true claims about God, as James says the demons do, but she believed so strongly she acted out of her faith.

[26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

We see the comparison made.  As spirit and body make a person so faith and works make a Christian.  What is really present is a dead corpse when faith has no works.  This is not saving faith. 

So the character of faith is works.

We saw it last week in someone who does not show favoritism and trusts God’s sovereignty.

We see it this week in helping a fellow believer who lacks the necessities of life and in the lives of Abraham and Rahab.  

 

We also see it in our church family as we partake of the Lord’s Supper.  We continually partake, by faith, being obedient to what He commanded and anticipating His coming.  Just as Rahab anticipated the coming Hebrew army led by Joshua, we, by partaking, anticipate King Jesus coming as well.  As Joshua’s army blew the trumpet the archangel will blow a trumpet announcing the coming conqueror, the Lord.

Our sharing in this supper together we are declaring, by faith, Jesus is Lord and Savior.

%d bloggers like this: