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Faith and works, Part 3

James 2v24-26

15th December 2017

This is our third and final look at:

James 2v14-26
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by qwht I do.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 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.
You see that a person is considered righteous by what he does and not by faith alone.
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?
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

I said two weeks ago there there were some difficult theological ideas in this passage, and the most difficult is in this third part.

James is seeking to convince us that "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead". He's pointed out that even demons believe but it does them no good, and that our father Abraham's faith was proved by his obedience (see last week's study). Now he explains about justification:

James 2v24
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

"Justification" is a word from the court room, that means "acquitted" - that there is no case to answer, no penalty to be paid. But biblically, it also means "being made righteous" - brought into healthy relationship with God.

Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins so that we could be justified - brought into a healthy relationship with God. God treats Christians as innocent people because there is no penalty left for us to pay for our wrongdoing. But this only applies to us when each of us accept it by faith - trusting our lives to the Christ who died for us.

Justification by faith is the most important pillar of the Reformation. Churches like mine exist because of the doctrine of justification by faith. Sola fides - faith alone - is one of the five "solas" of Reformed theology.

Here the really difficult theology starts. Please stay with me. Compare these two passages from God's infallible word:

Romans 3v28
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

James 2:24
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

We all know that Romans 3:28 is true. But, of course, James 2:24 must also be true. So what does James mean? How can both statements be true? Of course they are both true, because the Bible is the infallible word of God. The answer is something like this.

Firstly, at conversion:

  • We are not justified by works (Paul is right)
  • We are not justified without works (James is right)
  • We are justified for works (Paul and James are both right)

As Paul says elsewhere:

Ephesians 2v8-10
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The day you accepted the Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross to pay for your sins, and rose from the dead to win eternal life for you, and you repented and gave your life to God, you were justified by faith alone.

Secondly, at the end, on the day of judgement:

  • We will not be justified by works (Paul is right)
  • We will not be justified without works (James is right)
  • We will be justified by faith, as demonstrated by the works that result from faith (Paul and James are both right)

Do you see the difference? The day you believed - trusted your life and your eternity into the hands of God - you were justified so that you could enjoy right relationship with God, and so that you could do the good deeds that He planned for you, as directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. On the last day, you will be justified because the fact that you did those works proves that you believed.

On the day of judgement, you will stand before your God, and you will be counted among the sheep not the goats, you will be saved not lost, you're destined for heaven not hell, because your faith has resulted in your good deeds.

If your faith doesn't result in good deeds - if your character is just as selfish at the end of your life as it was the day you prayed for salvation - then your faith was never real. You were never saved. You may have fooled your church. You may have fooled yourself. But real faith brings a real change of heart, and a real change of heart brings a life of kindness, gentleness and godliness. God makes you more loving, merciful and generous.

Talking about the day of judgement, and the sheep and the goats, Jesus says:

Matthew 25:34-40
'Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
'Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?"
'The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

The first work James used as an example was Abraham sacrificing his son. Abraham's faith was made complete by what he did. And what he did was give to God the most precious thing he had - Isaac. It's not an act of charity; it's an act of obedience.

We were justified when we repented and believed. As repentant sinners, we are required to obey God, even more than we are required to show mercy to the needy. Of course, these two things are closely related, but the emphasis is on obedience. The FIRST and GREATEST commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind and all your strength". The SECOND is "Love your neighbour as yourself" - in that order. God comes first.

James 2v25
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?

Having chosen our father Abraham as an example of righteousness, James chooses one more example. He chooses a Gentile, and a prostitute, and he says that because Rahab put her faith in God, and because her faith resulted in her doing the right thing, she was justified before God and included in His redeemed people. She too is now a sheep, not a goat.

Whatever past we may have had, whatever sins we've committed, whatever mistakes we've made, today we can put our faith in God, turn from our sins, and live as God intends. And we will be saved. Our past will be forgiven. We will live for eternity with Christ in heaven.

James summarises what he's said in this passage with these words:

James 2v26
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Faith without good deeds is dead. Without kindness, gentleness, godliness, mercy and generosity, faith is not merely sick. It's dead.

May God grant that not one of us dies imagining that our belief system is enough to save us, unless it results in a godly life.