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The Epistle of James - Godly Values

Part 16 - Faith and Works, Part 3

James 2v20-24

17th August 2018

Continuing his discussion of the relationship between faith and deeds - or "works" - James says:

James 2v20-23
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.

Abraham proved that real faith produces real obedience. Abraham didn't willingly offer up his son as an offering to God just because he knew intellectually that God exists, or that God is good, or that God has the right to demand whatever He pleases. Abraham offered up his son as a sacrifice to God because he trusted God.

Because Abraham trusted God - had faith in God, Abraham's faith resulted in obedience. His faith was made compete, brought to maturity, by this supreme act of obedience. His faith was proved by his actions.

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

Some Christians don't want to believe this, but it's true. "Justified" is a word from the courtroom. It means "acquitted", that there is no case to answer, no penalty to be paid. Biblically, it also means being made righteous, being brought into healthy relationship with God.

Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins so we could be justified. God treats Christians as innocent people because there is no penalty left to be paid for our wrongdoing, because Jesus has already paid it. But this only applies to us when each of us accepts 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 it. But 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 2v24
...a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

This requires some thought. We all know Romans 3v28 is true. Churches like mine are built on it. But, of course, James 2v24 is also true. 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:

At conversion:

  • 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.

The works come after the justification, not before.

As Paul says elsewhere:

Ephesians 2v8-10
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.

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. You were not justified by the works you'd done; you were justified so you can perform works. It's the other way around.

The day you believed, and 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 you could do the good deeds that God has planned for you to do, to His glory, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, whom He gave to you when you believed.

In 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 works that are the result of faith.

On the Day of Judgement, you'll be justified because the fact that you did those works will prove that you believed. You will stand before your God and you'll be counted among the sheep, not the goats, if you're a Christian. You'll be saved not lost, destined for heaven not hell, because your faith has resulted in 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. Godliness makes you more loving, more merciful and more generous.

As Jesus tells us:

Matthew 25v34-40
"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 sick 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 sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
"The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

We will be justified by the works we do because we've already been justified by faith.