Faith and works, Part 3
15th December 2017
This is our third and final look at:
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:
"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:
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:
As Paul says elsewhere:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.