Monday, November 3, 2014

THE FAITH THAT WORKS (James Chapter 2)

James 2:14-26, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  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.  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!  Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

The Apostle Paul vehemently and repeatedly maintained throughout his epistles that salvation is by faith not works (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).  Some suggest that James is herein contradicting Paul, but James is looking at the matter from a different perspective.  The kind of faith that saves is a faith that works.  Paul taught the same thing.  The kind of faith that saves is not merely intellectual, but issues forth from one’s heart (Cf. Romans 10:9).  Salvation is by grace through faith and not works (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), but it inevitably leads to good works (Cf. Ephesians 2:10).  Paul gave thanks to God for the Thessalonians because the genuine nature of their faith was affirmed by their works (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5).  Mere intellectual faith is “dead” and “useless” (James 2:17, 20, 26).  Dead orthodoxy or mere profession is no substitute for the God-given, life-transforming, variety of faith that inevitably leads to good works.

James makes his case by way of four separate examples, two negative and two positive: 1) the inadequacy of the kind of faith that would refuse to provide for a needy brother or sister (Cf. James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17); 2) the inadequacy of the kind of faith possessed by the demons (Cf. James 2:18-19); 3) the efficacy of the kind of faith possessed by Abraham (Cf. James 2:20-24); and 4) the efficacy of the kind of faith possessed by Rahab (Cf. James 2:25-26).  What good is a kind of faith that refuses to meet the needs of a brother or sister?  The demons have a kind of faith—of an intellectual variety—but it obviously does not lead to their salvation.  Abraham is a preeminent example of faith “completed” by works (Cf. James 2:22).  Rahab likewise deliberately acted by a kind of faith that was accompanied by works.  Abraham and Rahab are both cited by the author of Hebrews as examples of those who did certain things “by faith” (Cf. Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19, 31).

Martin Luther, that great reformer and champion of the sola fide (salvation by faith alone) truth, addressed the genuine nature of true and saving faith: “True faith, of which we speak, cannot be manufactured by our own thoughts, for it is solely a work of God in us, without any assistance on our part.  As Paul says to the Romans, it is God’s gift and grace, obtained by one man, Christ.  Therefore, faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and again regenerates him, and leads him altogether into a new manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing” (Martin Luther, “Justification by Faith,” in Classic Sermons on Faith and Doubt, ed. Warren W. Wiersbe; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kregel, 1986; p. 78). 

Harry Ironside put it this way, “A faith that is not demonstrated by works of righteousness and deeds of piety is as dead as the lifeless clay.”  The kind of faith that saves is a faith that inevitably results in transformation and is thereby and henceforth characterized by good works.  It is anything but “dead” and “useless” (James 2:17, 20, 26).

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