James 2:19-26 Faith in Action

A few people have asked about notes for the sermon that I preached on October 23, 2016 at Life Church. The audio is below along with my notes.


James 2:19-26

[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. (James 2:19-26 ESV)

The Historical Challenge

  • We are 1 week and 1 day away from the 499th anniversary of the Protestant reformation. On Oct 1, 1517, a Catholic Monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany.
  • He intended to start a conversation about the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and from there, the protestant reformation was launched.
  • The central issue of the reformation was justification by faith alone. Martin Luther called it “the article by which the church stands or falls.”
    • The doctrine of faith alone asserts that faith is both necessary and sufficient to make us right with God.
    • We do not do anything to earn our salvation. We do not add works or cooperate with God’s grace to be saved. Instead all that Christ accomplished: his righteous obedient life and his suffering payment for sins is credited (or imputed) to us the moment that we have saving faith.
  • The Catholic response:
    • The Roman Catholic Church responded with the Council of Trent, a church-wide series of meetings from 1545-1563.
    • The council produced a series of statements in response to the protestant claims.
    • CANON 9: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”
    • CANON 12: “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified…let him be accursed”
    • The Catholic Church asserted that faith alone was not enough for justification, and Martin Luther was actually excommunicated on the basis of v 24.
  • Imputation vs Infusion
    • The issue boils down to understanding imputation and infusion.
    • We Protestants believe that the Bible teaches that righteousness is imputed to us. We ourselves are not righteous, but by faith cheap nfl jerseys all that Jesus did in his life and suffering are placed into our account. We are not righteous, but we are credited as being righteous. Any good works we do are evidence of the saving faith that we possess and do not earn us anything before God.
    • The Roman Catholic assertion is that we are infused with righteousness. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Baptism is the sacrament of faith”. We receive an infusion of righteousness, making us actually righteous in ourselves. That righteousness is ours to lose through sins. This is why we need the other sacraments (confession, penance, the eucharist, etc) to cooperate with the grace of God in making us righteous. In this way, our right standing before God is ultimately a result of our effort and our cooperation to attain the grace of God through the church and not upon the finished work of Jesus alone.
  • Why does this matter?
    • Absolute truth is exclusive.
      • There are many things that we can disagree on and A not divide on.
        • Bible translations
        • The rapture
        • The sign gifts
      • This issue is the foundation of our faith.
        • Either the protestant position is right and the only foundation of our faith is the finished work of Jesus.
        • Or the Catholic position is correct, and we need to church to administer the sacraments so that we can have the infusion of righteousness that we need.
      • We must remain protestant and still protesting or we need to be at mass next Sunday.
    • Because of our context.
      • We live in south Louisiana. We have friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family who are members in the Catholic church. And we love them. We do not want anyone walking around with a false assurance or a false iPhone foundation.
      • This isn’t about us being right. It’s about the great commandment: love for God and loving people.

The Textual Challenge

  • Romans 3:28 “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
  • Romans 4:1-5 [1] What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? [2] For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. [3] For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” [4] Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. [5] And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
  • Paul considered faith alone to be the instrument of justification. And he used the very same example that James used in order to prove his point.
  • What’s the deal? Is the Bible contradicting itself?
    • Maybe it’s a translation issue. Greek has 3 words for love and all of them are translated as love.
      • James and Paul use the same Greek word, dikaioo.
    • Some people try to solve the issue by saying that James was writing after Paul or vice versa. One of them is attempting to correct the other.
      • This kind of approach undermines our trust in God’s Word as inspired and authoritative.
    • So where do we look for an answer?
      • Although James and Paul use the same word, that word has two different senses
        • One sense of justification is to be made righteous. It’s a legal declaration of a right standing before God. If we are justified before God, we are found to be sinless, perfect, and pure, having done no wrong and having fulfilled all righteousness.
        • The other sense of justification is vindication or being proven true. Jesus uses this sense in Luke 7:35 when he says “Wisdom is justified by all her children”.
      • It’s this second sense that James is using, and we can demonstrate that from the text.
    • Living faith is more than facts.
      • [19] You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
      • James is telling us here in a snarky way that the devil has better theology than we do.
      • James is pointing us to the Shema, Israel’s declaration of faith in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the LORD is one!”
      • The demons believe this. In some ways they know it better than we do!
        • They saw Adam formed from the dust.
        • They saw the flood waters rise for 40 days
        • They saw the red sea part.
        • They saw the Son of God die on the cross as a forgiveness for sin.
      • What do they lack? The next 4 verses.
        • [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
      • The demons lack love for the truths that they know. Because of this, God is their judge, and they shudder in terror.
      • Living faith changes what we love, and what we love most deeply drives what we do.
      • James calls any alternate understanding of this “foolishness”.
        • [20] Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
      • So now James turns to two examples to show to us that living faith will produce works, the example of Abraham and the example of Rahab.
    • Living faith from a righteousness that is not our own.
      • [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.
      • James references an event in Abraham’s life in v 23, where he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness and that scripture was fulfilled when Abraham offered his son on the altar to God, And from this James is saying that we can conclude that faith was active along with his works, faith was completed by his works and that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
      • Let’s take a look at these events to understand what James is communicating.

Genesis 15

[1] After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” [2] But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” [3] And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” [4] And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

  • Was Abraham righteous in himself at that point? No. He was counted righteous. Abraham had righteousness credited into his account, and God used faith as the instrument for it.
  • This is the sense of justification that Paul used in Romans. Abraham at that moment was perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. He doesn’t do anything to save himself and he doesn’t contribute to his salvation.
  • But what about works? Surely if God credited him righteousness at that point, he could lose it, right? Let’s see what happens next

[7] And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” [8] But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” [9] He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” [10] And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. [11] And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Hello Abram drove them away.

[12] As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. [13] Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. [14] But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. [15] As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. [16] And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

[17] When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. [18] On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, [19] the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, [20] the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, [21] the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15 ESV)

  • So Abraham wants to know from God how he can know that God keeps his promise. We see some really trippy stuff go on and it concludes with God making a covenant.
  • What’s a covenant?
    • An oath bound agreement between two parties.
    • In this context a ruler or lord would make a covenant with an underling. The ruler would offer military protection and safety in exchange for conditions.
    • If the covenant were violated by the underling there would be curses attached. The covenant would be ratified by splitting animals in two and the underling walking through them
    • In effect, the underling would be saying “If I violate this agreement, may I be torn in two like these animals.”
  • It would have blown people’s >The minds that a God would enter into a covenant with a worshiper.
  • The really crazy part here is that it’s not Abraham that walks through the animals. It’s not Abraham that bears the curse of carrying out the wholesale nba jerseys covenant.
  • The smoking fire pot and the flaming torch are representative of the presence of God.
  • God himself guarantees this promise by placing the curse of the covenant breaking upon himself.
  • And who is it that bore the weight of all of our covenant breaking on the cross? It was Jesus.
  • God declares us righteous, and if we are in the covenant, we have a salvation not of ourselves that we cannot lose.
  • James was a Jew and the brother of Jesus. He understood God’s covenant with Abraham very well. James understood with Paul that living faith is a declaration of God about us, and it’s something we cannot lose.
  • Living faith produces action
    • Now that we see the depth of the reality of what God declares about us, let’s look at James’ example of what that faith produces

Genesis 22

[1] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” [2] He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” [3] So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. [4] On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. [5] Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. [7] And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” [8] Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

[9] When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. [10] Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife Chèque to slaughter his son. [11] But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” [12] He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” [13] And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. [14] So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

[15] And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

  • What do we see here?
    • Isaac was the son of the promise. He was the only way that Abraham could see that God was going to keep his promise. Isaac was Abraham’s everything.
    • For Isaac to die would mean that God’s promise would fail, but Abraham believed that God would keep the promise no matter what.
  • Real living faith is demonstrated by what we do.
    • James calls this act “justification by works” because it showed that his faith was real. Abraham’s faith was vindicated before everyone. No one could say that Abraham did not trust God’s promise.
    • Real saving faith changes us. We offer up our lives, our futures, and our everything to a God who promises that our sins are forgiven in Jesus.
    • We seek to love our neighbor, to care for the widow and orphan in their distress, to keep ourselves unstained from the world because we trust in what God has already accomplished.
    • To a God who keeps his covenant with us and does not withhold from us his only Son.
  • We see James drive this home with the example of Rahab. (Joshua 2)
    • Rahab was a prostitute who lived in the massive wall of Jericho. Israel sent spies into Jericho to spy out the land, because God was fulfilling his promise to give the land to Israel.
    • The Israelites were staying in Rahab’s home and the king of Jericho caught wind of it.
    • Rahab lied to the king’s men to give the Israelites time to escape onto the roof.
    • Rahab had heard of the Israelites and their God, and she believed that Israel was going to conquer Jericho and the land, including the massive wall that she lived in.
    • Because of her belief, she acted. She didn’t trust the massive wall of Jericho, but instead trusted God and let the Israelites escape, asking them only to spare her and her family in return.
    • When Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved by wholesale nba jerseys tying a scarlet cord to her window as a sign to the Israelites.
    • Rahab’s faith was shown to be true living faith, because of her actions.
    • It wasn’t enough for her to just know that the Israelite army was really coming to conquer the land. She had to trust that her salvation lie only with their God, and her belief was demonstrated in what she did.

Living Faith Lives

  • James concludes in v 26 by telling us that faith apart from works is dead, like the body apart from the spirit is dead.
  • As the reformer John Calvin said, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet justifying faith is never alone.”
    • [1] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [6] If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 ESV)
  • What does the branch do to bear fruit? Nothing other than total dependence upon the vine. The vine is the giver of life, and that life flows through the branch to produce fruit. If we are alive in Christ, we will bear fruit.
  • To abide is to depend, to trust. Do you have a fruit problem in your life? You don’t have an effort problem. You have a trust problem.
  • That’s what James is trying to indicate to us. Look at your life! Does your faith produce works? Then you may have a faith problem.
  • Maybe you don’t have faith or works. The answer for all of us is the same. Trust in the promise of God. Trust in Christ’s work on the cross. Abide in Jesus and be united to him by faith alone! The Father will prune you. He will cut off the sin that holds you back, and you will bear fruit.