Faith Without Works?
James 2: 14-26
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” James 2: 14.
Once again the idea that one works their way to heaven presents itself. This verse concerns the outward man that you and I see, look around you in church sometime and notice that there are many nice folks there who appear pious outwardly, but you cannot see the heart. The inward man is hidden from you; you ask and they tell you that they believe in Jesus, they sing in the choir, and they teach Sunday school. Quite lovely, and this is what you are meant to see, but the inner man is still hidden because you have to take them at their word. But what do they do?
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Matthew 15: 18-20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Matthew 7: 15-21.
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2: 15-17.
If a person says “I believe in Jesus,” without some outward manifestation of that faith, then their faith is as worthless as telling destitute persons “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things they need to survive. It has no substance.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” James 2: 18-19.
Here we see the opposite side of the coin, and even though verse 19, in the above passage, seems to be a separate thought, it is not. The challenge is thrown out; if my works are of God, it indicates a genuine inward faith; if you say you have saving faith, without any outward indication of that faith, then that faith is not saving faith.
Many people, including the Jews of that day, feel that if they just believe that Jesus is real and that He was what He said He was; and if they just read their Bibles and go to church and try to be good, they are Christians. But you see with that kind of person it is all outward show, like joining a club, with no inward change, which is what Christ promises to those who truly put their faith in His finished work on the cross.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” II Corinthians 5: 17.
This is a literal thing, it is not a matter of a person improving himself by adopting some new motto, taking classes on self-discipline, or quitting a habit like, smoking or drinking, no, this is a real change in heart, one’s outlook on life, and response to evil; this change is willing and not forced. The Holy Spirit comes to live within the heart of those who accept Christ as the only way of salvation. And with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes the change of heart that a person cannot do for themselves, and this causes a shift in outward actions.
So the person being spoken to in verse 19 is the person who has joined the club and believes that because they believe in Jesus they are going to heaven. This is God’s response, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” The demons believe in Jesus, and it does them no good. There are many cults who believe in Jesus too, yet it is not saving knowledge, anymore than the demon’s belief.
“But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2: 20-24.
Abraham’s faith in God was so strong that it is said of him:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” Hebrews 11: 17-19.
This particular incident is recorded in Genesis 22: 1-19. It is of interest that as Abraham was about to slay his son, God responded in the following manner. “But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’” Genesis 22: 11-12.
Now we know that God is omniscient, that is, He is all knowing; if He is all knowing, why did He allow Abraham to go so far in this test of faith? In part it is because God wanted us to see that faith by itself is just a word, but if it is real, it produces works for all to see. And how real it had to have been! God’s words to Abraham were to assure him that He wanted no harm to come to his son and to show His approval of Abraham’s faith, both to him and to us.
Things do not happen in a vacuum; you and I are focused on a computer screen reading at this moment, while others are undergoing surgery, at the movies, driving in traffic, or in a pitched firefight. Life is a moving surging thing like the waves on the seashore; those waves do not stop just because we are asleep or not there. Every person has an individual personality and God is dealing with them all. As a result, the Abrahams go through what they go through and the Jobs go through what they go through and the godless go through what they go through; and all of it is designed to draw them to God or to bring them closer to Him. Nothing is for nothing.
However, if God knows everything that we are going to do, why not just create the ones that will accept Him as savior and take them to heaven without all the rigmarole; as for the ones who will reject Him, either not create them or kick them straight to hell?
Well the ones in hell will say “Hey, what am I doing here? I did not do anything!” And the ones in heaven will be happy to be there, but they will not really know why. God will tell those in heaven that they are there because Jesus died for them. But they will understand neither their sin nature nor the need for salvation because they did not live it other than in God’s mind. Men who choose evil in this life grind against those who need to be made aware of their sinful condition to bring them to Christ.
This would be much like a gamer playing an extremely complicated, lifelike combat computer game in which he can brag about fifty kills, which might be considered a high score. This gamer may meet a soldier who has seen combat in Afghanistan who also may claim fifty kills. Will the soldier be impressed with anything other than the gamer’s skill? Will he consider the kills as the same as his?
As they speak, the gamer may be anxious to return home and try to top his score; will the soldier be as anxious to return to the battlefield? The soldier has sweated behind a wall watched his friends be killed, he has heard the whistle of bullets as they missed his head, he has eaten mediocre food, gone thirsty, and slept on the ground, he has put his rear end on the line. The gamer has put his in a chair. Who would have been changed by his experience? So is real life as opposed to virtual life.
If God through His word were to say to us, “Abraham has great faith in Me.” We might reply, “Um, if You say so.” Instead, when we read the account of the offering up of Isaac, and then read this, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son…” we are forced to reply that his works are a witness to his great faith. Thus Abraham’s great faith is justified before us.
It then follows that, “…faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect”; if there were no saving faith, Abraham would not have even considered offering his beloved only son as a sacrifice; even though he might have claimed that he believed God. As a result what he did showed what he felt in his heart, so actions really do speak louder than words.
In this we find a principle, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” How was this Scripture fulfilled? The Abraham believed God quote is found in Genesis 15: 6, yet the offering of Isaac did not occur until perhaps thirty years later, Genesis 22: 1-19. God’s testimony as to Abraham’s belief is vindicated by his actions years later. Many Scriptures have been fulfilled in the past and many will be fulfilled in the present age as they happen. And many have already.
In summing this up, verse 24 states, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2: 25-26.
If you go over the faith chapter, Hebrews eleven, you will find many great men of the faith to mention here; so why a woman why a heathen prostitute? Why place the dregs of society next to one of the greatest men of faith, one who is called “…the friend of God” in II Chronicles 20: 7 and in Isaiah 41: 8?
Many have tried to clean this up by saying that Rahab was an innkeeper or a hostess, not a harlot, but she was what she was and this should be an encouragement to all of us; just as the thief on the cross reached out to Christ next to him, so she came empty-handed and without any merit to the God of Israel.
“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” Luke 23: 39-43.
Some fourteen hundred years earlier, Rahab the harlot is speaking to the two spies, telling them of the dread that has come upon the occupants of the land which Israel is about to take. “And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.” Joshua 2: 11-13.
It took a great deal of courage for this woman to take her stand with these men and risk her life and perhaps the lives of her family, but it took a real faith in the God who is, “God in heaven above and on earth beneath”, to take that risk. In this she is in agreement with Paul when he says, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” II Timothy 1: 12.
Rahab was the first heathen to accept the God of the children of Israel upon their arrival in the land. Abraham knew and served God all his life, Rahab came out of a pagan background. Abraham became the father of many nations and was in the lineage of Christ, Rahab came from the basest of lifestyles, yet her faith not only saved her life and soul, she too became part of the lineage of Christ. Both are mentioned in the lineage given in Matthew 1: 1-6.
As an aside I would like to bring up something that has caused me some confusion in the past; Rahab the harlot is not the only time the name Rahab occurs in Scripture, that name is also used as another name for Egypt. Though the two names are spelled the same and are even capitalized; the woman’s name Rahab means, broad, or wide; while Rahab, a code name for Egypt means, insolence, pride, or violence. Both names are spelled differently in the Hebrew script, and the woman Rahab’s name is transliterated as Rachab, while the other Rahab is transliterated as Rahab. Here is an example of the second usage of the name:
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Are you not the arm that cut Rahab apart, and wounded the serpent? Are you not the One who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a road for the redeemed to cross over?” Isaiah 51: 9-10. You may also find it interesting that Rahab is the name of a mythological chaos monster; something I will leave to you to pursue if you are interested. I hope I have not confused the narrative by adding these two paragraphs, if so, my apologies.
Folks like Rahab and the thief on the cross are an example to us all because they came to God just as they were, sinful men and women, they did not try to clean up their act or try to bargain with God for their salvation, they just threw themselves at His feet and called upon His mercy. It is never too late to repent of your sins and call out to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” John 6: 37.
“Just as I am, without one plea But that thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bidd’st me to come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!” Just as I am, by Charlotte Elliott.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2: 26.
Faith Without Works? Taken from blog.godisrevealed.com
Scripture taken from the New King James version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.