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Bible Search
James #10 - chapter 2, verses 21-26
The Book of James
Living Faith
James 2:21-26
 
I invite you to open your Bible to James chapter 2.  Tonight we will resume our study of this great book with verses 21 through 26. This is the second half of a Message I began a couple of weeks ago on the subject of dead faith.
 
One of the most important and at the same time one of the most frightening truths in all of the Scripture, is that there is a faith in God that does not save from hell.  I don’t know that there is a greater tragedy than to have a faith in Christ, based on a belief in Scripture, then die and go to hell. 
 
But this passage tells us that is possible.  James calls it "dead faith" in verse 17.  According to verse 20, it is the kind of faith that does not demonstrate its authenticity through works.  In verse 26, he describes is as being like a corpse without life.
 
And as we saw last time, dead faith is marked by three primary characteristics.  First, it is an empty confession. We see that in
 
verse 14
 
The answer is implied in the question and it is obviously “no”.  The kind of faith that has no accompanying works is dead and cannot save. 
 
 
 
 
Secondly, James says dead faith is characterized by a false compassion.
 
verses 15-16
 
If you can’t be bothered by what some brother or sister is going through or just expect them to deal with it and stay out of your hair, that is not the spirit of Christ and it is not the behavior of a child of God.  And again, he points out that kind of faith is not saving faith.  So false compassion can be added to empty confession.
 
Then in verse 17 and 18 he points out the third characteristic which is a shallow conviction.  A saved person must be able to substantiate their claim to be a person of faith in some tangible, visible way because it is possible to see any other way.
 
Claiming to believe ranks you no higher than the demons of hell who are more moved by what they know than men.
 
So if that is “dead faith”, then what does living faith look like?  That’s what he describes in this section before us this evening. And to make his point, he again uses the number three.  Just as he had three characteristics of dead faith, he has three illustrations of living faith.
 
The first one is
 
1. Abraham
 
verses 21-24
 
Now verse 21 deserves a careful look, much more than a face-value reading.  It has caused more than one person to scratch their head and ponder its meaning.  In fact, because of this verse, Martin Luther called the book of James “an epistle of straw” because of this verse.  He couldn't figure out what this meant because it appeared to have such conflict with salvation by grace. 
 
Well, I certainly don’t think I’m smarter than martin Luther, but it obviously has no conflict with any other Scripture.  So we need to look at it carefully and try to understand what it is James is saying. 
 
First, he talks about Abraham as “our father”.  Chances are if he was addressing us today, he wouldn’t use that phrase.  He would describe Abraham in some other way.  But since James is a Jew and he’s writing to the scattered Jews who have become Christians, it’s possible he’s saying "Abraham our father" in a Jewish sense.
 
In fact, in Romans 4:1, Paul uses the same phrase to talk about living in the flesh.  In John 8:37, Jesus said to the Jews, "You are of Abraham's seed.”  So that could be why James uses it. 
 
But I think there is more here than that. When James says, "Our father, Abraham”, he’s talking about all the children of God.  Abraham is the father not only of the Jews racially, but of all people who believe in God unto salvation, whether they are Jew or Gentile.
 
Again, the Apostle Paul uses the same literary device in Galatians 3:7
 
So there is a spiritual sense in which all who believe are somehow connected to Abraham. He is the model of faith and we sort of follow that model. He is the classic illustration of saving faith and in that sense, he is the father of the faithful.
 
So, James, as well as Paul, both identify Abraham as the father not only of the Jews, but of all those who believe.
 
And of Abraham, our father, he says, was "justified by works."  Now immediately everything in us that's evangelical throws up caution flags.  What does he mean by that?  Well, let’s begin by understanding what it means to be justified.  To be justified is to be considered right with God.
 
So does that mean Abraham was considered to be right with God by works?" For argument’s sake, let’s let the Apostle Paul answer. Listen to what he says in
 
Romans 4:1-2 
 
So James says Abraham was justified by works. Paul says if Abraham were justified by works, he would have something to glory of but not before God.
 
And like any good Baptist, Paul says, verse 3, let’s let the Bible speak. 
 
Verses 3-4
 
In other words, if he earned it, it wouldn't be grace.  It would be something God owed him.
 
Verse 5
So Paul’s point is Abraham was not justified by works before God.  He was justified, considered to be right with God, by grace through faith.
 
And for the rest of the chapter, Paul makes that argument, and I wish we had more time to spend looking at it.  Perhaps we can do that at some time.  But for now, suffice it to say, Paul taught and believed Abraham was saved by grace through faith apart from works just like everybody else is saved. 
 
But here is James using the same illustration about the same man saying Abraham was justified by works. So who’s right?  They both are.  Let me show you. 
 
Notice in Romans 4:2 that Paul says if Abraham were justified by works, he would have something to brag about. In other words, he could pat himself on the back if he made it in by his own works.
 
But, mark this little part of the verse, “but not before God”. Now be very clear about what Paul is saying.  You cannot be justified by works before God. End of discussion. Nobody gets to stand before God and brag about what they’ve done to earn their way to heaven. The only path to God is faith.  Nd just to make that clear, Paul points that out in
 
Verse 3  
 
And by the way, James believes that.  In James 2:23 he quotes the very same scripture and understands exactly what it means. So Paul and James are in absolute agreement.  No one is justified before God by works.
 
However, Abraham was justified by works before men. See the difference? That's the whole point James is making and that’s the reason Paul makes the distinction in Romans 4. 
 
There’s only one way to justified before God and that is faith.  But it is just as true to say there is only one way to be justified before men and that is works.  The only way God can accept me is through faith and the only way men can verify me is through works. 
 
How do you know a true Christian? You look at their life and you say, "There is a man of faith.”  "How do you know? "I can tell by the way he lives and acts and treats other people.  He is a freidn of God”. 
 
As John Calvin put it, "Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone”. 
 
And notice how James so eloquently sums it up in
 
Verse 24
 
It's not enough to just have faith.  There must be faith and the resultant, substantiating, authenticating works and Abraham is a powerful illustration of that. 
 
The second illustration James uses is
 
2.  Rahab
 
We are Introduced to her in
 
verse 25
 
 
Now Rahab is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Abraham:
 
  • Abraham was a Jew, Rahab was a Gentile.
  • Abraham's a man, Rahab is a woman.
  • Abraham is a good man. Rahab is an evil woman.
  • Abraham, a noble Chaldean, Rahab a degraded Canaanite.
  • Abraham a great leader, Rahab a common follower.
  • Abraham at the top of the social order, Rahab at the bottom.
  • Abraham, the beneficiary of much divine leadership and divine guidance. Rahab is a total pagan.
  • Abraham having received direct revelation from God, Rahab having only received very indirect revelation about God.
 
There is every conceivable difference between these two, and yet when you come to Hebrews 11 and the list of the heroes of faith, both are there. 
 
Go to Matthew chapter 1 and read the genealogy of Jesus, you will Abraham is there and so is Rahab. Believe it or not, the Messiah came through the loins of Rahab the harlot. 
 
By the way, James was a descendent of Rahab as well.   He was very familiar with her story.  And notice what He says in
 
verse 25
 
"Likewise”.  I love that word.  In the same manner or the same way. . .”
In the same way Abraham was justified by works, so was Rahab the harlot.  They both demonstrated salvation in the same way.  One was a noble, well-respected man. The other was a woman of the night with a terrible reputation, but both demonstrated their salvation in the same way. 
 
We won’t take the time to read her story and if you are not familiar with it, I encourage you to read it for yourself. It is found in Joshua 2.  But Rahab was a harlot living in Jericho. Joshua sends some spies in to look things over before leading the children of God to make their entrance into the promised land. 
 
They wind up staying at the inn of Rahab.  When she finds out who they are, she shares this wonderful testimony of her faith in their God by saying, “I know the Lord has given you the land.  We’ve heard about your God and how He dried up the Red Sea and let you cross and how He’s been protecting you and leading you.”  She said, And as soon as we heard these things, our heart melted and our courage drained away because the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and in earth beneath."
 
Now when that Rahab confessed that, she was justified before God. She believed that God was the true God. She believed that God was the God of miracles who had led His people out of Egypt.  And she entrusted herself to God in that moment she was justified by her faith. How do I know? 
 
I know because of what James says in verse 25. 
 
This woman believed the truth, put her faith in God and it was imputed to her for righteousness JUST LIKE it was with Abraham.
She then put her faith into action by saving the life of the spies.  By the way, you remember what she did? She told a lie to protect them.  "Was that right?" Well of course it wasn't right.
 
But she's a pagan coming out of a pagan culture with pagan ethics who doesn't understand the premium God puts on truth. But she's working with whatever knowledge she's got. It's very limited. Compared to what she’d been doing, I’d saying she’s doing all right!
 
But what I see it this:  Here she is a brand new woman of faith, and when given the first opportunity she had to do something to demonstrate her faith in God, she put her life on the line. If she had been found out, it would have cost her her life. She hid the spies in the flax on the roof. She let them escape. She told the guys that came to find them that they weren't there. She told them how to escape and helped them to do it.  She demonstrated her faith by works.
 
Now, with those two illustrations in mind, I want to ask you to consider a question.  James is telling us our faith is demonstrated through our works.  Legitimate, saving faith will always express itself in action.  So here’s my question: 
 
What kind of works authenticate true salvation?
 
So would say going to church to worship?  Now It hink we ought to be in church and worship but I find it interesting that in neither of the illustrations James gives does it say that either of them built an altar or went somewhere and worshipped. 
In both cases, the visible vindication of their justification was putting their life and their dreams and their hopes on the line. That is the kind of work that I believe God wants us to understand is demonstrated in true faith.
 
It isn't that you went to church or read a Bible or sang a song or gave an offering. It is that you are so supremely committed to God that you would sacrifice your hopes and dreams and ambitions and even risk your own life to be true to your faith.
 
Jesus put it this way:  “If you're not willing to deny yourself and take up your cross, the symbol of death and pain, and  follow Me, you're not worthy to be My disciple.”
 
The issue is not do you go to church or read your Bible or spend a little time in spiritual activity.  The issue is, when it comes down to the crux of why you live and what is valuable, is your faith in God more valuable to you than everything you hold most dear and you'll put your own life on the line and sacrifice all your dreams and hopes because you have such total trust in Him?  That's the issue. That's the kind of evidence that is monumental.
 
Don't tell me a person's faith is real because they come to Bible study. You don't know that. Watch them when the world crashes in and see what happens. How many times have you seen people come to the Bible study and then wonder away, never to return?  Or get so caught up in the world that they fall away? 
 
 
They sacrifice everything that they once held dear because what they really hold dear has nothing to do with divine things.
 
See what is happening?  There are justified by their works.  Their works bear testimony to the authenticity of their faith and what they have is a dead faith.
 
That’s why James closes the way he does.  His final illustration is that of
 
3.  The Corpse
 
Verse 26
 
Once again, James builds on the same idea.  Just as a body without the spirit is dead, faith without works is dead also.
 
If the spirit is missing from the body you have a dead body.  If works are missing from faith, you have a dead faith.  It’s just that simple. 
 
A body without life has absolutely no value. It ought to be put in the ground and covered up with dirt or it will rot and stink and be revolting to everyone who comes in contact with it.  And so is belief without behavior.  It’s just as putrid, just as decaying, just as loathsome, just as revolting and just as dead.
 
 
 
 
 
 
So, James says, “It’s test time. Do you have a belief without behavior? Do you believe but not obey? Do you say you believe? Are you orthodox but you don't long to serve God? Do you love Him without reservation, no matter what the cost? Abraham did. Rahab did. Their faith was alive.  What about you?  Is your faith dead or alive?
 
Let's pray.
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