Faith That Works - Part Two
Scripture: James 2:21–26
Faith That Works-Part TwoJames 2:21-26
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
Illustration One: You are a duck. You enter a special meeting with others of your kind. The leader of your flock immediately opens the session with breaking news. "All of you have wings. You have the ability to soar." The place erupts in applause. Then all the ducks waddle their way back home.
The Bible says when we come to Christ we are totally transformed: New gifts, new priorities, new purposes, new hearts. What does it say if we receive Christ with a promise to soar and then continue to waddle our way through life unaffected by this truth?
Illustration Two: You have a life threatening condition. You go to the doctor. He is the foremost expert in his particular field. He gives the diagnosis and you follow his directives. However after the first consultation you think yourself wiser and ignore his advice thereafter.
The Bible says when we come to Christ we believe that His Word is true and that He is sufficient alone to bring us salvation. We deny our own works to make us right and rest entirely on His work on the cross. What does it say if we receive Christ and then thinking ourselves wiser no longer trust and obey Him?
Illustration Three: You just finished paying off the final penny of your $300,000.00 bill for attending Harvard Medical School over the last four years. You are broke and exhausted from the time you invested. Yet you fail your boards and are unable to get a job because you are deemed completely incompetent.
The Bible says when we come to Christ the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives. The living God dwells within us! What does it say if we receive Christ and then show no benefit that we have received the mighty work of His mighty sacrifice?
All these illustrations are attempts to stress the need for us to demonstrate evidence of our salvation. If we are true Christians there will be validation of our faith in the way we now conduct ourselves. There will be proof that God's hand is upon us. As Jesus said, if we call Him "Lord," we will do as He says (Lk. 6:46). Elsewhere He said if we love Him we will obey His commandments (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:2-3). Jesus also said we prove ourselves to be His disciples by bearing spiritual fruit (Jn. 15:8). The apostle Paul called Christians a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). He said that true faith always works itself out through love (Gal. 5:6). He also said we have been "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10).
We cannot deny that spiritual actions (often called "works") are not optional, but essential for every Christian. As we abide in Christ they should naturally flow from us as natural as a fruit tree bears fruit. Are we all perfect? Of course not, but a desire, a passion, an interest to be pleasing to the Lord will be there (Eph. 5:10; Col. 1:10). At times there may be a struggle, but as a whole we will want to learn more, and we will put into the practice the things God expects. Possibly we stumble at the beginning and along the way, but there will be a progressive growth as we mature in Christ.
Considering these works, we will mourn over our sin with a desire to repent. We will love the body of Christ. We will desire the Scripture and prayer. We will be troubled over unreconciled relationships. We will give to others what we have received from Christ: forgiveness, love and compassion. The fruit of the Spirit will be present. We will grieve over those without Christ and eagerly seek their salvation. We will serve one another. We will desire holiness and purity. We will do these things and others if we are truly redeemed.
Like the three illustrations, how can we still waddle if we have been given wings? How can we as sick people ignore the directives of our Great Physician? How can we have God make such a costly investment in our lives and then have Him or us care not if it makes any impact?
This is the point that James has been making in chapter 2 of his epistle. As we learned two weeks ago James is not preaching a different Gospel. He would fully agree with Paul that salvation is based on faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 3:28). Yet he is saying that when we are saved on the basis of grace, true salvation will always result in action, works. Faith without works according to James in verses 17 and 26 is "dead" and in verses 16 and 20, "useless." Mental assent alone, James says in verse 19 is no different than the demons who believe, and we know not a single demon will be passing through the pearly gates.
Now for the remainder of this section James will prove his point by using two positive human illustrations. One is Abraham and the other is Rahab. He could not have chosen two more contradicting individuals: One a patriarch, the other a prostitute; one wealthy, the other poor; one a Jewish man, the other a Gentile woman. Yet both of these contrasting biblical figures had one thing in common. They were saved on the basis of faith, and the faith that saved them resulted in action.
1. THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM
Let's look first at "The Faith of Abraham."
The story about Abraham begins in the early chapters of Genesis. In chapter 12 we learn that God called him [Abram] from his family to a new land (Gen. 12:1). God promised that he would be the father of a great nation (Gen. 12:2). His offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5). However there was a small problem. Abraham did not have a son, and he was already seventy-five years old (Gen. 12:4; 15:2). God spoke to Abraham again in chapter 15. "One …will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir" (Gen. 15:4). Then comes that great confirmation and affirmation. Genesis 15:6, "Then [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and [the Lord] reckoned it to him as righteousness." Abraham trusted God's word. He was declared righteous on the basis of his faith, not his works! I remind you this was fourteen years before circumcision (Gen. 17:10; Rom. 4:10-12) and 430 years before the law that came through Moses (Gal. 3:17; Rom. 4:13).
The teaching in Scripture is clear. Abraham, the spiritual father of us all (Jas. 2:21; Rom. 4:12, 16) was declared righteous by God simply on the basis of his faith alone! James even reiterates the point when he quotes Genesis 15:6 in verse 23, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Abraham had a fraction of the revelation we are privileged to today. How much he knew about an upcoming Redeemer is debatable. Yet based upon the Word of God given to him at the time he believed. He trusted God and was declared righteous. In our modern vernacular, he was saved. Again, no works, faith alone!
But does that mean works are unimportant? According to the Scripture, the answer is a resounding "no." Look at verse 21 in James 2. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?"
James now takes us to Genesis 22. Abraham now over 100 years old (Rom. 4:19) finally receives the promised child. The boy's name is Isaac (Gen. 21:4). Then one chapter later God gives arguably His most unusual command recorded anywhere in Scripture. "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you" (Gen. 22:2). Put yourself in Abraham's shoes. Not only is this your beloved son, but this is also the one through whom all the nations are supposed to come (Gen. 21:12; Rom. 9:7). It made no sense, but Abraham obeyed. He walked by faith and not by sight. Hebrews 11:19 says Abraham believed God would raise his son from the dead.
You know how the story goes. Abraham took his knife and stretched his son out on the altar. At the last minute the angel of the Lord said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (Gen. 22:12). At that moment (Gen. 22:13) Abraham looked and there was a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham offered up the ram in the place of his son as the offering. Obviously a clear reference to the upcoming Lamb of God, Jesus Christ who would in the future take our sin upon Himself and be offered as a substitute in our place.
Abraham's actions once again demonstrated total confidence in God's promises. He was already saved seven chapter's earlier (Gen. 15:6), but his obedience and trust in God's Word gave evidence to the reality of his profession. James even goes so far in verse 21 to say his faith was justified by his works through this event with Isaac.
Again, we learned two weeks ago not to confuse James and Paul. Both spoke of justification using the same word ("dikaioo"), but both used the world with different meanings. For Paul justification is the initial declaration of a sinner's innocence before God - in other words, how to get into a relationship with God. For James, justification is the ultimate verdict of innocence pronounced over a person at the last judgment - in other words what a relationship with God will ultimately look like. Genesis 22 says "God tested Abraham['s faith]" (Gen. 22:1). And through his actions, Abraham gave validation that his faith was genuine.
Verse 22, "You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected." The point that James is making here is that there is a connection between our faith and our works. For example, it is one thing to say we trust a pilot, it is quite another to allow him to take us for a ride in his plane! If we really believe, we will like Abraham cast ourselves fully into the arms of God and trust Him for the places He chooses to take us!
The sacrifice of Isaac made no sense. It defied common sense, natural affections and lifelong dreams. Yet Abraham obeyed because God commanded it. Through his works he demonstrated that he really trusted God. Do we act that way in regard to the commandments of God?
Restraining from sex before marriage between a couple that loves each other may make no sense. Giving financially in a sacrificial way to God's work to the point where it stretches us may make no sense. Forgiving someone entirely after the way they hurt us may make no sense. Giving all of our heart to God when there is so much other good stuff in the world may make no sense. Standing up against abortion and homosexuality and defending gender roles in the home may make you feel like an outcast and make no sense. Sharing Christ only to receive persecution may make no sense. Serving someone when you need help yourself may make no sense. When you are really hurting, trusting the sufficiency of God's Word alone and remaining under the trial may make no sense. But…
You see, true faith does not end when we pray a prayer to receive Christ. True faith does not act as a judge over the Bible doing only what seems logical and convenient. True faith rather shows itself in the way we conduct ourselves throughout our Christian lives, like Abraham, entirely trusting in God's goodness and love and wisdom as revealed in His words in Scripture.
Could James make it any clearer? Verse 24, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."
My friends, there will be people in hell who have made a "profession" of Jesus Christ. There is such a thing as bogus or spurious faith. Such a faith said James is "useless" (2:16, 20) and "dead" (2:17, 26). In Acts 8 we have the account of Simon. In Matthew 7 Jesus said, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Mt. 7:22-23).
So how do I know my faith is real? For starters true faith is a faith that relies upon Jesus Christ and gives Him more than just mental assent. Second, true faith as we have been learning produces action, spiritual fruit.
Paul in Romans 1:5 called true faith an "obedience of faith." Faith alone justifies, but faith that justifies us before God is never alone. True faith will always show itself in transformed life because true faith is a dynamic, powerful force through which a true believer is intimately united with Christ. Or in staying with James 2:24, "Faith justifies the person, and works justify his faith" (Elisha Coles, A Puritan Golden Treasury, p. 127).
2. THE FAITH OF RAHAB
I am almost out of time so let me take you quickly to the second point, "The Faith of Rahab." We take on a remarkable contrast to Abraham. From the revered patriarch of the faith to a Gentile prostitute from Jericho. But as I said in the introduction, opposite individuals but two people genuinely saved by God's grace. Look at verse 25, "In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?"
We need to piece together the events that led to Rahab's act of faith. Somehow in Jericho she heard about the true God of the Israelites. Most suggest it was through the messengers that would pass her way. She became disillusioned with her false gods and life of sin. She was open to true faith in the true God. Two men came from Joshua to spy out the land (Jos. 2:1). They visited Rahab's home (Jos. 2:1). Their identification with Israel and high moral standing confirmed her interest. She believed in the true God. In Joshua 2:11 she said, "For the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." Then she demonstrated that belief by doing as God would desire, even if it meant putting her life in danger. As verse 25 of James 2 indicates, she hid the spies (Jos. 2:6) and then assisted in their escape (Jos. 2:15-16). It is the point that James has been making: Works validate the genuineness of our faith. The faith came and then the works followed.
Verse 26, "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." Without works faith is nothing but a dead corpse with make-up. Breathing is a sign of life. Works is a sign of faith.
So as we go to the Lord's Table there are two things that I would like you to deeply consider.
First the apostle Paul said that this is a time of self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28). I trust most in this room would say they have faith in Christ, but as we learned over the past two sermons, does that faith line up with the true faith described by James? We are not talking about perfection. We are talking about direction. Is there a willingness and desire to fully trust the Word of God like Abraham and Rahab even when it may take you places that defy popular opinion or personal comfort? Do your actions give evidence that you are truly saved? Is there ongoing transformation? Could James cite you, like he did Abraham and Rahab as an example of faith that works? Is your faith alive because it is accompanied by works? Is there any known sin in your life? Is there any need right now for you to repent and come in line with the directives of God's Word, whatever that might be and wherever that might take you?
And second, have all of you trusted in God's wonderful grace through Jesus Christ to save you? Do you believe that He paid the penalty for all your sins? Have you received Him in your life by faith, eagerly awaiting for Him to produce fruit? If God is able and willing to save a person like Rahab, He can easily do the same for you. Rahab is a wonderful example of faith that works, and she is a wonderful example of God's abundant grace. A former prostitute now used by the living God! Did you know that God used Rahab in the genealogy of Jesus (Mat. 1:5)? And in the Hebrews 11, the chapter commonly called the "Hall of Faith," she is listed with the great characters of the Bible (Heb. 11:31). It doesn't matter where you came from and what you have done, God's grace is sufficient and will take you beyond what you deserve and what you have ever imagined because God is great and when He enters someone's life there will be, as James taught us, awesome changes.