James – Practicing Faith – 03 (“No Works, No Faith”)

1.    SCRIPTURE READING:

James 2:14-26 (ESV) ~“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 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? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 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. 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.”

2.    INTRODUCTION:

Whenever one reads the book of James, the writings of Paul come to mind. James says in 2:14 ~ “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”Again Paul says e.g. in Rom.4:5 ~ “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…”and in Gal.2:16 ~ “…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

The question is this: Are these two apostles saying two opposing things, or how must we understand this seemingly opposite viewpoints? Is justification by faith, as Paul claims, or by works, as James seems to say? 

Paul writes in Rom.5:12 ~ “…so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”James seems to say just the opposite ~ “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” This appears to be a gross contradiction.

3.    JUSTIFICATION AND WORKS:

We must always keep in mind, that whenever one encounters an apparent contradiction, it’s good to keep in mind a basic rule: Always first explore the possibility of a reconciliation between the two. Not all statements that appear to contradict actually do.

Take the two statements “Napoleon was a very big man” and “Napoleon was not a big man; he was a small man.”At first glance, these two sentences appear contradictory. The word “big” is equivocal, though. It can mean two different things. Napoleon was a big man regarding his impact in history, but was small inphysical size.

The word “justify”is no different. It has two meanings, not just one. In Rom.4:5 Paul’s use of the word “justify”in the Greek, is δικαιόω(daikaioo) which literally means, “to cause someone to be in a proper or right relation with someone else – ‘to put right with, to cause to be in a right relationship with. A second definition for justify is, to show (an act, claim, statement, etc.),to be just or right: The end does not always justify the means; to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded: Don’t try to justify his rudeness.

When using this last form of the word “justify”, we are asking for evidence; we want proof of something and in this case, of your “faith.” In other words, …I have faith, because I am justified and saved – not through works, but by grace (Paul) and therefore in order to proof that I am justified, you can see it through the works I’m doing.In James’ case, I want proof of justification – works (James). Therefore, first justification and then the fruit which is works – works that flow from thankfulness for my salvation given graciously by God ~ “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks”(Luke 6:45).

This external display demonstrates the quality of the man within. This is not justification in the sense of salvation. The good person bears testimony of his inner man by producing good. The cause therefore comes before the effectSalvation is the cause and it comes first, before it can be evidenced in a changed life or works.

4.    NO WORKS, NO FAITH (2:14-20):

Let us then focus on what James is saying to us in our Scripture reading for today. As in 2:4 James also asks a rhetorical question here in 2:14, in fact he’s asking two questions ~ What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”(James 2:14).

Without waiting for an answer, he follows his first two questions by asking a third question with an example ~ “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?”(James 2:15–16).

Still without waiting for an answer, he answers his initial question by saying ~ “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”(James 2:17).

James is therefore, saying that if you say that you have faith, but good works are not prevalent (Afrikaans: algemeen voorkom) in your life, your faith means nothing, in fact, one can wonder whether you really have faith. Faith cannot stand alone, it must be accompanied by works. Why? In 2:18-19, James motivates his statement by continuing to make the point that genuine, living faith in Christ results in a believer beginning to participate in good works ~ “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!” 

James’s argument here is entirely practical, because James challenges his unidentified opponent by asking him to show James any evidence for his faith without any works. It can’t be done. People who truly believesomething, act on what they claim to believe. Faith that doesn’t cause a person to act is a dead faith, not a saving faith. On the contrary, James writes ~ “I can show you what I believe by the good works that I do”(2:18).

  • Demons have faith:In Mark 1 Jesus said something that may come as a shock to some people, namely that demons have faith! What do they believe? For one thing, they believe in the existence of God. They expressed belief in the Divine ~ “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God”(Mark 1:24 – also see: 5:7; Acts 16:16–17). 
  • The Deity of Christ:They also believe in the deity of Christ. Whenever they met Christ when He was on earth, they bore witness to His sonship ~ “And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known”(Mark 3:11-12).
  • Demonstrated Fear before Christ:They also demonstrated fear before Christ ~ “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus ofNazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God”(Mark 1:23–24).
  • The Existence of a Place of Punishment:They believe in the existence of a place of punishment ~ “Andthey begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss”(Luke 8:31). 
  • Jesus Christ as Judge:And they also recognise Jesus Christ as the Judge (Mark 5:1–13). 

We must also take note that at no point does James require works to earn salvation, or to keep it. Rather, James points out that what we do is the result of what we trulybelieve. Simply claiming to have faith in Christ is meaningless; saving faith is a faith in action. James is arguing for exactly what Paul wrote in Eph.2:10 ~ “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God saved us by His grace alone, through faith alone – and not in any sense through works – but He planned all along for His believing children to do good works, “that we should walk in them.” That’s what true believers do.

In 2:20 James prepares to make his final arguments that genuine faith always results in good works. He asserts in rather blunt terms that those who disagree are foolish. He asks his challenger if he wants to be shown or see evidence that faith without works is a useless, dead faith.

5.    EXAMPLES OF TRUE FAITH (2:21-26):

As a final of his argument, James gave two Biblical examples of true faith: Abraham, the respected patriarch, and Rahab, the redeemed prostitute. He presented each example in the form of a question (again), anticipating the reader’s ready agreement.

In 2:21 he asks ~ “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?”James uses the example of Abraham, who proved his faith through deeds. Abraham didn’t actually sacrifice Isaac, but he bound and placed him on an altar in obedience to God’s command.  He proved his faith by his willingness to offer up his son Isaac. Thus, God found him faithful through his actions.

In 2:25, James gives the second example of true faith by mentioning Rahab – “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?”Rahab proved her faith by protecting the two Israelites – that was her work of faith.

In closure of his argument James says in 2:26 ~ “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

6.    CONCLUSION & APPLICATION: 

Paul writes in Gal.5:22-23 ~ “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

It is easy to love people who loves you. It is however something different to love your enemy, what the Bible actually calls you to do. Paul says in Phil.4:4 ~ “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”How much joy do you have when life gets a little bit tough on you? Let’s be practical: We can’t be joyful and rejoice when driving through a pothole – or can we? Yes, we can – we can rejoice because God will never forsake me, because He is my Provider. To be able to apply this practically in my life, I need to stop and think and then practically apply Scripture to my situation. 

My appeal to you, is to analyse the rest of this verse word by word and make it practical in and throughout your life.

God wants to produce fruit in our lives. He is the Vinedresser, Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. The branches are naturally attached to the vine; from the vine they get their support, their ability to produce fruit, and their very life. 

Jesus said in Joh.15:5 ~ “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.” That is the purpose of the vineyard – to produce “much fruit.”Good works follow salvation.

Although we cannot be saved byour good works, when we aresaved, we willproduce good works. Just as a baby will grow after birth, so a believer will grow after the new birth. We grow at different rates and in different ways, but a life lived in Christ always results in a life of growth. If a baby never grows, there is something very wrong. No one expects a baby to stay a baby forever. As he grows, the child begins to look more and more like his parents. In the same way, after salvation, we grow, and we begin to look more and more like our Heavenly Father. This is only possible as we “abide in Him”and allow Him to reproduce His character in us ~ “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”(Joh.15:4).

What does it mean to abide in Christ? There is only one way – we must submerge ourselves in the Word and ponder upon it and make it our own. It should be like the example of a teabag. The moment you pour boiling water on the bag, tea comes out which means that if you are submerged in the Word, and the Word abides in you, life will come forth and that life will carry you, protect you and guide you.

Good works do not produce salvation. Good works are the product of salvation. Jesus said to His followers, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”(Matt.5:16).

In order to summarise:

  • Salvation is a sovereign act of God:Salvation is a sovereign act of God – Titus 3:5 ~“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

When this happens, God gives the forgiven sinner a new heart and puts a new spirit within him ~ “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”(Ezek.36:26). From this point of view that we are not saved by works, we must realise that the previous practical implication that I gave you, are not ways to determine whether you are worthy of the kingdom of God. Being saved is a gift, and the practical application is a measuring stick to determine whether you have received the gift of salvation or not.

  • Faith without works is dead:Faith without works is dead. When a person says that he is saved – that he has faith, but his life reveals no evidence of good works, of a repentant heart, such a man has not been transformed by God. When someone has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, his life will demonstrate that new life ~ “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. Faith without works is dead because it comes from a heart that has not been regenerated by God”(Joh.10:27). Those who pay lip service to faith but who do not possess the Spirit will hear Christ Himself say to them ~ “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness”(Matt.7:23).

There is no conflict between James and Paul’s statements. We are justified by grace through faith, and the natural result of faith in the heart is works that all can see. The works that follow salvation do not make us righteous before God; they simply flow from the regenerated heart as naturally as water flows from a spring.There might be someone here who goes through this exercise and find himself coming short of being saved/born again. My advice: call on God, because only He can bestow the gift of regeneration/salvation.

Kobus van der Walt
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