Thursday, January 11, 2024

2024.01.11 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 2:14–26

Read James 2:14–26

Questions from the Scripture text: What does James 2:14 first ask about the faith that is being described here? What does it call those whom it is asking? Where did the idea come from, that there was faith? But what is this “faith” without? What does the verse conclude by asking about this “faith”? What hypothetical situation does James 2:15 use as an analogy? What does one of them hypothetically say (James 2:16)? But what does he hypothetically do? What does the end of verse 16 ask about his words? What point is this making about “mere-words-faith” (cf. James 2:17)? What will someone say, to divide the two (James 2:18)? What does this verse challenge that person to show? What is the implication about such faith? What does the writer say that he will show? By what? What does this imply about not only the “someone’s” faith but also about his works? To what new sort of faith does James 2:19 now refer? What particular point of theology does it believe/say? What does the verse say about that theological point? But who else believes it? What do they do, to show that they are not getting any benefit from this theology? How does James 2:20 now address this hypothetical man? What does verse 20 intend to prove (cf. James 2:17)? Who/what does James 2:21 offer for that proof (cf. Genesis 22)? What did Abraham’s works show (James 2:22, cf. Genesis 22:12)? What had previously been said about his standing (James 2:23, cf. Genesis 15:6)? When James 2:24 says “faith only,” what “faith” is it talking about (cf. James 2:14)? What was behind Rachel’s action in James 2:25 (cf. Hebrews 11:31)? How useful is the body in James 2:26? How useful is the “faith” in verse 26?

What if a “believer” does not care to obey God’s commandments? James 2:14–26 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these thirteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that anyone who claims to believe in Christ but remains unchanged does not actually believe in the actual Christ.

Royal liberty demonstrated by works. In the first half of the chapter, the Scripture had talked about the royal law and the law of liberty. Christ, Who saves, brings the believer into a life of obedience to His commandments. As James 2:1-13 taught, a believer must not show partiality in the church. But if someone does not obey the royal law, has he been made part of the kingdom? And if someone does not obey the law of liberty, has he been liberated? The rest of the chapter now answers, “no.”

Mere words are unprofitable. James 2:14 starts by asking about profit, not because we and our profit are primary, but because Christ is real. A faith that does not profit or does not save cannot possibly actually have been into Jesus Christ, or else our lives would be demonstrating that Jesus doesn’t make a difference. God forbid!

James 2:15-16 is not a lesson on how we need to love one another with more than words. That is true, but it is actually assumed that we know this in verses 15–16: if we are accustomed to loving with mere words and not actions, then we have reached a level of irrationality that these two verses don't even conceive of. Rather, “loving with mere words” is a quite obvious example to show that faith, also, must be more than mere words!

“Dead faith” (faith without works) is no faith at all. When James 2:17 talks about dead faith, it is using “dead” to refer to that which is not actually faith at all! Just as “love” which was mere words was not actually love at all! Reading James 2:18 in light of James 2:14-17, we see that the point is that the person who thinks that faith and works can be separated has neither actual faith nor actual works. The man who proposes to show one without the other may be sure that he has neither. Neither faith nor works can be separated from the other. Without faith it is impossible to please God (cf. Hebrews 11:6), and whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (cf. Romans 14:23).

Merely theological faith is not saving faith. James 2:19 reminds us that accurate theology is not, by itself, saving; or, the demons wouldn’t need to tremble. “God is one” is a reference to the Shema, the fundamental confession of Deuteronomy 6:4, which represents the whole of biblical theology. But the demon that agrees with Deuteronomy 6:4 is still not keeping Deuteronomy 6:5. Accurate theology is not faith, and there will be many in the lake of fire with the devil and his angels, who believed much accurate theology (as the devil and his angels do).

Faith without works is “fool’s faith.” We heard about “fool’s salt” in Matthew 5:13. The word translated “foolish” in James 2:20 not the same word, but it is conveying the same idea. It is actually the word for “empty” or “vain,” and the same word is used in the same way by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:21 Corinthians 15:141 Corinthians 15:58 (so much for the idea that there is tension between Paul and James!). Someone who thinks that he has faith without works simply does not have faith at all.

Faith with works is true faith. No, the works do not save. Genesis 22 does not somehow override Genesis 15:6, just as James 2:21-22 do not somehow negate or question James 2:23. Rather, God shows that Abraham was, indeed, justified through faith back in Genesis 15… by sustaining that faith to produce the works in Genesis 22. In justification, God called him His friend. In sanctification, God made him to live like His friend. And this is what produced the works in Genesis 22. This is why Hebrews 11:17–19 presents that very incident as an example of faith. That entire chapter lists example after example of faith being demonstrated by works. 

Friendship with God and union with Christ make a difference. Again, the only works that are actually “good” are works that proceed from saving faith. Saving faith will always demonstrate itself in works and true works can only proceed from saving faith. How could God making Abraham His friend not have made a difference in Abraham? And now, He calls us not only friends but children (cf. John 1:12, 1 John 3:1) through our union with Christ. 

Is it possible that this adoption would not make a difference in our works? Absolutely not! To try to separate works and faith is to discount friendship with God and union with Christ. So, while our works do not justify, any attempt to separate works from faith is hostile to the heart of biblical religion... Namely that God is making sinners into His friends by faith, that God is uniting sinners to His Son by faith! 

No ”faith only” faith. Though faith alone justifies, it is not actually faith if it is alone. The word “justified” can mean “vindicated,” as it may in James 2:24. But it really is just concluding the thought that began in James 2:14: that without works, there actually isn’t any faith.

James 2:25 picks another evidence listed in Hebrews 11 (cf. Hebrews 11:31)—perhaps selecting Rahab precisely because no one would have believed the words of this harlot if there were not actions demonstrating the genuineness of the words. 

James 2:26 makes a new comparison. It would be ridiculous to say that someone is still alive, after the soul has departed, just because their body is still there. So, it is also ridiculous to say that somebody has faith when there are no works together with that faith. Without the soul the body is not alive, and without works the faith is not alive. 

How is your friendship with God and union with Christ being displayed in your life? What difference has He made in you? 

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for the extent to which we treat faith in You as if it is merely an idea, or words, or accurate theology. In Your powerful and loving salvation, You turn sinners into Your friends, and even into Your children. Forgive us for assuring ourselves that we are Yours, even when we are comfortable living for ourselves. Grant unto us repentance. Work in our lives so that our own works will show the difference that You make when You save. For we ask this all through Christ, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP15 “Within Your Tent Who Will Reside?” or TPH461 “Blessed Are the Sons of God”

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