Focal Passage- James 2:14-26
James 2:26 “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
James ends this section on his exhortation to works-based faith with a very vivid illustration. He likens faith without works to a body without a spirit. He says that faith that is not accompanied by works is the same as a lifeless corpse. It can and does do nothing. These are very serious matters. James is concerned that the lip service given to faith in Jesus Christ that is not also evidenced by actions will be the cause of many thinking they are entering heaven for all eternity but who are actually sentenced to an eternity of damnation. Instead we must all heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4 and put off the old, dead body and put on the new creation, one that is “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) We accomplish that when our faith is alive and active in our lives.
Study/Meditation: Given what both James and Paul say, why do you think love is the word that embodies the two greatest commandments?
*Father, remind me daily what it looks like to have a faith that is alive and active. Forgive me when I am lazy in this. Thank You for loving me so much that You will not leave me to this sort of ignorance. Amen.
James 2:25 “And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent then out by another way?”
It’s interesting that James uses as his examples both a Jew and a Gentile. Additionally, one was a law-following man and the other a pagan woman, one from the right side of the tracks and the other from the wrong. And yet they both had faith, they believed, and then each of their faiths were proven by something they did. God is no distinguisher of persons, and that includes what He requires of His children. All must have faith and all must demonstrate that faith with their works. What our pasts look like is of no consequence to God. What is of consequence is what we do with our present and our future in terms of bringing Him glory. We do that through our actions that come out of our changed hearts. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor—all are included in these holy expectations.
Study/Meditation: How are these particular examples—Abraham and Rahab—comforting to all believers? How do they put us all on equal footing?
*Father, thank You for choosing me, not based on whether I was good enough, but based only on Your love. Help me to show the world my changed heart in the things I do for Your glory. Amen.
James 2:24 “You see that a person is justified by works and not faith alone.”
This verse has often been a bit confusing to many believers since it seems to completely disagree with all that the Apostle Paul argues in his letters in terms of justification by faith alone through grace alone. Yet here is James saying that we are justified by works and not faith alone. How can both claims be present in the Bible? The answer is in the original language. The Greek word used for “justified” was “dikaioo,” but this word could be used in two senses (much like we might use the word “right” to mean either a “direction” or “correct”). Paul used it in one sense, “being acquitted” or “making one righteous,” whereas James used it in the second sense, a “vindication” or “proof” of righteousness. James is simply saying that faith is proven or vindicated by works. In other words, we are truly saved by faith, but that faith will be proven in our lives.
Study/Meditation: How might you answer someone who argued justification by faith alone meant you could make a profession of faith and then live any way you want? What would James say to that?
*Father, help me today and every day to live out my faith in You, demonstrating in all that I do that I have received Your unmerited grace. Amen.
Focal Passage- James 2:14-26
James 2:20-23 “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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.”
The one example James’ Jewish readers might have used to justify a position on faith-only salvation would have been Abraham, so Abraham is exactly the example James uses to show that faith plus works is necessary. While it is absolutely true that Abraham’s faith saved him and this faith was “counted to him as righteousness,” Abraham demonstrated this faith by his actions. God had promised him that his descendents would be as numerous as the sands of the seashore. Then God commanded that Abraham sacrifice to Him the very son He had given the old man to fulfill this promise. Abraham’s faith, his belief in God, was then shown in his obedience to God. His faith was, as James wrote, “completed by his works.” Likewise, our faith is completed by our works. To say I believe God and all that He says and then disobey what He says is not saving faith; it is not faith that has been proven. As stated in verse 22, our faith must be active, and it is active in our obedience.
Study/Meditation: Look back at Abraham’s response when God told him to go to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-14) How were Abraham’s instructions to his servants before going up to the mountain indicative of his faith? (Genesis 22:5)
*Father, thank You for the many examples You have given us in Your Word that saving faith is obedient faith. Help me in this life to show that I believe. Amen.
Focal Passage- James 2:14-26
James 2:18-19 “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!”
A Gallop poll in January 2012 read that 92% of Americans today say they believe in God. Nearly 80% of those same people identified themselves as Christians. James would ask each one of these 80% if this faith they claim in Jesus Christ has been accompanied by fruit, by good works to the glory of this Savior they claim to have received. He would most certainly ask the 92% who say they believe in God what good that was going to do them on the Day of Judgment, since they simply share a knowledge that even the demons have—demons who are scared to death in this knowledge! The Apostle is asking all of us to examine what we claim as compared to what we do because one will naturally follow the other. True, saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior will be followed by a changed heart that seeks to do good. There is not works without faith nor is there faith without works that will lead to eternity. In a child of the King, the two will exist together, and we must each examine ourselves to be sure that this is the case.
Study/Meditation: How are you going to go about examining your own heart to be sure that your faith and your works coincide to make you a child of the King?
*Father, help me as I examine my heart to see in it the places where I must persevere in my sanctification. Thank You for changing my heart when You called me to be Your own. Amen.
Focal Passage- James 2:14-26
James 2:15-17 “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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
James is expounding on his previous point, that simply giving lip-service to one’s faith does not make him or her a believer. What better way to demonstrate saving faith than by helping someone in need or by giving a kind word in a difficult situation? Christian faith is to be a selfless faith, a faith where we take ourselves out of the center of the equation because of what was done for us. True faith is hinged on the knowledge of what Christ sacrificed on our behalf. When that is central in our hearts and minds, doing for others and sacrificing ourselves and our comfort for them will be second nature. Remember, the very essence of the word “sacrifice” connotes pain, or at the very least, inconvenience. Christ sacrificed for us in the truest sense of the word. How can we but sacrifice for others in the least sense of it?
Study/Meditation: John makes this point further in his first letter, actually saying that those who do not love their brothers are in the darkness. How is being in the “darkness” the same as having a “dead faith”? (1 John 2:7-11)
*Father, help me respond correctly to the moments You give me to show my faith through my works. Forgive me for the times I have chosen myself over others. Amen.