James 2:21-26 says “21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
In these last verses James is bringing his point to the end. Due to the fact that this whole chapter is one continual point you do have to look back to other verses to get the full picture of what’s going on.
Verse 21 says “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” James concludes his point by giving us some examples, the first of which as we can see from the verse is Abraham. Romans 4:2-3 says “2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” From these verses, and from the rest of Romans 4, we see that Abraham was not justified by works but by faith. Now you may be saying ‘but Andrew, the verse in James says that he was justified by works, is this not a contradiction?’ at first it may seem this way, but delving deeper into Gods word reveals all.
Justification is an important doctrine in the bible. Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is not a process; it is an act. Justification is not something the sinner does but rather something God does for the sinner when he trusts Christ. But how can you tell if someone is justified by faith if this justification takes place between the sinner and God privately? This is where Abraham comes into it. The justified person has a changed life and obeys God’s will. His faith is shown by his works. God knows the heart of a person and whether they are justified or not, but the justification spoken of in James 2:21 is a justification in the eyes of man. People saw his works and through this knew he had faith. His works did not justify him; instead his works showed he was justified. The second part of verse says “when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” I once read faith described like this:
Faith is not believing in spite of evidence; faith is obeying in spite of consequence
When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son what did he do? He willingly obeyed. Abraham knew the consequences, he knew he was going to lose his son, but he obeyed anyway; trusting that God had good reason for doing whatever He was doing. This was Abrahams work. You may be saying ‘well no-one actually saw Abraham put his son on the alter’ and in saying that you would be right, but we have a divine account which tells us all about it. Anyone who has read Genesis in the last few thousand years has read of Abrahams willing obedience. Everyone has seen his faith in obeying God and through this we see his justification. He was willing to do whatever God told him to do, no matter how difficult; if this is not evidence of a changed life and a living faith then I don’t know what is!
Verse 22 goes on to say “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” we can see through Abrahams willing obedience that his faith was a working one. his “faith wrought with his works”. There was a perfect relationship between Abrahams faith and Abrahams works. Someone once said ‘Abraham was not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that worked’. Abraham had a working faith, it was not dead, but instead it was ready to obey anything God told it to do. By faith Abraham was justified by God and his righteousness declared; by works he was justified before men and his righteousness demonstrated. Going back to verse 18 which says “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” We see here that Abraham was showing his faith by his works. Back in verse 22 we also see how “by works was faith made perfect?” in other words Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did. Imagine a picture that had been torn it two. One half of the picture was faith, the other half was works. Each piece on their own is not a complete picture; it’s only when they are brought together and put side by side that the picture is complete.
Verse 23 goes on to say “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3 both state this verse. We see that scripture was fulfilled which said that Abraham believed God. Abraham’s faith was never inactive; it was accounted to him for righteousness. His obedience gained him the title “the friend of God”. What a title! To be the very friend of God, to commune with Him and spend time with Him; this for the Christian is one of the greatest honours and privileges, and all because he had a working faith!
Verse 24 confirms this. The verse says “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only”. Now before I continue I want to make a note that this verse is still in context of the example of Abraham. Many people take this verse out of context to try and say that you can get to heaven through works. This however is wrong. The context of the verse is that of Abraham, why would James suddenly jump from an example in the past to a present comment that wasn’t relevant to what he had just said? The answer: he didn’t. Verse 24 is part of the Abraham example and is not to be taken out of context. This verse is simply pointing out that a justifying faith is a working faith. Taking it in context with the previous verses there were those who thought they had faith but could not prove it. This verse shows that to be justified in the eyes of men, to be able to prove you have faith, there has to be works. Just claiming a faith does not justify you. There needs to be evidence.
I cannot stress enough though that I am in no way, shape or form saying that you need good works to get to heaven. You cannot work your way to heaven, trying too shows that you are not fully trusting in God’s salvation. Works do not get you to heaven, before or after salvation. Works come about as evidence of a changed life. To prove your faith you have to work. God does not need proving too, He already knows your faith; works are for other people to see. Not to boast about, but instead to glorify God. You show your faith by what you say and do.
Verse 25 gives us another example. The verse says “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” this is another story from the Old Testament. This example deals with Rahab when she helped the Jewish spies escape when she found out that God was going to destroy the city. We see again that she showed her faith through her actions. Her deeds did not save her, the faith that spurred the deeds saved her.
The last verse in chapter 2 says “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” This is James conclusion to his point. As the body without the spirit is dead; so too is faith dead without works. The one relies on the other. You need both in order for them to be alive. A bicycle is capable of movement; but simply sitting on it (in most cases) will not make it go. It is not until you put your legs to work that you start to go somewhere. Sitting on the seat and putting your feet on the peddles but not doing anything is going to result in you falling off. This is like faith without works. However if you sit on the seat, put your feet on the peddles and start to do some work you’ll start to go forward. This is like faith with work. Not only will you go forward but you will be stable. A faith that is moving and working is a faith that will go far.
Look into your heart today. Search your faith and see how it measures up. Are you showing your faith through what you do? Can you see that faith without works is a dead faith? I pray that today you will assess yourself and see how your faith fairs. – Andrew.
Posted on September 23, 2012, in Andrew's Thoughts for the Day and tagged Abraham, Bible, Christ, Christian, God, Isaac, James, Jesus, justification, Lord, Old Testament, Rahab, Religion and Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.