"THE EPISTLE OF JAMES" Making Our Plans (4:13-17) INTRODUCTION 1. In the text for this study, James discusses the subject of making plans: 13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what [shall be] on the morrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye [ought] to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. 16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. 17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin. (James 4) 2. This subject is very relevant for us today, for we all make plans of one sort or another... a. Plans for college, jobs b. Plans for marriage, family c. Plans for vacation, retirement 3. Making plans, in of itself, is not wrong... a. Paul often made plans in regard to his travels - Ac 15:36; 18: 20-21; 1Co 16:5-9 b. In fact, making plans (or setting goals) is a key to success in any venture we may undertake in life 4. But there is a "right" way to plan, and a "wrong" way; and James discusses both! [First, let's consider the "right" way to "Making Our Plans"...] I. WE CAN SUBMIT TO GOD'S WILL A. I.E., SUBMIT OUR PLANS TO THE WILL OF GOD... 1. We can make our plans, but we should make them contingent to God's approval - "if the Lord wills" (15) 2. This is what Paul did a. "God willing" - Ac 18:21 b. "if the Lord permits" - 1Co 16:7 3. Saying "if the Lord wills" assumes our faith in two things: a. That God does have a will for us (even in mundane matters) b. That God can intervene (via providence) to carry out His will 4. The wisdom of making our plans contingent upon the will of God will become evident later, when we consider the "wrong" way to plan B. IF WE REALLY WANT OUR PLANS TO SUCCEED, THEN WE WILL SEEK FIRST TO DISCERN GOD'S WILL, AND PLAN ACCORDINGLY... 1. To a great degree, this is possible, for God wants us to: a. Understand His Will - Ep 5:17 b. Be filled with His Will - Col 1:9 c. Prove His Will - Ro 12:2 2. Of course, this relates especially to His "revealed" will a. Which pertains to matters right and wrong b. Which is found in the pages of the Bible c. When we know God's "revealed" will (from our study of the Bible), then we can act or plan accordingly d. Until then, the right way to plan is to show our submission to God by leaving our plans subject to His will 3. There is also God's "permissive" will a. Which pertains to matters not right or wrong, but good and better b. Even so, we should still show our trust and dependence upon God in such matters by committing our plans to His Will [Now let's look at the "wrong" way in "Making Our Plans"...] II. WE CAN IGNORE GOD'S WILL A. TO PLAN THIS WAY IS FOLLY (13-15) 1. Because life is COMPLEX (13) a. There are the complexities of TIME (today, tomorrow, when?) b. There are the complexities of ACTIVITIES (buy, sell?) c. So many decisions to make, so many mistakes might be made d. If it's possible to know God's will on any matter, that would increase the likelihood that our decisions and plans will be correct 2. Because life is UNCERTAIN (14a) a. No one has a guarantee of tomorrow 1) Whether there will even be one 2) Or what will happen b. Only God can bring about what He wills for the future without fail c. Since this is true, we should certainly desire to make plans that are in keeping with "His" plans! 3. Because life is FRAIL (14b) a. It is like a "vapor" - cf. Ps 39:5-6,11 b. How substantial is a "vapor" or "shadow"? c. How quickly we can succumb to sickness or an accident illustrates how frail we really are d. It is foolish, then, to think "we" have the strength within ourselves to "make" our plans happen - remember Jm 1:10-11 4. Because life is BRIEF (14c) a. "appears for a little time" b. This is something Job observed - Job 9:25-26; 14:1 c. Since life is so short, it is important that we do God's will and not our own - cf. 1Jn 2:17 B. TO PLAN THIS WAY IS BOASTFUL ARROGANCE (16a) 1. To plan without taking into consideration God's will is to set ourselves up above God Himself! 2. How could one be more arrogant than that? C. TO PLAN THIS WAY IS SIN (16-17) 1. It is sin because it involves arrogance and boasting which is evil - 16 2. It is sin because we who are Christians know better - 17 a. We know what is good: to plan with God's Will in mind b. To do otherwise is to sin! CONCLUSION 1. How do we make our plans? a. If we plan without considering the will of God, then we are foolish, arrogant, and sinful! b. If we make our plans subject to the approval of God, then we are wise, submissive, and righteous in God's sight! c. If we endeavor to plan as much as we can within the framework of God's "revealed" will, then we increase the likelihood of success! 2. What about your "plans" for eternity? a. There is no doubt what the Lord's will is on this subject - cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16; Ac 2:38; Ro 10:9-10; 2Pe 1:5-11; Re 2:10 b. We can be certain of "success" if we submit to God's will in the matters of faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and living a faithful Christian life c. But to ignore it is folly in view of life's UNCERTAINTY, FRAILTY, and BREVITY! Have you done "as" the Lord wills? (i.e., as "He" would have you do it?) Note: Parts of the material for this outline was adapted heavily from The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume 2, by Warren W. Wiersbe, pages 366-370.
God’s Longsuffering is Not Eternal
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
One of God’s most encouraging attributes is His longsuffering. The merciful patience of God Almighty gives His redeemed, albeit imperfect, church hope and support. Immediately following a reminder to the Christians in Rome that the Old Testament was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” Paul referred to God as “the God of patience and comfort” (Romans 15:4-5). Throughout the Old Testament, Bible writers portrayed God as longsuffering (meaning, “to suffer long with”), especially in His dealings with the Israelites, who constantly rejected His guidance (cf. Numbers 13-14; 16; 21:4-9). Jesus and the New Testament apostles and prophets also spent ample time magnifying God’s merciful patience (cf. Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20). The apostle Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [of Jesus’ Second Coming], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emp. added).
Unfortunately, the picture of God often painted in the 21st century seems to leave the impression that God’s longsuffering will go on forever. Portraits of God’s justice and vengeance often are neglected (Hebrews 10:26-39; Romans 12:19), while His compassionate patience toward sinners is so accentuated that God’s longsuffering is transformed into an eternal patience. Such a concept, however, stands in stark contradistinction to God’s revealed will.
The fact is, God will judge the world one day (Acts 17:30-31), and He will take “vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). His longsuffering is not an “eternal” suffering. The ungodly people of Noah’s day learned this point. God delayed His destruction of the world by water for many years (perhaps as many as 120 years; cf. Genesis 6:3) while Noah preached righteousness to them (2 Peter 2:5). Eventually, however, God’s longsuffering came to an end. Centuries later, God again revealed His mercy and longsuffering when He conversed with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah. Six times Abraham petitioned God not to destroy Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33), and six times God agreed to spare the city from His vengeance, even if as few as ten righteous people were found therein.
Time and again, God has dealt patiently with sinful mankind. Yet, we must recognize that God’s longsuffering with sinners eventually ends. It ended in the days of Noah. It ended for Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham. And, it eventually will end for all the unfaithful when Jesus returns (2 Peter 3:10). God most certainly is longsuffering, but such forbearance with wayward saints and alien sinners will end one day. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
God’s Ceramics Are More Than Pottery
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Scientists all over the world are constantly looking for better materials with which to build things. Companies need stronger metals, more flexible nylon, and tougher fabrics. This intense demand for better “building blocks” often makes it difficult for scientists to originate new ideas fast enough to keep pace. One approach that has greatly enhanced scientists’ ability to supply fresh, practical ideas has been to turn to nature and copy the structures found there. Copying design in nature has become so prevalent that the scientific community has named the field of study “biomimicry.” From the research done in this field, it has become obvious that nature’s Designer is possessed of far more creative ability than anything humanity has been able to produce.
Specific examples of excellent design in nature abound. In an article for Technology Review,Katherine Bourzac recently detailed one such example. In her article, titled “Ceramics That Won’t Shatter,” she mentioned the challenge that materials scientists face when working with ceramics. Ceramics can be an excellent construction material since they are hard and lightweight. One major drawback of using ceramics, however, is the fact that they fracture and break, much like a flower pot or dinner plate. Bourzac summarized this difficulty by saying that scientists are trying to find ceramics “that combine strength (a measure of resistance to deformation) with toughness (a measure of resistance to fracture)” (2008). Interestingly, researchers have discovered exactly what they are looking for in “the porous but resilient material called nacre that lines abalone shells.”
Bourzac explained the marvelous design of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl. It is a combination of calcium carbonate, which breaks very easily, and special natural glue. Combined, these two substances are “3,000 times tougher than either constituent.” The efficiency of this composite material is amazing. Robert Ritchie, a scientist from the University of California who co-led the research and development of the new biomimetic ceramic, said: “When nature makes composites, the properties are better” (as quoted in Bourzac). The list of possible applications for the new ceramic is virtually endless. The new material could be used to make lightweight automobile frames, airplane hulls, bulletproof vests, and military vehicle armor.
Ritchie and his team are still working to perfect the new ceramic that is based on the natural mother-of-pearl structure. He noted that in nature, the ceramic has structures that are “smaller and closer together,” qualities that the team hopes to mimic in newer versions of their ceramic. The researchers are optimistically hopeful that they can come even closer to designing a ceramic that can be mass-produced, and that combines the strength and toughness of the natural material.
While the discovery of a new, efficient ceramic is interesting, it pales to insignificance in light of the necessary implication that should be drawn from such a discovery. If brilliant scientists have only recently discovered this technological wonder of the natural world, and they cannot mimic the structure as effectively as nature constructs it, then it must be admitted by the honest observer that nature’s Designer possesses superior mental abilities to those of the scientists. And yet, as clear and straightforward as this implication is, millions of people will utilize technology based on God’s original designs, but claim that random, chance processes of evolution should be given the credit.
In the Old Testament book of Job, the Bible records one of the most interesting verbal exchanges in all of human history (chapters 38-42). Job wanted an answer from God about why he was suffering. God spoke to Job with a series of questions that Job could not possibly answer. God asked where was Job when God hung the foundation of the world on nothing (38:4)? Could Job command the morning to occur or cause the dawn to break (38:12)? Could Job count the clouds (38:37) or cause the hawk to fly (39:26)? After God’s intense questioning, Job realized that he could not begin to answer God’s questions, much less possess the power to accomplish the things that are necessary for the Universe to continue to exist. Job responded to God by saying: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.... Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know” (42:2-3, emp. added). We in the 21st century would do well to learn from Job’s wise response. The fact that we are just now scratching the surface of the technology found in a “simple” abalone shell should force us to humble ourselves and worship nature’s divine Designer.
Bourzac, Katherine (2008), “Ceramics That Won’t Shatter,” Technology Review, [On-line], URL:http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/21767/?nlid=1561&a=f.
|by||Caleb Colley, Ph.D.|
While it is true that God is loving (Romans 8:39), merciful (Psalm 57:2-3), and willing to offer His grace to all (Titus 2:11), one striking characteristic of the Almighty is His fierce anger. The most common Hebrew term for anger is ’ap, which can be used to denote either divine or human anger (Genesis 27:45; Numbers 11:1, et al.). The term refers to “nostril,” which the ancients thought to be the locale of anger (Harrison, 1979, 1:127), while the word ’anap (which is used exclusively to denote the anger of God; Deuteronomy 4:21, 1 Kings 11:9) means “to breathe hard.” The Bible writers clearly have revealed that God is capable of being angry with a righteous indignation (see Miller, 2003). Consider a sampling of the passages that bear out this idea:
Deuteronomy 29:27-28: “Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day” (emp. added).2 Chronicles 29:10: “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us” (emp. added, cf. 30:8; 32:26).Nehemiah 9:17: “They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them. But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage. But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (emp. added, cf. Psalms 103:8; 145:8, et al.).Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (emp. added).
God’s fierce anger is such an essential aspect of His divine nature that Bible writers (and people whose words are recorded in Scripture) sometimes referred to “the wrath,” knowing that readers would understand exactly Whose anger was under consideration. Consider the words John the Baptizer spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7; cf. Numbers 1:53; Joshua 22:20). In John 2:14-17, we read of Jesus’ righteous indignation at those who turned God’s house into a “house of merchandise.” Christ certainly knew how to utilize anger properly, thereby giving us an example of how one’s temper can be used to the glory of God (see Butt, 2001). Paul instructed the Ephesian Christians: “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger has its place. It can be greatly beneficial, and God is our perfect example in this area. What is it about the anger of Christ that makes it righteous?
Observe that, unlike many humans, God does not become angry because of the “heat of the moment” or because He possesses a confusing, constantly fluctuating emotionality. On the contrary, God’s anger is rationally retributive. His anger is His direct, calculated response to sin. Nowhere is His anger observed more clearly than in the pages of the Old Testament, where we read often of God exhibiting His anger at the children of Israel in a very demonstrative and graphic manner. Remember, however, that God never became angry at the children of Israel unless they breached their covenant with Him; if God was angry, it was Israel’s fault (see Deuteronomy 11:17; 29:24-28; Ezra 8:22; Nehemiah 13:18, et al.).
The psalmist wrote that God is “angry with the wicked every day” (7:11). F.K. Farr stated regarding the English word “anger”: “As…denoting God’s ‘anger,’ the English word is unfortunate so far as it may seem to imply selfish, malicious or vindictive personal feeling. The anger of God is the response of His holiness to outbreaking sin. Particularly when it culminates in action is it rightly called His ‘wrath’” (1956, p. 135).
The redemptive work of Christ on the cross does not indicate that God relinquished His wrath in New Testament times. On the Day of Judgment, His wrath will be exercised against the unrighteous. Paul said: “…He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31). We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), and if we are saved, our salvation through Christ will be salvation from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9). In a sense, the wrath of God already rests upon impenitent humans, because they have rejected the only means of salvation available to them. John the Baptizer said: “…he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Paul wrote: “…forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thessalonians 2:16; see Simpson, 1988, p. 1135).
How wonderful it is to serve a God Who understands all of our emotions perfectly, to learn from His wisdom, to hold dear His utter hatred of evil, and to obey His command to be cautious in how we act upon our anger (Ephesians 4:26-31; James 1:19).
Butt, Kyle (2001), “Even Jesus Had a Temper,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/1611.
Farr, F.K. (1939), “Anger,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson) 1:135.
Harrison, Roland K. (1979), “Anger,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans) 1:127.
Miller, Dave (2003), “God’s Fierce Anger,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2242.
Simpson, John W. (1988), “Wrath; anger,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans) 4:1135.
Published in The Old Paths Archive
THE DUAL REQUIREMENTS OF FAITH AND WORKS
By Dub McClish
These verses on the interrelationship of faith and works at once comprise one of the best-known and most controversial sections of the epistle of James. The very way in which James approached this subject implies that it was also one of considerable controversy in the first century. Protestant denominationalism has largely ignored this section of Scripture because it is one of supreme embarrassment to it. To a great degree this predominant attitude may be traced to Martin Luther, the sixteenth century reformer. The story is rather well known that in his overreaction to the meritorious works taught by Roman Catholicism (in which he was once a principal), he misread Paul’s affirmations concerning salvation by faith in Romans as salvation by “faith alone.” Thus, when he came upon the passage before us that denied his “faith only” perversion and emphasized the proper role of the works of man in his salvation, he rejected the teaching of James as contradictory to that of Paul. In fact, he labeled the letter of James “a right strawy epistle,” and disavowed its equality with Paul’s letters (an apt demonstration of the power and danger of blind prejudice).
The background of this context is seen as early as verses 22–25 of chapter 1. There James affirmed that men must not only hear, but do the Word of God, “the perfect law of liberty,” if they are to be blessed of God. Verses 26 and 27 further indicate that worthwhile and pure religion as defined by God requires more than mere profession. It is rather seen in such works as controlling the tongue, helping the helpless, and in all ways behaving above reproach. Chapter 2, verses 1–13 continue this theme, emphasizing the practical meaning of faith as it pertains to equal treatment of brethren. In the section before us, both argument and illustration demonstrate that faith, the very basis of the Christian religion, actually exists only as it works or acts.
Exegesis of James 2:14–26
Verse 14: A Twofold Question
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” With this arresting twofold question James introduced his inspired discussion of the relationship between faith and works as they pertain to salvation. He set forth a hypothetical man who professed faith, but who was inactive and did not work. Even if such a so-called “faith” were granted to be in some sense real, how would it benefit anyone, including its professor? What good would it do? The implied answer is a resounding negative—“None whatsoever”!
James asked a second question about this hypothetical man and his “faith”: “Can faith save him?” Of course, a man is saved by faith, as the New Testament teaches consistently. However, James was asking if a do-nothing, inactive, all-talk-and-no-work “faith” could save? The American Standard Version says, “Can that faith save him?” Again, the implied answer is definitely, “No, it cannot”!
Verses 15–16: An Illustration
“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” To illustrate how worthless a non-working faith is, James suggested this hypothetical situation. The one who claims to have faith, but will not work, will dismiss a naked and hungry fellow-Christian with empty words of blessing instead of supplying the items needed. He may even congratulate himself on his sympathy and helpfulness toward those who are unfortunate. The question of verse 14, “What doth it profit?” is then repeated with the same negative answer implied. Such a “faith” is of no worth whatsoever. The illustration used by James focuses attention on the Christian’s responsibility to help the helpless as ability and opportunity allow, a theme James had already introduced in 1:27 and that the New Testament teaches throughout (e. g., Mark 14:7; Acts 2:44-45; Gal. 2:10; 6:10; Eph. 4:28; et al.).
Verse 17: A Conclusion
“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” As if the implied answers to the questions he had propounded were not forceful enough, James drew the conclusion for his readers. As illustrated in verses 15–16, a faith that does not busy itself in works that please God is not worthy to be called “faith.” Empty words do not help the helpless. Likewise, any claimed “faith” without accompanying works is of no value. It is actually dead, nonexistent. Just as pure religion does not exist apart from doing God’s will (1:22–27), so true, living faith is impossible without appropriate works. In this verse James introduced a thought to which he repeatedly returned in the remainder of this section of Scripture: faith without works is dead.
Verses 18–19: A Hypothetical Claim and a Challenge by James
“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. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” In his third suggested hypothesis in this context, James wrote of a possible attempt to answer his arguments (some may have actually thus argued on the subject). The respondent to James might say, “One person might approach God through his faith, while another might do so through his good deeds, and both might please God.” This I’m okay, you’re okay approach to religion is commonly held at present. The Protestant branch of sectarianism holds that men are saved by faith alone, while the Roman Catholic branch contends for salvation by meritorious works. They have both become so maudlin and convictionless in their hyper-tolerance that generally they opine that either position, if sincerely followed, is accepted of God.
James immediately responded to this baseless, irrational argument by issuing a challenge to his respondent: “Demonstrate, prove your faith without your works.” Of course, such was and is impossible. “Faith” in the abstract is similar to electricity in that it cannot be literally seen itself. Both are “seen,” demonstrated, only in the effects or works, which they produce. Without works faith is only a claim. However, James correctly argued that by his works he (and therefore, any person) could demonstrate his faith. The implication is that only by one’s actions can one prove and demonstrate his faith.
James further answered his hypothetical respondent by suggesting a humorous illustration of “faith” that is inactive. He employed considerable sarcasm in applying his illustration.
James granted that there is a certain kind of “faith” that may exist apart from good works. It is the kind that intellectually acknowledges the existence of one true God. It is even commendable to have this kind of faith as long as one is not content with only this measure of faith. However, this is the same kind of faith in God the devils (“demons,” ASV) have and they have such strong faith that they tremble at the very thought of God. This fact is illustrated repeatedly in the New Testament. As the Lord and the apostles cast demons out of their human hosts, the demons acknowledged God and/or Christ (Mat. 8:29; Mark 1:24; Acts 19:15; et al.). They tremble in terror of their horrible eternal fate at the Judgment (Mat. 25:41).
By means of this reference to the faith of demons, James demonstrated the folly of thinking that mere intellectual assent or belief is sufficient to save. The devils have such a faith, but they do not serve or obey God. Such faith does not avail to salvation—whether in demons or men. Therefore, one who boasts of his faith, but does not serve God through good works is no better off regarding eternal salvation than are the demons themselves. How a stronger demonstration than this of the insufficiency of mere intellectual faith could be set forth, I cannot imagine!
Verse 20: A Conclusion Repeated
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Here James returned to the conclusion previously stated (v. 17). He prefaced this conclusion by shaming one who would claim to believe and even argue such a foolish premise that faith could either be demonstrated, or in reality, even exist, without (“apart from,” ASV) works. It is such an obvious matter that everyone should be able to see and willing to acknowledge that works must always accompany true faith. Nicoll has an excellent description of the sense of James’ opening words of this verse: “‘Dost thou desire to know,’ i.e., by an incontrovertible fact; the writer then, like a skilled disputant, altogether demolishes the position of his adversary by presenting something which was on all hands regarded as axiomatic.”1
One who gainsays this point is vain (literally, “empty-headed”)—he has taken leave of his rational faculties! Due to a Greek textual variation, in place of dead the ASV has barren. However, the sense differs little with either word: that which is dead is barren, unproductive, useless and that which is useless is, in practicality, dead. Such is the “faith” of one who does not work for God.
Verses 21–24: Abraham, an Illustration of Living Faith
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar” (v. 21)? To illustrate that living faith requires action, James introduced Abraham and his faith. How was he justified? Not merely by a profession, but by a proof of his faith. While we see this principle in other events of Abraham’s life, it was principally and ultimately seen in his offering of Isaac upon the altar. When Abraham raised his knife to slay Isaac for the commanded sacrifice, God’s angel told him, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12, emph., DM).
“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” (v. 22). James was quick to point out that he was not intending to de-emphasize the faith of Abraham, but to emphasize it in its proper perspective with his works. He argued that faith cooperated and interacted with his works for a perfect blending of the two elements. His mighty faith in God caused him to do what God commanded and his works served as the perfect proof of his faith. His faith would have been unperfected, incomplete, thus dead, had he not done the work God commanded him to do. Abraham’s faith was so powerful that he reasoned that God would raise Isaac up again if he killed him as a sacrifice (Heb. 11:17–19).
“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” (v. 23). The statement of God to Abraham to which James referred is found in Genesis 15:6: “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Interestingly, God did not say this to Abraham after he had offered Isaac, but perhaps 20 years before Isaac was even born. Was James confused, thinking that God had counted Abraham’s faith for righteousness only after he offered Isaac, instead of earlier? Hardly.
Even before the episode in Genesis 15 God had given Abraham the great threefold promise, each part of which required an heir for fulfillment. Yet he and Sarah were now in their old age and still childless. The promise of God immediately precedent to Genesis 15:6 was that Abraham’s seed would be as numberless as the stars of the heavens. It was this promise that Abraham believed without question, in spite of the seeming impossibility of its fulfillment, which belief was counted to him for righteousness (i. e., right-doing). In other words, his faith itself was counted as an act of obedience (cf. John 6:29) since there was nothing further demanded of him at the moment by God except to wait. Guy N. Woods has some helpful comments on this verse:
This was affirmed of Abraham after the illustrious patriarch had accepted, without question, and despite his childlessness, and the advanced ages of himself and his wife Sarah, God’s promise of vast posterity. Not knowing at the time how such could be, he nevertheless believed that it would be and stumbled not at the promise of God in unbelief. This scripture (Gen. 15:6) is declared to have been fulfilled when Abraham’s faith was made perfect. It is vitally important to observe when the scripture referred to was fulfilled. Though Abraham was earlier (Gen. 15:6) acknowledged as a believer, and his faith “reckoned” for righteousness, it was not until later (Gen. 22:1-19) that his faith was consummated (made perfect) in the act of obedience involving Isaac. Abraham believed God, prior to this act of obedience; i.e., he fully accepted God’s word, and relied implicitly on the promises which it contained; and, as a result, his faith “was reckoned unto him for righteousness…” “To reckon” (elogisthe) is to regard, deem, consider, account; hence, God deemed, considered, regarded Abraham’s faith as righteousness (right-doing). Faith itself thus became an act of obedience; which, in its exercise, and when, at the moment, there were no additional duties devolving upon Abraham, God accepted as proof of Abraham’s devotion. One must not from this assume that the exercise of belief bestowed upon Abraham blessings apart from and independent of any obedience; though this conclusion is often drawn, it is an erroneous and hurtful one. In the nature of the case, the promise of great posterity involved matters which would require considerable time for their development; hence, there was nothing more, at the moment, for Abraham to do but to accept, without hesitation, the assurances of such from God. This, he did; and his acceptance thereof became an act of righteousness which God, in his turn, accepted, and put to Abraham’s account for righteousness (right-doing). It is a violent perversion of this passage and historic incident from it to assume that because Abraham’s faith was accepted as an act of righteousness where there was nothing else required of him at the time that in our case faith will suffice without the performance of those conditions which are required of us now.2
Notice that James declared that the faith which God recognized and counted for righteousness in Abraham was not perfected, consummated, until he proved it in his obedience concerning the offering of Isaac. Thus while a degree of faith in the sense of belief or trust may reside in one before obedience, it is not a perfected, saving faith until it proves itself in obedience, as with Abraham—“faith without works is dead.”
Note the great honor God conferred on Abraham in calling him “the friend of God.” The point is not that Abraham befriended God in believing in Him, but that God claimed Abraham as His friend due to his faith, perfected in his works. Through Isaiah, God addressed Israel, saying, “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend” (Isa. 41:8). Jesus laid down the same basis on which he would call men His friends: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). In man’s relationship to Deity, it is more than merely an “honor” to be called “friend of God”; it is an earned privilege! God calls a man His friend, not because of the loud claim of “faith,” but because of the proof of faith in obedience.
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (v. 24). From all of the foregoing arguments and illustrations James had presented there could be but this one rational, correct conclusion. Note that James moved from the illustration of this truth in Abraham to the universal application of it: “a man,” that is, any man, all men. Any man who seeks to be justified in the sight of God will find it only through a faith that works, not by faith alone.
It is exceedingly interesting that inspiration has foreseen every false doctrine the devil could ever invent and has answered it in the Bible! It is especially intriguing to see that sometimes inspired men have used the exact terminology false teachers would use centuries later to formulate their false doctrines. An example of this is seen in the false claim that once a man is saved it is impossible for him to “fall from grace.” However, fifteen centuries before John Calvin introduced this doctrine, Paul had written that saved people could fall from grace: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
The statement of James in verse 24 is another illustration of the same phenomenon. The doctrine of salvation by “faith only” is generally credited to Martin Luther, the prince of sixteenth century reformers. It has captured practically all of Protestant denominationalism. A necessary corollary to this doctrine is a denial of the necessity of any act of obedience (particularly baptism) as a condition of salvation or receiving remission of sins. It is a source of wonderment that James used the very phrase Luther would adopt, “faith only,” and declare, in direct contradiction to Luther, that men are not justified by “faith only”! Abraham is “proof positive” that God does not justify or save men on the basis of mere professed, “intellectual” faith, but on the basis of works that demonstrate true, living faith.
Verse 25: Rahab, a Further Illustration of Living Faith
“Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” Just as Abraham was not justified by faith alone, but by works that proved andperfected his faith, so it was with Rahab. Perhaps Abraham and Rahab were selected to show that whether one is wealthy and powerful or from the lowest station in life, justification before God comes not through faith only, but through a working faith. Perhaps these two were chosen as respective representatives of those who are among the chosen people of God and those who are of Pagan origin, again showing that all, believers and unbelievers alike, are justified upon the same principle—an obedient, working faith.
Rahab is a remarkable example of the power of faith. Though a resident of the heathen city of Jericho around 1500 B.C. and a participant in the vile occupation of harlotry, through her faith she rose above those evil influences to be among those through whom the promised seed of Abraham would come to bless all nations (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:16; Mat. 1:5). When Joshua sent the spies into Canaan in preparation for invading it, Rahab hid them and helped them escape certain death in Jericho. Through her faith in the God of whose wonders and might she had heard, she believed her city would be destroyed and she exacted a promise from the spies that she and her family would be spared (Jos. 2:1-14). Her faith was so great that the Hebrews writer included her in his list of the great heroes and heroines of faith (Heb. 11:31). Again, the point of it all made by James was that true faith, justifying faith, is more than a mere profession. Rahab’s faith was living and vital as seen in her works, which were prompted by and were in harmony with her faith.
Verse 26: A Final Conclusion
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” In order to emphasize the truism that “faith without works is dead” for the third time in this context, James used an analogy. He alluded to the body and spirit of man. “Body” refers to the physical frame and structure of man. It is elsewhere described as a “tabernacle” that will be dissolved or put off at death (2 Cor. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:13-14). The human body serves as a tabernacle or house for the “spirit,” the immortal nature or part of man. While it was not the primary aim of his words to do so, James incidentally provided a clear and most concise definition of both life and death: When the body and spirit are united life exists. When the body and spirit are separated death occurs. Our human parents gave us our bodies through God’s law of procreation (Gen. 1:28), but our spirits (immortal souls) are given us by God (Ecc. 12:7; Heb. 12:9). At death the body, which is made from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), goes to the grave to decay into dust from whence it came (Ecc. 12:7). However, the spirit of man lives on, never to die, in the vast realm of eternity, either with God in Heaven or with Satan and his minions in Hell (Mat. 25:46).
The last phrase of this verse is the grand summation and conclusion of the questions, hypotheses, arguments, illustrations, and analogies employed by James beginning with verse
14. Even as a person is dead when his body is without his spirit, so is faith dead when it is without its appropriate works. One must deny both inspiration and reason to allege that living, justifying, saving, perfected faith exists without its accompanying works.
Exposition on Selected Themes in James 2:14–26
Works as used by James
There can be no doubt about the point that James was making: works are necessary to validate and complement faith. Real faith—living, productive, saving faith—is faith that works. Workless faith is dead. However, there are at least five kinds of works discussed in the New Testament. It is both appropriate and important to determine just what sort of works James envisioned.
(1) Hypocritical religious works were part of the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day. The Lord soundly rebuked such pretended piety that was actually done, not to please God, but to be seen of and to draw praise from men (Mat. 6:5; 23:5). James did not commend a kind of works that Jesus condemned so we can eliminate this as the kind of works that must accompany saving faith.
(2) Works of human merit or goodness by which one might seek to be justified apart from submission to the will of Christ and cleansing by the blood of Christ are referred to more than once by inspired men. It was this kind of works which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Clearly, the works here are deeds a man might do and then boast that he had saved himself, had earned God’s grace, rather than receiving salvation as the gift of God through [the] faith. The same kind of works is in view in Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Since Paul, inspired by the same Holy Spirit as was James, declared that we are not saved by our own good works or goodness apart from the grace and mercy of God, it is certain that James was not advocating this kind of works as the accompaniment to faith.
(3) Works of the law of Moses are a prominent subject in the New Testament, especially after the establishment of the church. Much of the Jewish population of the church constantly strove to bind the works of the law of Moses upon Christians as necessary to salvation. One of the mightiest battles of the first century revolved around this controversy. A major theme of Paul’s letter to Rome was the refutation of this doctrine. He wrote: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds [works] of the law” (Rom. 3:28). His message to the Galatians was the same, but even more explicit: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, butby the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Again, sincethe inspired Paul most definitely said that men are not and can not be justified by the works of the law of Moses, these are not the works James advocated.
(4) The works of ungodly men, which we may call “evil works” are mentioned in various contexts. Paul wrote of the “works of darkness” (Rom. 13;12; Eph. 5:11) and of the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19). The Lord spoke of men who “. . . loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). All such works are ungodly and are inspired of the devil. Servants of God can have nothing to do with such vile deeds so they are obviously not the works commended to us by James.
(5) Works that fulfill the commands of God are emphasized throughout the New Testament. The Christ knew that He must do such works: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, whenno man can work” (John 9:4). All men must do the “works of God” (i. e., the works commanded by God) (John 6:27-28). Jesus was speaking of such works when He told the apostles, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”(John 14:15).
While Paul taught that we are not saved by works of the law of Moses (Gal. 2:16) or works of our own merit (Tit. 3:5), he most definitely taught that works of obedience are necessary for salvation: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phi 2:12). Peter had the same righteous works in view in his statement at the house of Cornelius: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35).
This kind of works is what James emphasized in his first chapter when he stressed that God blesses the “doer of the work” and not merely the hearer of the Word (Jam. 1:25). He then specified some of these works of God (controlling the tongue, helping the helpless, living a pure life - vv. 26-27) without which men practice vain religion . It was such righteous works (commandments) of God to which James referred in his hypothetical illustration of living faith (2:14-18). Likewise, it was to such obedient responses to God’s will to which James referred in Abraham and Rahab that constituted the works by which they were saved and (by implication) apart from which they would not have been saved (vv. 21-26).
The Alleged Contradiction Between James and Paul
While more attention will be given to this question in another chapter in this volume, we will do well to give brief notice to it here. As indicated in the introduction of this article, at least since the sixteenth century it has been charged that James’ teaching on salvation by works contradicted Paul’s teaching on salvation by faith. This allegation has arisen from at least two crucial misunderstandings of Paul’s teaching: (1) In various places Paul declared that men are saved “by faith” (e. g., Rom. 3:28; 5:1; et al.). Generally, as a reaction to the corrupt system of meritorious works native to Roman Catholic theology, the Reformers, led by Martin Luther, decided that Paul was actually teaching justification by faith alone. Thus, Luther added the word “alone” after “faith” in such places as Romans 1:16 and 3:28 when he issued his translation of the New Testament in 1522. Numerous examples of this fundamental misunderstanding are found in the Protestant creed books, one of which declares, “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.”3 With this misconception (involving corruption of the New Testament text), it is no wonder that Luther saw a contradiction in the words of James: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (2:24).
(2) In various places Paul declared we are not saved by works (e. g., Rom. 3:27-28; 4:4-6; Gal. 2:16; et al.). Once more, following the lead of Luther, Protestant theologians generally have indiscriminately and mistakenly concluded that any and all “works” are thus excluded in obtaining justification. Again, given this erroneous view, James appears to be in irreconcilable conflict with Paul.
The truth of the matter is that inspired writers did not and could not contradict each other and James did not contradict Paul. However, he most assuredly contradicted the common Protestant misunderstandings of Paul. Neither Paul nor any other inspired writer ever taught salvation by “faith only,” although they indeed consistently taught salvation by faith. Both of the letters of Paul that are held by Protestants to be the principal sources of justification by “faith only” (Romans and Galatians) contain strong disclaimers of any such doctrine. In the opening and closing words of his letter to Rome Paul set forth the kind of faith that justifies as obedient (i. e., working) faith (1:5; 16:26). In the very heart of his argument to the Galatians he taught that the faith that avails anything before God is one that works through love (5:6). Thus, Paul taught that faith standing alone avails nothing. It is almost as though Paul anticipated the “faith only” error and placed these safeguards against it in these letters so that men would be without excuse in so misconstruing him, as indeed they are!
When we understand that the works which cannot and do not save us were clearly identified by Paul as works of the law (Rom. 3:27-28) and works of our own righteousness or merit (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), then we can understand that not all human works are excluded by Paul as conditions of salvation. Further, when we understand that the kind of works by which James said we are saved (2:24), as already demonstrated, are works of obedience to God (thus not works of the law or works of merit), we can understand that such works ever have been and still are necessary to salvation.
Hebrews 11, often called the “roll of the heroes of faith,” well illustrates this principle.
Each person mentioned was one of faith, but in each case that faith was demonstrated by works of obedience to God. Abraham and Rahab, both used by James to illustrate that justification is by works and not by faith only, are among those heroes of faith. Both of them were commended for a faith that was demonstrated by their works of obedience (Heb. 11:8, 17-19, 31).
Just as Paul taught salvation by faith, but not by “faith only,” likewise James taught salvation by works, but not by “works only.” The perfect blending and balance of the two is seen in Paul’s statement, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal 5:6).
The Twofold Application of Faith Plus Works
The principle, “faith without works is dead,” applies with equal force in two directions. (1) The contextual application is primarily to Christians. James makes the point in an unmistakable manner that a lazy, inactive, all-talk-and-no-action approach to religion is worthless to its possessor, to God, and to the world. Pity the saint (or the congregation) who has the ability and the opportunity to help some helpless person or to support one who needs help to preach the Gospel, but he merely mouths a pious blessing upon him while withholding his assistance. Pity the saint who rests his salvation on “being a member of the church of Christ,” but he lets others do his part of the visiting, giving, studying, encouraging, attending Bible classes and worship faithfully, and such like. Such a one has a dead and barren faith and the answer to James’ question, “Can that faith save him?” (2:14) is a resounding “No”!
(2) That justification is not by “faith only” also applies to the alien sinner. The advocates of salvation by “faith only” insist that salvation - forgiveness of sins - obtains at the moment one believes in Christ, apart from, without, and before any further acts of obedience. (Verily, we know of no religious error that is more fatal or damning in its consequences than this one!) However, James irresistibly argued that such a “faith” is dead, barren, unproductive. Obviously, a dead and unproductive “faith” cannot effect or produce anything, including salvation. Thus, for the alien sinner who seeks to be saved short of any work of any kind (thus by “faith only”), the answer to James’ question, “Can that faith save him?” is also a resounding “No”!
It is apparent that one aim of the Protestant creeds and preachers over the years in their cry of “no works/faith only” salvation has been the exclusion of baptism in water as a condition of forgiveness of sins. It is consistently classified by such sectarians as a “meritorious work of man” and is thus allegedly proscribed in Romans 4:4-6, Ephesians 2:8-9 and similar passages. (We have a letter in our files from a Baptist preacher in which he refers to baptism for remission of sins as a “heresy.”)
Our first response to this is to observe that this application of these “no works” passages places them in direct conflict with the several explicit statements in which baptism is said to be a condition of salvation (e. g., Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21; et al.).
Our second response is to demonstrate that baptism in water is not in the class of works which Paul excluded as “works of merit.” Paul excluded baptism from meritorious works in Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Note that Paul first affirmed that we are not saved by our own meritorious good works. Then he affirmed that salvation is according to God’s mercy, involving two agents: (1) the washing of regeneration and (2) the renewing of the Holy Spirit.
The first of these particularly concerns our present subject. None can seriously question that the “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 is a reference to baptism in water. Thus, Saul was told to be baptized and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16; cf. John 3:5; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). If one argues that the blood of Christ washes sins away, rather than the water of baptism, we fully agree (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 1:7; et al.). If water could wash away sins there would have been no need for the blood of Christ. However, the fact that the blood of Christ is the sin-cleansing agent does not alter the Scriptural teaching that it is in the act of baptism in water that sins are washed away by the blood of Christ! While the blood of Christ is the cleansing agent, baptism in water is the time/place/act in which the agent is administered.
This being so, Paul forever took baptism out of the class of human works of merit. At the same time he identified it as part of God’s plan of mercy for man’s salvation. How could baptism be called a meritorious work of manunless man originated it? But he did not! Not only did he not originate it as a plan to save himself; for the most part he utterly denies its necessity!
It is a command of Christ - thus a work of God - to which man must submit. Paul taught that in submitting to it he invests his faith in God that He will fulfill His promise of forgiveness through the blood of Christ in baptism: “Having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12, ASV). When one is accurately taught and Scripturally baptized his faith is not in the merit of his own act that he will be saved, but he has “faith in the working of God” to forgive his sins, according to His promise to do so (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; et al.).
If faith includes believing God’s Word and responding in obedience (as James demonstrated in Abraham), rather than excluding baptism, it must include baptism! Furthermore, it must include the understanding that salvation, justification, forgiveness of alien sins is not promised and is not received before baptism has demonstrated true faith. Of course, faith must also demonstrate itself in an oral confession of faith in Christ (Acts 8:37) and repentance of sins (Acts 2:38) before baptism, but this in no way diminishes the necessity of baptism. These works, like baptism, are necessary demonstrations of faith (acts of obedience) that precede salvation. The alien sinner is not saved by faith only, but by doing the works of obedience Christ has specified. Such works grow out of true faith and culminate in baptism in water for remission of sins.
The burden of James’ message in this section is manifest: Man cannot be saved on a mere profession of his faith without working the works of God - obeying His Word, be he saint or sinner. Any faith that is claimed apart from obedient works is an idle claim and bespeaks a dead faith that cannot save.
1 W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., rep. ed., 1980), 4:447.
2 Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1982), pp. 145-146.
3 Alfred F. Smith, ed., The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Nashville, TN: Publishing House Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1934), p. 21.
[Note: I wrote this MS for and I presented a digest of it orally at the 9th Annual Denton Lectures, hosted by the Pearl St. Church of Christ, Denton, TX, Nov. 10–14, 1991. I directed the lectureship and edited and published (Valid Pub., Inc.) the book of the lectures, Studies in James.)]
Published in The Old Paths Archive