AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH – October 23, 2005 - JAMES Chapter 2:
The CHALLENGE and COMMISSION OF CHRIST
Saved without works, but not without faith, and faith works
THE EMPTY CHALLENGE
Sermon Notes: In this case, please read with special care, James 2 before beginning
James 2 is pursuing the theme that preceded in Ch. 1, insisting on the reality of DOING what you say, PUSHING on with what you believe, LOOKING like what you are. He anticipates someone, glorying in himself, via his own works, and challenging him (2:18): LOOK at MY works, you Christian nothing! you can HAVE your work-free faith, for I PERFORM, and I will show YOU My faith BY my works! That is the hypothetical attack that someone might make.
Whether, however, it be this proud fellow, delusively embracing some personally made or seductively slithery faith of his own, or some empty-minded pseudo-Christian who speaks in this fashion, the result is the same. Such a person, whatever his place in the spiritual delusion programs, is obviously pre-occupied with works as a type, and does not see them in the light of genuine, objectively Christ-centred faith, where it is God who is the basis and the power in your life, by the sole Mediator, Jesus Christ. Bombastic, he inflates, challenging James even in his assertions that only living faith IS faith, and what lives works, though it is of course not FOUNDED on works. It is just that the name 'faith' in the Christian context, means living faith, living link to the living God, connection as by a branch to the vine, and for all his stress on works, James is not at all prepared to talk of works as the basis: merely the consequence.
What then is his reply to such a challenge, as you see set out in the New American Standard Version, from the way in which the inverted commas are used in James 2:18.
THE FULL REPLY
This is the kind of thrust. In reply, James takes hold of the answer. Believe ? you have some sort of what you call 'faith' ? in what ? in one God perhaps ? the devils share this with you. Thus James reduced this phoney faith - which makes works critical to its arrival, and very being - to its FOCUS, object and Lord.
Lord ? Devils have something called faith, since they believe in the existence of God even: but it is not saving faith, they have good reason to tremble! The living Lord however, for all the confusion of such a challenger as James calls to mind and imagines, is still the crux and centre, the dynamic and the Director in Christian life, the Saviour and the basis (1:1, 17-18). Thus as we see, James would reply to such a challenge, like this (2:19-20). Let's pursue the theme.
Have then your so wonderful self-made faith, and your self-made works, in your self-made life, in your self-made God, in company with self-centred devils whose nominal awareness like yours, is of the fact there is one God. Boast away about your works, you foolish man (2:14), but remember this, that hell is not heaven, nor self-made bombast divine acclaim! Will the ill company of devils help you ? But your boast WILL help those to whom I now speak:
this is the thrust of James. He USES the case to awaken the sleepy in the Church! James is not abusing the reader of his epistle by such terms, but answering his braggart of a challenger as cited! telling him that he does not seem even to WANT to know (2:20) that dead faith is irrelevant canard. The divorce he imagined is simply surreal. Why ? It is because faith is inseparable from works, first those of God, the giver of every good and perfect gift who freely granted us to be born again as His children (1:17-18), and then those of the new born, whose hearts will not and cannot suffer the mask of death, when they thrive in life!
Turning now to his readers, James applies the result (2:22ff.). Can YOU answer positively such a challenge! So he challenges all Christians on the point. HOW could you possibly be in company with such a boaster without saying, MY FAITH WORKS, and that is why I work, because I believe in Him who has begotten me as a new sort of creation, and so trusting in Him, the source of all goodness, delight in following His example, even in the spirit in which He redeemed me (cf. Matthew 20:28). Abraham illustrates it. So we follow his message, and proceed with its thrust.
Will you let some boasting braggart shame you as a believer with a purely nominal faith ? Will the faith in the Saviour be so phenomenal that it is merely nominal ? However boastful some may be, then, it is not well to bring shame on yourself and on the church by having the very crucial link between you and Christ, FAITH in Him, a dead thing! ALL living things act, work, proceed, perform. Did not Christ show this in John 15, where naturally (in every sense of the term), the branch abiding in Him and in which He abides, brings forth much fruit, while the one in Him, but in which He is not Lord, does not live, being unproductive because a sport, merely an outbreak of wild stock, formally sited in, but no part of the tree ? Thus He does not 'abide' in it, as true branches of course abide in the vine: it is a botanical corpse among the living, and is revealed as a fraud. It needs snipping off.
THE FLOURISHING FAITH THAT WORKS
BECAUSE IT LIVES, AND LIVES IN LOVE AS LOVE-GIVEN LIFE
What then ? If your faith is without works, if it is in fact unproductive, where is it and what is it ? It is a dead thing, merely taking a name, like a dead rat lying still, yet called a rat, though the title is a courtesy which refers to a corpse, without reality, life or what makes it what it is.
Let us pursue the testimony of James now (2:21ff.). Abraham, in such a challenge as this, which might be made, certainly had no dead faith, did he ? To be sure, in the beginning, it is written that he believed God and this was accounted to him for righteousness; and this accords with the word given in this epistle earlier, that God has begotten us with the word of truth, not of works, so that the goodness which proceeds from Him as the Father of lights, has even freely reproduced in us, as a gift, the fallen image made good, and we are born again by grace.
This is known and sure; but what of the RESULT! God knew him from the first, but He was justified to all eyes as a man who believed God by ACTING like it. You did not have to enquire if he REALLY had faith, because the works flowing from the faith which had already justified HIM, justified the claim to and name of faith, freely bestowed upon him. GOD justified him STATEDLY at once, when he believed; but Abraham was justified before all, attesting its validity by acting as he did, relative to Isaac. Did he say, It is impossible! there is no way out, and collapse ? Of course, not. He believed God could raise the dead, and acting accordingly. What perfection of his faith was this, that it acted, as a car runs, because it is a car, not to make it one! THIS (vv. 22ff.) is what made the reality have an outcome, the gift to glow.
In fact, making use of the term, being justified by faith: his faith justified him as clearly written, and quoted by James, but his works justified his faith, that is, showed that it was really there. It is by works which faith has its confirmation, its attestation, its realisation, and it is impossible for any living sinner to be otherwise. So realise that the word of God is not a suggestion box. Commands are all of God, and to break one is to break the spirit of all. Thus be energetic with this faith of yours, and remember to love your neighbour as yourself, and to feel for those in need, and not to be a nominal help, but a living member of the compassion of Christ, in His body. Of this, you are part if you have saving faith in Him, by having been begotten again as a kind of first fruits of the glorious Gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (1:1,18).
Thus not only is it the case that you are justified as yourself, by faith, and that your faith is justified by its showing, as an orange tree justifies its tag by having oranges (though of course, oranges do not MAKE it an orange tree, but merely show the precedent fact, parallel to your being begotten again by God in the first place). There is also the convenient point that you are saved without works, as in Ch. 1, but not without faith, as in Ch. 2, and faith works, as in any Chapter, for that is the nature of the case.
Well, then, the scripture was vindicated, that Abraham by free grace alone was justified, when by real faith he actually did what God knew would result, since faith always works. HIS works were not HIS justification, but that of the fact that he had been justified. Thus faith wrought with his works, and those works brought to fruition and completion the whole cycle and reality of his salvation: Abraham believed in the power of God, in life from the dead by grace, life in the living by power, results of the faith by observation. It is not that these are your ticket to God, but that this is the aircraft you freely board (1:17ff.); and how it flies, for God is with it!
ILLUSTRATIONS THAT SPEAK
Take now an illustration: the body without spirit, what is that ? It is a corpse, a residual relic, something entirely without significance, for what is its principle, its source, its resource, its vitality, its meaning ? its pianist for the strings, its organist for the pipes, this is departed. Death is like that, as far as the residual body is concerned. This is the illustration: imagine a body without spirit. Can you do that ? Is it not dead and meaningless for life ? Very well: now imagine a body, as if made for faith. If the vital activities are absent, it is nothing but a body. If the works are absent from faith, it is nothing but a form. That is the fact. Worthless faith is dead. Life always acts.
This is illustrated in turn by Rahab, the harlot who gave help to the soldiers from Joshua's army, when they were sent to spy out Jericho before taking it. They were in eminent and urgent danger of being captured, but she with wit and aplomb helped them, hid them and sent them on their way. She had a covenant made, so that her house would be spared when the Army came (cf. Romans 8:1ff.). All this was in spirit. However, her faith was justified in this, that according to her faith, that so she would be, act and be involved, so she in due course acted. Her word became her life, and her life was most becoming, in fact justifying her faith by her actions.
This then is the topic, the theme. Paul shows that a MAN or WOMAN or CHILD is justified freely by faith, and James notes this in two places, and stresses it abundantly. James then adds this: Yes, but if freely justified by faith was Abraham, did he then not SHOW the faith so that one might KNOW the faith, since it entirely transformed his actions. FAITH DOES THAT! You CANNOT believe without acting on it. If you think or say you believe and do not act, what are you doing ? If the world ends tomorrow, will you be feverishly seeking some unearned profit by graft today ? It would be unbelievable. If you are to die today, will you then make plans to travel tomorrow ? NOT if you believe this.
Faith acts in its situation, just as Abraham's faith
"wrought with his works" (2:22), and
was made complete by them. You give a cheque by faith; good, and it is signed for. Then it bounces ? That was not in fact a cheque, but fraudulent conversion.
Speaking of conversion, if a person IS converted, then he or she has faith in the saving power of Jesus the Christ, and the reality of His commands. IF in fact it is faith, THEN in fact that person is saved, right there and right then, and it is free and permanent and final (Romans 5:1-11, John 5:24,10:9,27ff., I John 5:11ff.). If however it is mere opinion or hope, then by that very token, it is not faith. That is why it does not work. What is living works. Faith, if living, works.
Thus you neither have a non-living faith which therefore does not work, nor a hypocritical reliance on works, as if this were faith. You REALLY believe, and so really LIVE and so really ACT, and so really love issues to your neighbour (2:12-17) whom you by no means disregard, and the sort of action you have is in exact conformity with what you believe. Again, you are saved without works, but not without faith, and faith works. Therefore WORK for love, and love for life, and love because by faith you HAVE RECEIVED Him, being born again not of the will of the flesh, or of blood, but of God (John 1:12, 5:24, Romans 9:16). Act as an agent, commissioned from the first, kept to the last I Peter 1:1-8).