Faith which Justifies is not Alone
The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.
Intro. - This section began with verse 14 and has been driving home the point that saving faith produces works in the life. James has just made the point that if all you have is faith in a good doctrinal statement, you have the same kind of faith that the demons have.
This makes clear that faith which does not result in works is useless as far as producing salvation is concerned (v. 20).
This leads him to two diverse but clear examples of faith producing works in the life: Abraham and Rahab.
Abraham is the individual selected as the representative man of faith in the New Testament.
Abraham our father - The Jewish audience would especially appreciate this identification. However, the New Testament identifies Abraham as "the father of all who believe" (Rom. 4:11).
justified by works - The emphasis is on "by works" (ek ergon) which stresses the source or reason, not the means, of Abraham's salvation.
justified - The basic idea of this word is "to declare righteous" and that seems to be its meaning in this context (cf. vv. 23,24).
The incident referred to is the offering of Isaac on the altar, which is recorded in Genesis 22:1-18. This event is recorded one other time in the New Testament - Hebrews 11:17-19.
To put this event in its proper perspective, we need to look at some of the critical events in the life of Abraham.
faith was perfected - It accomplished its intended purpose or arrived at the intended goal. "As the tree is perfected by its fruits, so faith by its works" (Mayor). Genuine faith will issue forth in good works.
the friend of God (cf, 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa, 41:8) - James may have had the events of Genesis 18:17,18 in view also. The emphasis is on the closeness of relationship that Abraham enjoyed with God. Jesus calls His followers "friends" in John 15:14,15.
"A friend of God is not one who talks about God, but one who walks with God" (Zodhiates).
The last part of this verse is crucial to a proper understanding. The issue is not:
justification by works
justification by faith which produces works
"By faith Abraham . . . offered up Isaac" (Heb 11:17).
in the same way (homois) - Emphasizes that this is a second example with the same meaning as the first.
Rahab the harlot stresses her immoral background (cf. Josh. 2:1; 6:17,22,25; the full account is contained in Josh. 2).
The person and actions of Rahab were different from those of Abraham, yet the point in both is the same. They believed God and acted accordingly.
Hebrews 11:31 lists Rahab among the Old Testament giants in faith, saying, "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish." James and Hebrews taken together show that saving faith always results in action.
Sound doctrine is the basis of saving faith. But truly believing the facts of the gospel will result in a changed life. So works are an essential result of saving faith. If there are no works, then the faith is merely intellectual assent. This even the demons do.
"Faith alone justifies, but the faith which justifies is not alone" (John Calvin).
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.