#10 Faith and Good Works Go Together
The Book of James Series
By Pastor Jim May
There was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across the English Channel to the mainland to take a vacation. While he was driving around Europe, the motor on his car quit running. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, "I’m having trouble with my car; what should I do?" They simply answered, “Do nothing. We will be there shortly.” The Rolls-Royce company flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and leaving the man to continue his vacation trip.
As he drove along the man wondered just how much that little repair was going to cost him. When he got back to England, he wrote to Rolls Royce and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: "Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went
wrong with a Rolls-Royce."
In a way, this little story gives us a picture of justification by faith.
Did Christ finish His work? How dangerous it is to join anything of our own to the righteousness of Christ, in pursuit of justification before God! To do so would offend Jesus and make it appear as though his work was not complete and his price of death upon the cross was not enough. We dishonor the power of His shed blood when we try to do anything to earn our justification.
He will be all, or none, in our justification. If He has finished the work, what need is there of our additions? And if not, to what purpose are our works and efforts? Can we finish that which Christ Himself could not complete?
Did He finish the work, and will He ever share the glory and praise of it with us?
It is a hard thing to humble our pride and learn to rest upon Christ alone for our righteousness. God humbles the proud by calling sinners from their own righteousness and causes us to come to Christ for our justification.
The necessity of accepting the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross as our only means of salvation and obtaining the new birth is vividly portrayed in the life of George Whitefield. At 16 he became deeply convicted of his sin. He tried everything to become acceptable to God. He fasted for 36 hours twice a week. He prayed formal prayers several times a day and almost starved himself to death during Lent, but all of this just left him feeling more miserable than ever.
Then by God’s grace he met the great Evangelist Charles Wesley, who put a book in Whitefield’s hand that showed him from the Scriptures that he must be ’born again’ or be eternally lost. Finally, Whitefield understood that he had to trust in Jesus Christ. He believed and was both forgiven and changed. After he became a preacher, he spoke at least a thousand times on the subject, “You must be born again. He learned that lesson the hard way and never forgot it.
Tonight we are continuing our study of the second chapter of the Book of James. The rest of this chapter is also a continuation of the teaching that James gives us concerning the relationship of faith and works in the life of a Christian.
James 2:19, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."
We said in our last study that belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not enough. Along with belief, there must be works of righteousness.
James says that the powers of hell also believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and yes, Jesus is their Lord. The problem is that they do not obey him, nor do they perform obedient works of righteousness so that their belief in Jesus only serves to condemn them even more.
One thing that strikes me here is that though hell trembles at the power of God, reveres Jesus as their Master, and knows him as their Judge, I don’t see God’s own people always acting that way.
When was the last time we trembled before God? When was the last time we feared his awesome power and knew that he was a Holy and Righteous Judge who will pass judgment upon us? Most of the church world today knows Jesus is Lord, but where is the trembling and the reverence for Almighty God?
In James’ day, as he wrote his epistle, he was writing to the Jews of his own homeland. The Jews, both then and now, place their hope of salvation in the fact that they belief in the One True God, and they hope to obtain eternal life because they believe. They believe that they are God’s Chosen nation, and that they will make it because of their belief. But we know today that most of the Jews won’t make it, and didn’t make it to Heaven, because just believing in God wasn’t enough. Salvation for the Jews, just as it is for us, is through accepting the blood of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and then living in obedience to his Word. We are justified by faith in His blood, but we are sanctified daily through our works of righteousness.
James 2:20, "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"
Are you willing to learn the truth? Will you open your heart and your mind to know what the Word of God is saying? Will you set aside your own vanity, your own way of thinking, and your own ideas of what salvation really is and hear the Word of the Lord? Is just faith, “believing in God, or even believing in Jesus” enough, or is there more to it?
James then gives us a few examples of what justification is all about.
James 2:21, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?"
Did Abraham believe in God? The answer is yes; of course he did. But what justified him? Was it belief alone, or was it belief coupled with action that proved his belief?
Abraham’s willingness to obey God and to offer his only Son, Isaac, upon the altar, was his test of faith. In obeying God, he proved to God that his faith was alive and real, and not just belief alone. He trusted God and put his faith into action.
James 2:22-23, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 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."
This action, on the part of Abraham, proves that true faith, and true belief in God, cannot exist without works of righteousness being revealed in us. What good would Abraham’s faith have been if he failed to obey God?
Through his act of obedience, Abraham’s faith was made perfect or whole, and proven to be alive. We must also recognize that even though Abraham had true faith, that faith would have soon died if he had not walked in obedience.
What does that prove to us concerning our faith and our salvation? It proves that we can, and will, lose our faith in God, and lose our relationship with God, and then lose our salvation if we do not obey God’s Word. Disobedience to the Word will destroy our faith and we will die in our sins. It’s only through obedience that our faith is made perfect. Salvation is secure eternally, only as long as we meet the conditions of obedience. We cannot claim to be saved and live in sin. Either true faith in God will destroy the sin in our lives and create works of righteousness, or sin will destroy our faith and bring death in the end.
Because Abraham’s faith was proven by his obedience, then his faith was counted to him for righteousness. He was justified by believing in God and obeying God.
What a privilege we have to be called the “Friend of God”! Just as Abraham was called God’s Friend, so are we, if we live in obedience that is brought about by our faith that God is God and that He is a Rewarder of those who seek him.
James 2:24, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
James now gives us a second example of being justified by works, for out of the mouth of two or three witnesses every word, or doctrine, must be established.
James 2:25, "Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?"
After Israel had crossed over the River Jordan, and Moses had died and was buried, Joshua became the leader of the Jews. Their first major battle after entering into the Promised Land wasn’t long in coming. Right squarely in their path lay the fortified city of Jericho.
I have noticed that every time a soul is saved, it won’t be long until there’s a Jericho. There’s always a very large wall standing in front of every new convert. It’s not the wall of a city, but a wall of decision. That wall says, “Will you truly repent and turn away from your old life, or will you allow your old life to remain as a separation between you and ultimate victory?” There has never been a Christian that didn’t have to overcome Jericho in one fashion or another.
Israel faced Jericho so Joshua and few other men went into the city as spies. They would have been discovered and killed had it not been for a prostitute that put herself in jeopardy to save them. She hid them and then allowed them to escape over the wall. Then she hung a long scarlet rope from her window when the attack finally came. That prostitute, named Rahab, became one of the ancestors in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
Rahab was spared. Her belief in the God of Israel, that she really didn’t even know yet, created within her, acts of righteousness, in helping Joshua and the spies to escape. Her act of obedience proved that her faith was real and she was granted life as a result.
James 2:26, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
There can be no genuine faith without good works, and more than there can be a living human body without a soul.
It’s impossible to find someone with true faith not living for God in obedience and it’s impossible to find someone living in obedience who doesn’t have true faith. Obedience always proves that our faith is real.
We may see people doing good works even though they don’t have faith in God. They do it for show, that they may receive the recognition and reward of men. But they don’t do those things to honor God and serve him, so those good works do not prove faith at all.
The more a man exercises faith in Christ, the more he is enabled to believe; the more he believes, the more he receives; and the more he receives, the more able he is to work for God.
A man of true faith desires to obey God, because of his love for God. If we have true faith, then good works will come naturally. Therefore we must conclude that faith is dead when there are no good works being manifest.
As we have read and studied these verses, the question may arise in you that asks, “if James says in 2:24 that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”, then that contradicts what Paul says in Romans 3:28, “that man is justified by faith, and not by the law.”
We believe that works cannot save you and that no amount of good works will earn you one minute of eternal life. Salvation is only by grace through faith in the shed blood of Christ and not by works lest any man should boast.
Is James contradicting Paul? No, he is not. Let me explain it to you.
It is as though James and Paul are standing back to back confronting the issues from two sides. They aren’t fighting each other, but they are fighting outside foes from two sides.
Paul says that works alone cannot save us and that we are saved only by faith. James says that we are saved by faith alone, but that good works must come forth to prove that our faith is real and our salvation is real. Good works are a natural course of events for those who love God and those good works prove their faith. It’s just looking at both sides of the same coin.
Paul didn’t teach that our faith should be dormant. He fights against legalism. But then Paul says in Romans 6:22, "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
Paul also wrote a letter to a young preacher who often traveled with him and said these words to him inTitus 3:8, "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men."
Finally, Jesus Christ spoke of good works while he walked this earth. He made it a point to let us know that works of righteousness must accompany our faith to prove that it is true.
Luke 6:45-46, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?"
Thus works do not earn salvation, but without good works our faith is dead and we do not have eternal life. Good works of righteousness prove the validity of your salvation.