Summary: The life of faith is more than a private transaction of the heart with God. It is a life of active consecration seen in the obedience which holds nothing back from God..and the concern that holds nothing back from human need.
DEAD OR ALIVE?
JAMES 2:14 26
Read 14 26 Pray
James started out chapter 2 by addressing those who have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the common characteristic of all Christians...it's what binds us together...its what makes us the body of Christ. But v. 14 begins to raise the question of what faith really is.
And this brings us to the most misunderstood passage in the whole book of James. Some see it as a contradiction to Paul's teaching about salvation by faith alone...that James is preaching salvation by works, instead of faith alone. But the only place they differ is in emphasis.
But Paul had in mind those who denied that salvation was by faith alone...and he was speaking to those who insisted that the Mosaic law had to be kept in order to be saved. James is speaking to those who distort the doctrine of salvation by faith...and he's insisting that any faith worthy of the name of Jesus has to express itself in a tangible way.
By works Paul meant works of the Jewish law that people thought would save them. But for James, works are acts of love...proof that faith is alive and real. Works are the fruit of salvation.
The intention of James is to contrast two kinds of faith...one genuine, the other not...one is alive, the other dead...one that saves and one that does not save. But now if James gives faith its proper biblical position, why does he ask a question that seems to point to the other direction: Can his faith save him?
Right from the start we need to understand that "save" does not refer to the initial experience of salvation...it refers to the judgment at the end of the age. When we stand before Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ the criteria at that time won't be what we profess...but it'll be how we performed. What did we do with our faith?
We'll appear before the judgment seat as those who are already saved. When the books are opened, one will be the Lamb's Book of Life. And the names recorded there... according to Paul in Romans 2:6, will be judged according to their works. What was the real character of our faith? Was it walk...or just a lot of talk?
What I want to look at this morning is "What makes faith real?" Can we be sure that our faith is a saving faith? You see, faith can be such a vague word. But James is far to practical and far to concerned for us to leave any doubt about such an important matter.
To arrive at a correct definition of faith, James introduces four illustrations, and each illustration ends with a summary statement of what James wants us to learn. The first two they let us know what faith is not; the second two let us know what faith is.
Verse 14 refers to a man who gives testimony of having faith in Christ. The man says, "Yeah, I'm a Christian." But this is a claim to faith that's not supported by any solid evidence in the man's life. Notice carefully that James doesn't say the man has faith...but that he claims to have faith.
And James poses a rhetorical question...which always demands a negative answer. What he's really saying is, "That faith can't save him, can it?" Like all other Bible writers, James is making the point that genuine saving faith results in a distinctive, active life.
He's flat out slamming the whole concept of closet Christians. These days everyone is coming out of a closet...the gays...the bigots...the racists, etc. But not the majority of Christians! They keep awful quiet about their faith...afraid someone will find out!
Hebrews 6:9 speaks of things that belong to salvation, referring to the way of life that validates a claim to faith. James doesn't argue for faith instead of works...or works instead of faith...or even works above faith...but for faith and works!
It's kind of like rowing a boat. There are two oars on a rowboat...and we could think of one being faith, the other works. If you use either one by itself you'll do nothing but go in circles...you won't get anywhere except where the current leads you!!!!
James draws a contrast between the armchair Christian in verse 16 and the active faith of Rahab. One has a great profession but no evidence...the other put her simple faith to work. Rahab identified herself with the people of God through personal faith in their God. And she had every right to claim the protected status that her faith allows.
But she doesn't just cash in on the benefits and then sit back and relax, thinking her worst fears are over. Rahab recognized the obligation she had to meet the needs of God's people. James is illustrating the situation we're most likely and most often to face...the needs of our own fellowship.