Peninsula Community Church
James – Faith vs. Works
April 16, 2013
James 2:14-26 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Today, we will look at the issue of works and faith. For some theologians this has been a thorny theological issue. For others there has been questions about the difference, if any, between faith alone and James’ intimation that faith without works is dead. Still others will argue if it makes a difference at all.
We begin with the premise and understanding that salvation is a free, unmerited gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 states For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. It is the result of the death and resurrection of Christ. We do not merit or warrant the gift by our actions prior to salvation. Prior to coming to Christ we are enemies with God and because of our carnal nature we are hindered in our ability to seek the things of God because we were being led by our flesh (John 14:17). Jesus himself says that we cannot receive the Spirit of Truth because we did not know Him but we are led to an understanding of the truth, which is Christ by the Holy Spirit. We have also come to understand that our need for salvation is a result of the Holy Spirit drawing us to the place of decision. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and to draw us toward righteousness (John 16:8-11).
Most of the gifts we receive today are not really free at all. As I was preparing this, I thought of a time when you would receive a “free gift” for opening up a checking account at the local bank. It might be a toaster or a new radio but in fact this was not a free gift at all. They gave you the toaster or the radio because you opened up an account in their bank so therefore it was not free. When we receive the free gift of salvation there is nothing we can do to merit the free gift at all. On the other hand once we are saved there is within us a new desire for obedience to God’s will, His commands, and His purposes for us. The old saying goes. He paid a debt He did not owe. We owed a debt we could pay. He took care of it. In that moment, we were powerless but he gave us His spirit to draw us to Him.
We must also understand that while the gift is free, there is a response required on our part. God has created us with free-will therefore we must choose to follow Christ. I would disagree with some who say that there is no response required on our part in regard to salvation. There is a difference between choosing to accept the gift and not doing anything to merit the gift. There are some that imply in their teaching that you have no choice in receiving the gift. God never works in you in such a way that your free will is removed in total. But there is a choice for us to make. This is born out by Paul who stated “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). What is our part? We confess and we believe. How does that belief come? It comes by way of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the word of God. John reminds us that God so loved the world that He sent His only son that whosoever believes in Him would have eternal life. His part eternal life. What is our part? Our part is believe in Him and trust Him.
But how do we believe? Let us return to Romans 10. In Romans 10:14-15 Paul reminds us that the Gospel is a source of faith and belief that leads one to salvation. Paul stated “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” While God is sovereign he also created us with the ability to chose. While He draws to Himself, we must make that decision to follow Christ and to obey His commands. We see this in Romans 10:9-10, John 3:16; and Acts 2:21.
The question then that is being posed in this passage is how do we show that we have faith in Christ? James is in essence countering a problem that resulted in misunderstanding of Paul’s writings by the church of James’ day. They believed that since Paul preached that faith in Christ was absent of works that they therefore did not have to be active or obedient to God’s law. James is not contradicting Paul’s comments rather he is advancing the truth that if you have been saved by faith then your salvation will be witnessed by the works you exhibit.
This is also born out by Paul, in the discussion of Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s faith was accredited to him as righteousness prior to him being circumcised. The circumcision was a seal of the work of faith in his heart. The circumcision was not his mode of belief but was a proof of his belief. So in fact from this perspective James and Paul are on the same page.
The offering of Issac was the ultimate sign of his trust and the faith He had in Christ to provide the necessary substitute for his son. This was important for James to note as his purpose was to show that Abraham showed his faith by being willing to sacrifice his son because he had total faith in God.
James illustrates his point by reminding the church about the story of Abraham. As we read the Bible, we must understand that most of the stories related here cover a period of time. In this case, the story of Abraham here covers a period of time of more than 25 years. During that time he developed a firm faith in the ability of God to take care of him and to provide for him in every circumstance. It was for this reason that his actions were counted as righteousness. He was faithful to God because God had been faithful to him.
Theologians often use three terms to discuss three views of Christ or Three views of responding to Christ. The first idea is to simply take notice (noticia). It is to be aware but there is not much else. The second way is the mental assent, the mental acknowledgment of something’s existence (Ascentia). Just because we have knowledge does not mean that we have faith. James reminds us that the demons acknowledge and believe that God exists. This means that one can have a knowledge of something but not have real faith or trust in that object.Too many Christians fall into this category. They believe but there is no evidence of that belief in them. Even demons know Christ and know what He is able to accomplish.
The third idea carries the idea that there is more than just a mental acknowledgment (Fiducia). It involves a trust in something, a giving over to it, a complete believing and acceptance of something. This is the kind of faith that a Christian has in Christ. A Christian, therefore, has fiducia; that is, he has real faith and trust in Christ, not simply an acknowledgment that He lived on earth at one time. Another way to put this is that there are many people in the world who believed that Jesus lived: ascentia. But they do not believe that He is their savior, the one to whom they should look and trust for the forgiveness of their sins. Ascentia does not lead to works. Fiducia does. Ascentia is not of the heart. Fiducia is.
So what is the take away for us? It is this. If we have a pure genuine faith in Christ, we will respond by and with good works. This is revealed through our works and through the fruit of our lives. The way we live will match the profession of our mouths. This does not mean we will be perfect but it means that we will begin to see defined improvement in the actions we take.
These works emanate from a heart that is in love with God and one that desires to see him honored by our works and what we do.