Examples of Living Faith

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:21-26)

One of the wonderful things among many that I love about the Word of God is that it gives us such magnificent truths and promises like love, grace, and faith. None of which can be seen. But like the wind which we cannot see yet we can see its effects, we cannot see or touch love, grace, or faith. Yet we can see their effects in our own life if we are believers and in the lives of others whom the Lord has saved.

The Bible does explain these great truths in great detail which helps us to understand the concepts intellectually. But how do we go from understanding the concept of God’s love to experiencing the love of God? And how do we then demonstrate the love of God to others? How do we go from just understanding these truths to possessing these truths?

The Bible helps us with this in three ways. First the Spirit of God converts hearts and minds and then helps us understand the Word of God far beyond just our intellectual powers. Second the Word of God instructs us on how to possess these truths. Third the Bible gives us examples of what these truths look like when lived out in the life of believers, everyday people whom God saves and puts into service for His glory.

Since we are still on the topic of living faith here at the end of chapter 2, James gives us two examples of Old Testament saints who demonstrated what living faith looks like in the life of a believer. There are some stark contrasts and compelling similarities in the two examples James gives us.

Here are three points of contrast to keep in mind and four points of similarity to keep in mind as well. Regarding the contrasts, the most obvious is that Abraham was a man, and Rahab was a woman. Second, in Abraham’s example he had been following the Lord for many years, but in Rahab’s example she was a new believer. And third, in the eyes of the world Abraham by profession and social standing was considered an upstanding member of society. He was called by the Canaanites a mighty prince among them (Genesis 22:6). While Rahab was not highly esteemed by the society in which she lived. The very way she made her living was a sin.

Here are four key similarities to keep in mind. First, in man’s eyes they were seen as very different, but in the eyes of a perfect and holy God they were both seen as sinners. Second, it was the Spirit of God at work in them that brought them from darkness into His marvelous light. Because no one in the Old Testament, or New Testament, or living today has ever come to God on their own. The Lord pursued them and changed their heart and mind just as He pursued us and changed our heart and mind. Just as we read in Romans 9:16, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Third, both Abraham and Rahab were willing to give up everything in order to follow God. And fourth, both of them proved by their actions that their faith was very real; they proved to others and to themselves that they had living faith.

Let’s turn to our verses in James chapter 2, starting in verse 21, looking at James’ example of Abraham’s living faith in action.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:21-24)

James states plainly in the form of a rhetorical question that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar. But how do we square that with the fact that the Bible teaches us that we are justified by faith and not by works?

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Romans 4:2-3)

So how can we reconcile this statement of James with what Paul has said? It is a pickle. But not as big of a pickle as it might seem at first glance.

First we know that the Word of God is harmonious. It does not contradict itself. Second, all of Scripture is equally inspired by God, and God cannot lie, so we know what Paul has said must be true and what James has said must be true. These two statements are not in conflict but actually complement one another. Here is how: Paul and James are making two separate points, they are not arguing the same point. Paul is dealing with Jews and others in the church who believed they could be made righteous before God by keeping the Old Testament Law. And Paul says emphatically in many of his letters that no one can stand before a righteous and holy and pure and perfect God and be justified by having kept the Law perfectly, because we are sinners with no hope of keeping the Law perfectly. We are not capable of it. And anyone who thinks he can keep the Law is foolish.

So Paul’s argument over and over in Scripture is that we are justified or made right before God by His grace through the means of faith (or trust) in Christ. Trust in who Christ is, the Son of God, and trust in what Christ has done, laying down His life to pay our debt of sin. That is Paul’s gospel message and that is the gospel message.

But James is making a different argument to different audiences. James is speaking to those in the church who may think that you can truly believe in Christ and live how you want, that your faith may be genuine without bearing any fruit. That just believing in Christ is as far as we need go, and in the end the grace of God will cover it all. James is arguing against the belief that you can truly be saved by God and belong to Him and live like the devil. And how does the devil live? He is a liar and the father of lies. He is the great deceiver. He is a murderer and a destroyer. He is prideful and selfish in the extreme. And he is not satisfied with his own sin, he wants to get as many as he can entangled and in bondage to sin. He hates God and he hates God’s people.

James is making the case that you cannot truly believe in Christ and have saving faith and live a life of lies and deception. You cannot have saving faith and live a life that is selfish and destructive to yourself and to others. You cannot live a life of murderous hate and anger toward others, blaming everyone else for everything you see as wrong in your life. You cannot live a life that is based on what you want, and not what God wants, if you have saving faith.

That does not mean believers never lie or deceive. It does not mean that believers never get sinfully angry or that believers are never selfish. Believers can and do all these things. We are still capable of sin and we still do sin. But we are not slaves to sin and the Lord is at work changing us, conforming our thinking and desires and behavior to that of Christ. So when we lie, or when we are selfish, or whatever the sin is, God deals with us as His children. He brings conviction to our hearts and leads us to repentance. God is often very patient in leading us to repentance.

But if we belong to Him and we resist His call for us to repent He may expose our sin to others or provide us with what may seem to us to be very severe consequences so we might be brought to repentance. But He does not let sin in our life go unaddressed if we belong to Him. We see that in the life of Abraham in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20 when Abraham was deceptive and lied, saying his wife was his sister and not his wife in order to save himself because he believed his life might be in danger. But God did not let this sin go unaddressed. He even used a pagan Pharaoh and a pagan king to rebuke him.

But in the verses we are looking at this morning James is pointing out in these two examples that a truly changed heart and mind is reflected in a truly changed life. And that those who have been saved by God commit all to Him. And value nothing above Him. And throughout the life of a believer we will demonstrate that we submit our hopes, our dreams, our desires, and even our very life to Him.

Trusting in Him as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. It does not mean we will not struggle with yielding everything in our life to God, but that will be the direction of our life if we are a believer.

So when James says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” He is not using “justified” as Paul does to indicate God having made us right before Him by having applied Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross to our lives through faith in Christ. But James is saying that Abraham’s actions demonstrate, or give evidence to, or justify that yes his faith and trust in God is real and not just lip service. For only a man who truly trusted in God, who truly trusted in what he understood about the person and character of God would be willing to obey God and sacrifice his son, the son God promised him and gave to him in his old age, being 100 years old when Isaac was born.

Abraham loved Isaac dearly, but yet he was willing to trust God even with the life of his son. Knowing that somehow, all that God had promised concerning his son would be fulfilled. God had promised that He would establish His covenant with Isaac for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him (Genesis 17:19). Abraham did not know how he could offer his son and God still keep His promise, but he trusted the person and character and power of God to resolve this dilemma. So when he went to offer his son, Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (Genesis 22:5).

Abraham did not know how he could obey God by offering his son as a burnt offering as the Lord had commanded and have he and his son return, but he was willing to trust God that he and his son would both return even if it meant God would have to raise his son from the dead.

Where have you drawn the line with what you will trust God with? Is it your health, maybe your finances, your relationships, your education? What is it that you have refused to submit to God as the authority and caretaker of in your life?

You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected (James 2:22)

The living faith that God gave to Abraham was at work empowering his willingness to obey God. And in his actions, his living faith was revealed.

It was made known to all who would ever read or hear what happened that day so many centuries ago.

and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. (James 2:23)

Keep in mind that in the account of Abraham’s life in Genesis God declared in chapter 15 that Abraham truly did believe in Him, and because of his faith in God, God regarded him as righteous. Not based on a life of righteousness. Abraham did not have that, just as none of us had that when we came to saving faith. God gave Abraham the faith to believe in Him and counted him as righteous knowing that Christ would pay his sin debt in the future just as we are counted as righteous because Christ has already paid our sin debt in the past.

But the saving faith God gave to Abraham was put on display in Genesis chapter 22 when he was willing to offer his son back to the Lord as a burnt offering as the Lord had commanded. Abraham went as far as binding his son and placing him on top of the wood which was on top of the altar he had built, and he stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped him from slaying his son.

So, verse 24 says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Just as Abraham demonstrated in Genesis chapter 22 that the faith God said he had in chapter 15 was genuine, you and I are called to live in such a way that our actions declare our faith and trust in God.

In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (James 2:25)

The answer of course is yes. She proved or demonstrated that the Lord had given her saving faith by the way she acted toward the two spies Joshua sent to view the land, especially Jericho.

The account is found in Joshua chapters 2 and 6. Rahab hid the spies, protecting them from discovery and saving their lives while risking her own life and the life of her family, because she believed what she had heard about the one true God. This is what Rahab believed. She said to the spies, “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11). And because she believed that God would deliver Jericho, this great fortified city, into the hands of Israel, she was willing to risk everything.

We know that Rahab did lie and James is not commending her for lying, but for trusting in God and acting on her faith. We know that Rahab could have told the truth and God had the power to save her and the spies. But Rahab was just beginning to discover who God was and what His character is like. She would surely have learned later, living with the people of Israel, the premium the Lord places on the truth. But in the book of Joshua we see Rahab responding in faith to God the only way she knew how to at the time. Risking her life, turning her back on her people and siding with Israel, God’s chosen people. Protecting the men of Israel, and when Jericho was captured and destroyed, her life was spared. She lived with the people of God and the Lord was so gracious to Rahab that we find her listed in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew chapter 1, and in Hebrews chapter 11 she is listed among those commended for living by faith. And here in James chapter 2 she is used as an example of living faith in action.

Neither Abraham nor Rahab are worthy of praise and exaltation, but it is the living faith that God gives, that was demonstrated in their lives, that we should take note of here. And we must examine our own lives to see if we have the same kind of living, active faith that we see in Scripture in the lives of Abraham and Rahab.

So no matter if you are rich or poor, well connected or unknown, man or woman, adult or child, if you have living faith, saving faith, it should be bearing fruit. It should be apparent in your actions, the way you treat others, how you respond to correction, what you say about the Lord and how your actions match what you say about Him. Living faith will be on display in how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.

If we look to the example of Abraham and Rahab, are we willing to submit every area of our life to God? Are we willing to risk everything to follow Him? There are signs all around us that the days of being a comfortable Christian in America are coming to an end. You need to be certain and serious about trusting and following Christ.

James ends this section of his letter dealing with the issue of living faith vs. dead faith by saying, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

James sums up what he has to say in the Spirit of the Lord by stating one final time in the strongest possible language that faith without the validating and corresponding works is just as dead as a human body without a spirit, which is totally devoid of life.

Is the faith you have producing the fruit of good works? As believers we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

The only way this side of heaven we develop confidence in the faith is seeing God at work through us, using us as His instruments to do His good pleasure. If you see fruit in your life and others see fruit in your life, the works of righteousness, then praise God! The glory and the praise goes to Him and only Him!

And know that He is not done pruning you so you will bear more fruit. Do not resent His pruning and the trials that are a part of that, because it is for your good and His glory.

If you see no fruit of righteousness in your life and others see no fruit in your life and you desire to produce good works, Christ is able to make what is dead come to life. He is able to bring dead faith to life. If your faith is not living faith, Jesus says He is the way and the truth and the life.

If your are here this morning and no matter what you tell others, you really have no interest in God or the things of God, I pray that the Lord would grant you repentance, a true turning of heart and mind to trust in the only Savior there is, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For those who have not trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior, the only one who has provided the way to have your sins forgiven, the Lord says to you through Paul’s letter to the Romans…

4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS (Romans 2:4-6)

I pray this morning that God may grant you a heart of repentance, for without it, the unimaginable wrath of God is sure.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:21-26)