A Series of Short Exposes on Faith: James

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A Series of Biblical Exposes: James

JAMES 2

Finally, we come to a chapter on faith that we cannot ignore – James chapter two.  It is a chapter that caused Martin Luther to want to remove it from the canonized text because to him it seemed so contrary to Paul and his emphatics words.  I suggest that these words of James are super important to our understanding of faith and what “real faith” actually looks like as compared to “said faith.”  These two descriptions – “real or genuine faith” and “said faith” are central to James entire argument – which we will prove throughout the remainder of this study. 

The focus of James 2 is really centered on what genuine saving faith looks like in a mature believer.  Let me repeat this, “the focus of James 2 is really centered on what genuine saving faith looks like in a mature believer.”

Babes in Christ are not equipped to bear fruit unto God.  Their branches are not developed enough.  James is not suggesting that faith must be accompanied by works here.  He is not suggesting that the thief on the cross was not saved (who had no time to perform any labors due to his faith.  The context is what genuine faith, which is verbally admitted to, look like in those who have been permitted to abide in the vine.  Again, the proofs are coming.

It is noteworthy that the two great commandments, upon which Jesus Himself said hangs all the law and the prophets, do not mention faith.   Isn’t that interesting?  Biblically speaking then, faith is a foregone conclusion and would have to actually be in place in the heart of someone before they could love God with all their heart mind and soul and to love neighbor as self.  This is tacitly implied in the commands when they are given.  Truly, without faith, it is impossible to keep the two great commandments.  So the presence of genuine mature faith is a primary and foundational assumption to all that James will say.

Many people who are sold out on earning their salvation through works tend to cite this chapter and typically begin with verse 14 where it says:

14  What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

Then they jump to the conclusion James makes at verse 17, which says 

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

And they tie all of this to salvivic faith being a combination of faith and works.  Again, I suggest that James is describing genuine mature faith here, which is always tied to the two great commandments – love for God and love for Neighbor – and not to a one-two combination of faith and works as a means of salvation.

In other words, James directly annihilates the idea of a mature saving faith standing alone but he is not suggesting in anyway that people are saved by faith and works.  To him, mature saving faith that stands alone is dead.  This is what offended Luther.  But I think James is absolutely correct.  He is not discounting the fact that genuine saving faith is not a work or form of doing something to merit God’s grace but that true mature faith, truly defined, will always manifest itself, when it is mature enough, through the two great commandments, to love God first and to love neighbor as self.

To understand this we must go to the first passages of James chapter two

James 2:1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

This is curious but James seems to be saying, “do not let your faith in Christ manifest in your respecting people or showing favoritism,” to people.  God is not a respecter of persons and neither should His children.  And he goes on at verses 2 – 4 and provides an example, saying

2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;  3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:  4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

In other words, he seems to be saying,  “Have you not taken the faith you place on Jesus and then ignored His love for all people unconditionally by assigning yourself the job of being a judge based on preferential appearances?  He adds

5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?  6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 

And then he states and important principle to people of faith or to people who claim faith in Jesus Christ, saying

 8  If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

We are not going to go into explaining all of this – it was all explained when we went through James verse by verse which are all recorded and freely available for you to consider.   This includes covering the next four verses, which say

10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.  12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Having set the stage in these first verses James now gets to the point and asks:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man sayhe hath faith, and has not works? can faith save him?

Now, just to bring the message into better focus, we have to comment on the words say and speak here in James – at least in the first two chapters.  They are important to understanding his point.  Going back to the first chapter, James writes in verse 13

James 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

James 1:19 reads

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

Then in chapter 2 we read in verse 3

James 2:3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 

And then at verse 12

James 2:12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Again, James establishes the words believers say to others a few more times in this second chapter.  And having touched on this he now asks

James 2:14  What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can (and I will add here, “said”) faith save him?

In other words, do the mere professions from the mouth, what believers say and speak, bear any weight or carry any substance if they are not backed up with actions (or what James calls, works)?   This is central to James’ argument – “said faith.”  At verse 16 James writes

James 2:16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Then again at verse 18 we read

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

So, we see that this is the first point that He is making, that said faith and said promises of allegiance mean absolutely nothing if they arrive empty handed – meaning without love (and I will add here, love for God and Neighbor, the two great commandments). In other words, stated or professed faith means nothing at all to God if, in the life of a mature believer, it is not supported, backed and proved by works of love.  Now listen carefully.  The works of which James speaks are love, which we will also prove shortly.  So, everytime we read the word, works here, we can replace it with love.  Why does James use works?  Because genuine love is a verb and not a feeling.  And genuine agape love is always (and I mean this without exception) a work that requires selflessness, sacrifice and suffering).  In other words, Godly love is not self-indulgent nor is it a feeling.  It is a sacrificial insufferable act.  What James is saying is this, 

Mature and genuine saving faith is always accompanied by selfless acts of love.   In other words, acts of agape love are the proof of genuine mature faith.  James is not in any way suggesting that faith and works (of love) save us.  No, Paul makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith alone and that it is not of works.  However, James steps forth and clarifies what genuine mature faith looks like, and that genuine mature faith (or trusting in the promises of God) will always include or be supported by a expression of love.

So, we can see that here James divides faith from works, and distinguishes them from each other by asking, “what profit is it that a man SAYS (claims, pronounces to possess faith) But does not have works (of love or any actions behind his statement or proclamation of faith).  And then he gives an example, saying

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;  notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

And now we come to another element of genuine faith – it will always manifest in true love and this “true love” profits or produces something good. Faith is not the love, and the love is not the profit, but the three all work together in manifesting the work of God in a person’s life.  Notice that James writes:

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

“SAY” (refers to the faith) “GIVE” (refers to an action of love) and “profit” refers to the genuine product that results from the love given.  This triad of Christian principles form the basis for the fruit which we bear, which is all for the glory of God.  James adds

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works (or love), is dead, being alone.

In other words, genuine mature faith does not arrive or exist alone.  True faith always rides with a partner, which is love, and that love is always profitable.  James pushes it a little further and adds

18 Yea, a man may say, “Thou hast faith, and I have works:” shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works (and I will add, of love).

We might see said faith as drivings up in a car and yelling out the window, “Here I am!, I believe!  Look at me!”  But if love for God and Neighbor never gets out of the passenger seat to act, then faith is not really functioning – it’s freeriding through town and means nothing really. In fact, it’s dead, James says, and people hearing what it says and proclaims, might remark

Well, you don’t appear to be genuine faith to me.”

But genuine mature faith drives up and humble says, “I serve the Lord,” and love jumps out of the passenger seat and acts profitably toward God and/or others and then others will see that what is driving the vehicle is real.  James continues and says  

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Perhaps we could take the liberty and rewrite this to frankly say, “Faith without love for God and Man is dead faith, inert faith, disabled faith because genuine mature faith always manifests in love that is profitable. Now James gives us some examples from the Tanakh of faith manifesting in love for God and Man and the first example is appropriate to the order as he says

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works (or love), and by works (of love) was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, (which was proven by His actions) and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

James is not saying that Abram was justified before God by his actions.  He is saying that Abram’s faith was deemed genuine and mature in the action he took.  And what action does James mention here in this first example?  His offering up Isaac His son upon the alter.  And what is this example direct evidence of?  The first and great commandment, where Abraham illustrated his ultimate love for God!  

This fact is underscored when James decides to provide us with another example of the works he is describing that always follow genuine mature faith.  Of all the examples he could have picked from scripture, what does he appeal to? The example of Rahab the Harlot!  And what did Rahab the Harlot do?  She evidenced the second great commandment, which is to love neighbor as self.  Listen as James says

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

In the Old Testament story of Rahab, who as a non-Jew harlot, she (obviously) first had faith in the Living God of the Israelites and then she proved this faith by expressing love to others, who in this case were the messengers that she aided and hid, again, proving that faith, in the case of Abraham and in the case of Rahab, does not arrive alone, but will always be accompanied by either love for God or love for neighbor as self, the two great commandments.

Then James summarizes the whole point, saying

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works (the fruits of the Spirit, which is love) is dead also.

And in these words, which a mere man (Luther) wanted to rip from the Bible, we see the importance of faith, and its constant companion, which is always first love for God and then love for neighbor.

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