J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:19ff

Big Idea:  Obedience completes faith

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

  •  Foolish is a word we don’t use very often.  The Bible uses it to make very strong points.  Why does James think it is foolish for a person to have faith in Jesus but not have obedience (works) as well?

 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

  • Read Genesis 22 together as a family.
  • What was Abraham commanded to do?   Think of all the reasons it was hard for him to obey.
  • How did his obedience demonstrate his faith?

 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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.

  • How do works complete faith?
  • What does God count as righteousness?
  • How does verse 23 show us we are saved by faith alone?

 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

  • Justified means “proven to be true” in this case.  How is a person justified by works?

 25 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?

  • Read Joshua 2, 6 to understand the story of Rahab.  How was her faith made clear by works?

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

  • Can a body live without the spirit?  Can a faith live without works?
  • How connected are faith and works in your life?

In a marriage, or really any other relationship, you move ahead on faith and trust.  You find yourself, at some point and time, just saying, “I think I know these things to be true.  I think he loves me or I think she loves me.  I think I can trust my thoughts, feelings, and time with this person.  But when it comes down to it, you really have to faith that they will care for you and that they love you.  That step of faith is one of the reasons people refuse to commit to a marriage and one of the reasons why people hop out of marriages when they are hurt.  Once trust is trust is broken, it is hard to reestablish.

But everyone now and then you have the opportunity to witness some incredibly selfless act by that person and you know they truly do love you.  Maybe they forgive you when you really don’t deserve it.  Maybe they make some great sacrifice for your good.  Maybe they put up with your stupid junk over and over again so that you can go to work or to go school or meet some other commitment.  When folks do that, when they selflessly love you, it is like that moment completes and confirms the faith you have in them.  In the best of situations, it should move you to want to love and serve that person in return.  Why are those things true?  Simply, they pattern the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 4: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Jesus faithfully obeyed to the point of death.  Now we faithfully obey to the point of death if necessary.  That obedience completes our faith, brings it to its fullest and most sincere sense.  Let’s see if we can understand more deeply as we approach the Book of James this week with this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  Obedience completes faith?

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 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.  24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  25 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?  26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

As always, let’s try to set these things into their proper context.  James is making the point to everyone person who claims faith in Jesus that true faith in Him will result in obedience.  Faith in Jesus is such a powerful thing that you have no choice but to obey.  Your faith in Jesus is a result of God transforming your heart from death to life.  You are gifted with a love of Jesus and a desire to serve Him and obey Him.  James has made the point in the past few weeks that if you don’t find a desire to serve and obey Jesus going on, then you should check and make sure that you have a genuine faith in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus is not just “save me” but also “change me.”  Any person who claims faith in Jesus but does not find their heart changed is told by James, that faith is dead; its non-existent.

So we ended last week trying to present a glorious picture of Jesus knowing that the great saints of the scripture were transformed by that glory, that cried out in faith and God enabled them to obey.  Moses saw the glory of God and was transformed from murderer to the leader of the people of God.  Isaiah saw the glory of God and cried out “Here I am, send me.”  Peter saw the glory of God and went from a denier of Christ to the preacher whose sermon led thousands of people to Christ.  So now, we return to James who continues to give even more examples of what it looks like to be transformed by faith.

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

James is using some pretty harsh language here.  Language that would merit some form of discipline in my house.  I mean if James said that at my house, he would lose polly pockets or lose computer time or something.  Why does James get to use such harsh language as calling someone foolish?  Well, James is very much a NT prophet calling people to faith and repentance, which is always really the same thing.  He is asking this question:  Do you really want to find out if you can have faith in Jesus without obedience?  Because if you think that you have faith in Jesus and you don’t see Jesus transforming you, then you are a fool.  Faith in Jesus is that powerful and that transformative.

Trusting your own way, your own works, your own life thinking that faith in Jesus doesn’t transform is foolish.  Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  James doesn’t want you, me, or anyone else to think that they can have faith in Jesus and not be changed to grow in obedience and gradually become more like Jesus.  So with that in mind, James declares one of the most controversial passages in all of the scriptures in verse 21.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

James declares that Abraham was justified by works.  What in the world?  Well, let’s understand the example so that we can understand the application.  In Genesis 12, God made a bunch of promises to Abraham.  You see, Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and had apparently given up any hopes of having kids.  God promised not only to give them a child but to make an entire nation of people to worship God out of the child they would have.

An amazing promise:  to an old, infertile couple, God promises not only a child but to do great things through that child.  Well through a series of twists and turns and even a few gross acts of disobedience, God gives them that child, and his name was Isaac.  And then God really decides to test Abraham’s faith.

In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham in this way.  “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
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Abraham obeyed, and just before he sacrificed Isaac, God spared Isaac and even provided a sacrifice in Isaac’s place.  Abraham proved his faith in God by obeying, especially when he no idea what God was going to do.  James say that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac.  So what does that mean?  And doesn’t Paul say that Abraham was NOT justified by his works.  I mean listen to Romans 4

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 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 counted to him as righteousness.”

So Paul says that Abraham was not justified by his works and James says he was.  What are we going to do?  Doesn’t this contradiction pull apart so much of the truth of scripture and if it a contradiction, shouldn’t we all just go home here because we are wasting our time?  Fortunately, James explains what he means by saying Abraham was justified by his works.  Listen to verse 22.

22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;

James is not using the word “justified” in the same sense that Paul talks about being justified.  Paul is talking about the legal justification of Abraham’s faith and relationship before God and James is talking about the outworking justification of Abraham’s life and faith before men.  Paul is saying, “Faith in Jesus alone assures justification or the repair of relationship between God and Abraham.  James is saying the justification or the proof that those things have happened comes by the evidence of Abraham’s works and obedience before the rest of the world.

That is why in verse 22, James tells us that Abraham’s faith was active along with his works.  His obedience completed his works.  Gang, a ton of people profess faith in Jesus.  A ton of people have had “experiences” or walked an aisle or raised their hand with their eyes closed and they are counting on those moments of faith to save them or forgive them.  James is trying to make the point that you don’t count on that moment.  If you want to be sure, then look at your life and examine to see elements of an active faith like Abraham’s.

Do you see your faith actively moving you to obey?  Do you see your faith completed by your works?  Do you see your faith justified by a real transformation that is taking place?  None of those these replace the fact that you are forgiven and justified by God by faith in Jesus alone.  Obedience just shows that a real faith in present.  That is why James goes on to say in verse 23

23 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, James is making it clear.  God counts our faith as righteousness.  He gifts it to us, and Abraham’s declaration of faith in God and our declaration of faith in Jesus is counted as righteous by God.  By faith, we become the friends of God, not by anything we do but by the outward declaration of faith that God gifts us with.  And as soon we start to get it, then James goes schizophrenic on us in vs 24

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Okay, James, which one is it?  How are you using the word justified and what are you trying to tell us?  Well, remember, James is explaining to us that our works complete our faith.  Another way of saying that is that our works bring our faith to maturity.  Our obedience is the outward justification of our inward faith.

Oh, you are justified before God by faith alone.  James just said that when he quoted and said “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.  So you are justified or made right before God by faith.  Your faith is justified by obedience in the here and now.  Do you have saving faith?  Then James says and has said, “Prove it.”  Love others.  Show mercy.  Demonstrate you know mercy by showing it to others.

Follow the pattern of Abraham.  Trust God in what He commands even when you don’t understand how or what God has called you to do in obedience.  Right now, I know several folks who are in situations that are completely contrary to what scripture has commanded.  They know this.  They admit this to me.  The reason they don’t obey?  Obedience would be hard.  It would be hard financially to obey.  It would be hard relationally to obey.  James would say, “Hey demonstrate you know transformative faith by obeying.”  Your faith justifies you before God.  Your obedience justified you before man.  To help us understand that, James gives another example and this one is much more radical than the example of Abraham.  James gives us the example of a prostitute and how her faith was made evident by her obedience.  How’s that for an example?  Listen to verse 25.

25 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?

You guys familiar with this story?  If not let me give you a refresher.  Joshua 2 tells the story of Rahab.  Here’s the skinny.  God is about to send the people of God into the land that He promised them way back to Abraham in Genesis.  Joshua, the leader who took over after Moses died, sends a few spies into the land to see what it is like.  Well, obviously if you are spy looking at a land occupied by other people, you can’t just show up and say, “Hey God gave me this land, can you guys pack up and head out?”  You are going to need a place to stay, and what better place to hide out in than, oh I don’t know, a whorehouse?  When soldiers come looking for the spies, Rahab hides them on her roof and thus saves their lives.  The next thing we know, Rahab is completely pagan and from a foreign land begins to speak of Yahweh and faith in Yahweh.  In Joshua 2, she tells the spies this:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

Rahab’s professesion of faith has some very key elements.  She recognizes God’s sovereign right to do as He will (vs 9)  She admits submitting to God (vs 11)  She asks for mercy (vss 12-13)

She then shows great faith and care in these spies entrusting not only her life to them but the life of her family.  She then enables the spies to flee and she sets up a scarlet cord that hangs from her window.  When the raid on the land happens, that cord will be sign of her faith and she and her household will be saved.

Rahab’s faith was made complete by her actions.  Of course she didn’t want her home raided and her family put to death.  It would have been easy for her to say “Oh yeah, I believe in Yahweh.”  But she evidenced that she had faith.  Her actions of care for the spies and the risk she put her family through to spare them justified her declared faith.  Her faith in God was thorough and had thorough, complete, and sufficient actions to show that she truly believed in God.  And James says, “Yep, her works showed that she had faith.  So once again, James wants to tell us that very same thing in verse 26:

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James makes one more analogy to help us understand his point.  And I want us to get this well because next week, James going to us in a brand new direction.  It is like the end of chapter 2 here is the end of complete thought:  one that we at least need mentally master before going forward.  James says, Look at the body.   What makes the body alive is the spirit of a person.   When a person a dies, the spirit departs – the body is just empty flesh.  Unfortunately, and as popular as they are right now – there are no zombies.

There are not inhabited bodies walking around with no spirit.  So just as that is true, so if you claim to have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, and you don’t see God transforming you and making you more like Jesus through obedience, then you faith is dead.  Its non-existent.  This is explained for us really well in Romans 6, so let’s pull up a chair and spend the rest of our time there.  You see what James is telling us about the surety of obedience, Paul explains for us in Romans 6.  Paul explains the engine that makes your transformation in obedience sure.

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Theologically, this teaching is called our “Union with Christ” and it is the engine by which every promise of God comes to you.  Verse 5:  when Jesus died as a penalty for disobedience and sin, you die.  Your payment for sin is paid by faith.  When Jesus was resurrected and brought back to life, your life with God was promised; you have gone from death to life.  But the promise of transformation continues.  Look at verse 6  Not only is your payment for sin completed in Jesus’ death, your old self, the one that was a slave to sin before Jesus, that old self dies as well.  Through Jesus’ work and your faith in Him, you have a new nature.  You are no longer a slave to sin; you are slave to righteousness.  Your faith in Jesus guarantees that you will obey.

So verse 9 explains to us that Jesus’ death for sin is sufficient for everything you need.  Jesus will never die again and you will never have to die for sin again.  Your faith in Jesus insures that you will never ever have to pay the penalty of your sin because Jesus sufficiently paid for it.  As a result, when you think about sin, disobedience, and temptation, tell yourself verse 11:  I am dead to sin.  I am alive to God.  I am in Jesus Christ.  These are hopes, these are more than promises, they are assurances.  They are true of every believer in Jesus.

You can see why James is adamant.  If you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, you will have no choice, you can have great hope, you will obey and be like Jesus.  Dead to sin.  Alive to God.  Look at verse 12

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Paul makes this command to us.   When you see sin in your life, don’t let it reign, don’t let it run rampant.  Don’t obey the temptation that come with your passion.  Verse 13 reiterates that thought.  It tells us, now that you are “in Christ Jesus” now that your penalty for sin is His and His goodness is yours, don’t present your self to sin anymore.  Present yourself to God.   Walk before God has one who has been brought through death and now walks in life.  Present your body as an instrument – a tool – to be used for righteousness – a means by which God will show forth His glory to you and to the world.

Literally, spend your moments presenting yourself, in every moment of every day, as instrument of righteousness.  When you wake up and get in the shower, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you take your kids to school or get your gets ready for school, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you walk into work, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you do laundry, go for a run, check your email, get a cup of coffee, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.

According to this passage, sin isn’t supposed to reign, righteousness is.  You are no longer helpless.  God can enable you to obey.  You will obey.  So wake up each day and present yourself in each of your circumstances as instrument of righteousness to be used by God.  No agenda other than God’s.  Gang, this is a concluding point in the book of James.  Chapter 3 isn’t disconnected but it is a new point, so let’s take a second to recapture what James has emphasized to us.  So much of Christianity has gotten these verses wrong for so long.  I’m not saying we are the ones who get it right.  I’m saying we are the ones who have the opportunity to get it right.  Not because we are special but because we are sitting here right now looking at the truths of scripture that can and will transform us.

Galatians 3: It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

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March 26, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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