Studies in James Presentation 10
The Structure of the Book Introduction and Trials in the Christian Life (1: 1-8) Happiness in our Circumstances(1: 9-11) Trial, Temptation and Gift (1: 12-18) Hindrances to Fruitfulness(1: 19-21) Doers and Hearers (1: 22-25) True Religion (1: 26-27) Favouritism (2: 1-7) The Royal Law (2: 8-12a) Showing Mercy (2.12b-13] Faith and Works (2:14-26) Teachers and the Tongue (3: 1-12) True and False Wisdom, (3: 13-17) Peacemakers (3: 18) Defeat Through Lack of Submission(4: 1-6) Victory Through Submission(4: 7—10) Judging One Another (4: 11-12) Boasting of Tomorrow (4: 13-17) The Misuse of Wealth(5: 1-6) The Need of Patience (5: 7-12) Appropriate Responses (5:13-16) Restoring the Wanderer (5:17-20) Presentation 10
Faith and Works Chap 2v 14-26 Presentation 10
Introduction People often say to Christian leaders, “I want you to understand that I believe in God". As if to say, "I want to put any anxiety you may have, about my spiritual welfare, to rest once and for all. I might not go to church very often but I believe in God, I might not take the teaching of the Bible seriously but I believe in God". Such individuals need to be faced with the question, "How does your belief in God shape your behaviour?" E.g. If I say, “I believe in the law of gravity”, that belief is rightly questioned if I ask to leave an aeroplane at 30,000 feet without a parachute expecting to float to the ground. If our belief doesn't influence our behaviour then it is a strange sort of belief. And it is this subject that James deals with in the verses before us. Presentation 10
Faith that Does not Save In v14-16 we are introduced to a man whose so-called faith has failed to influence his behaviour. Compassion is what makes us feel pain when somebody else hurts. It is a Christ-like quality. In contrast, the man James describes is void of compassion he gives empty words to those in material need was "Go, I wish you well keep warm and fed!" Compassion involves much more than empty and gushy words. Jesus’ compassion was immediately followed by action that was designed to meet real need: he fed the hungry, he healed the sick, he befriended the outcast, and he taught the spiritually needy. Presentation 10
Faith that Does not Save Men and women of faith will follow Jesus pattern. In the UK Christians have driven forward compassionate programmes: Barnardo built orphanages, Elizabeth Fry was a pioneer in Prison Reform, Lord Shaftsbury brought to parliament safe working conditions for the poor, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, reached the outcasts of society. Think too of the mission hospitals around the world that are committed to providing health care for those who cannot afford it. What a contrast between these men and women of faith and the uncompassionate man James describes! Presentation 10
The Need of Working Faith James then addresses the person who wants to deflect his challenge. Human nature always try to justify itself and argue that it is an exception to the searching conclusions of God's word. "My case is different - you don’t understand my situation”. And so James records a conversation between two imaginary characters in v18... One says, “I am a practical man of action. I have no time for theology and faith and all that spiritual stuff – God will be content with my practical gift.” The second person says, “I am a man of faith, for me theology and belief is very important I have no time for getting my hands dirty – God will be content with that! that’s my gift” James says, “you are both quite wrong, Christian faith and Christian practice are inseparable because Christian behaviour flows out of Christian faith”.
The Need of Working Faith Some people think they do God a favour by saying they believe God exists. As if a mere intellectual belief is all that matters. James explodes this view in v19 reminding us that the devil and the demonic world believe in the existence of God. And they believe in his power and holiness. They could have recited the creed. The theology of hell is amazingly orthodox. But you would hardly Describe the Devil as a believer. It is not enough to be theologically orthodox if those beliefs do not shape our conduct. Faith isn’t purely intellectual; it commits a man to obedience to Christ and to Christian behaviour. It is easy to forget that although Christians have a message to proclaim, they also have a life to live. Their life influences the credibility of their message. The way we live speaks to others just as much as what we say.
The Need of Working Faith People outside the church may have difficulty in understanding the language of religion. But goodness, kindness and love the fruit of faith, will always bridge that communications gap. A century ago Henry Drummond addressed a group of missionary candidates with these words; “You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak in Chinese or in the dialects of India. From the day you land that language of love, understood by all will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary not his words. His character is the message.” What was the distinctive characteristic of our Lord's ministry? Do we not read that, “he went about doing good”? Presentation 10
The Value of Examples In v21-25 James cites two Old Testament examples to illustrate faith that is practical. His first witness is Abraham the father of the Jewish nation. When God called Abraham he made him some staggering promises the fulfilment of which rested upon the birth of an heir. Abraham’s faith was put to the test when God told him to offer up Isaac his son and heir as a sacrifice. Abraham did not know that God would prevent him from taking his son’s life. What went through Abraham’s mind as he raised the knife to sacrifice Isaac? The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac up to life again [Heb 11.17-19]. Abraham by his actions showed the reality of his faith.
The Value of Examples Some of James’ readers may have thought, "I'm no Abraham, its all very well for the founder of a great nation and a man of such obvious maturity to have that kind of faith. Very well, says James lets talk about Rahab the heathen prostitute. She had no special encounters with God. But she had faith. We read in Joshua 2v8 that she said to the Israeli spies she sheltered in Jericho, "I know that the Lord has given you the land...for we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea...” She had heard about the God of Israel and on the basis of what she had heard faith was born in her heart. But was her faith genuine? ‘Oh yes’, says James, ‘her actions plead its genuineness for she put her life on the line when she hid the spies. Her works were the fruit of her faith’. Presentation 10
The Value of Examples It is for this reason that James writes in v24 "that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone". You see a mans' work vindicates his faith. James is not saying that a person's good works save him. Picking up on this relationship between works and faith, John Calvin, the Genevan Reformer helpfully writes: “It is faith alone that justifies but faith that justifies can never be alone.” Presentation 10
Conclusion James will not allow us to divorce our faith from our manner of life. He will not allow a man to say, "I believe the creed, I believe in the existence of God and therefore I am guaranteed a place in the kingdom”. No, for James, faith is the root, but works are the fruit of salvation. Did not Jesus himself say, "You will know them by their fruits"? Matt. 7v16 Presentation 10