Real Faith (Part Two)

James 2:20-26

Well, good morning Saylorville! If you brought a copy of Scripture with you this morning, you can find the book of James, James, chapter 2, as we continue in our series of Keeping It Real, James, chapter 2.

My wife and I enjoy in-home visits and have for many years where we call on individuals who are seeking to understand what it means to have a personal relationship with God. Invariably in our time together, and oftentimes the very first time we meet, we share our personal stories with those we’re trying to reach. When my wife shares her story, she makes a beeline to 1 John chapter 5 verses 11 through 13, which says,

1 John 5:11-13, “This is the record,” (and she looks at them right in their eye and says this) “This is the record God has given us eternal life. And this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son does not have life. I write these things to you that you may know you have eternal life.’

Did you know you can know you have eternal life? God tells us you can know. It’s when we go back and forth in these homes that she loves to lay down the certainty based on the word of God that an individual can know. But did you know that when that gospel, that saving gospel, really gets into your life and your faith becomes real, did you know that not only can you know but others observing your life can know. Did you know that? Do you think I can support that with Scripture? You better believe I can. Here it is. Paul said to the Thessalonians, he said,

1 Thessalonians 1:4, “We know [brothers loved by God] that He has chosen you.”

Can you imagine somebody looking at you and say, “You know what? I know God has chosen you.” What was behind all of that? Well, it wasn’t just, you know, sentimental romanticism on Paul’s part. This is the context of it, a couple of verses later, where it says this. It says in verse 5… because he says,

1 Thessalonians 1:5a, ”…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

In other words, Paul had seen what God himself, through the gospel, had done to and through the Thessalonians, and so that’s the reason He could say, “I know.” The power of God at work in their lives was proof positive to the Apostle Paul.

So here’s what I want you to note this morning. God has created a kind of Divine synergy between faith and works. He even says of these very same Thessalonians later on … he goes,

1 Thessalonians 2:13, ‘I thank my God for you because when you received the word which you heard from us, you welcomed it, not as the word of men but as it is in truth the word of God (watch this) which effectively works in those who believe.’

Have you ever read that? That’s what happens when the gospel comes into your life and your faith is real, then the word of God effectively is working in you. That’s been the whole message of James. He’s a practitioner.

We saw last week in James 2:14-19 that if you have faith that’s not accompanied with works, (it is what?) it’s dead, because it’s by itself. And that leads us to the same context, verse 20 of chapter two, where it says,

James 2:20, “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham… (now he’s going to give us a couple of examples and the lion’s share goes to Abraham) “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; 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.]

That says Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. So, you see, he had faith that was active, faith that was completed and scripture that was fulfilled. So Abraham, (at the end of verse 23) was called a friend of God.

James 2:24-26,You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (That’s the controversial passage in the context.) 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? (And then he concludes with this summary statement.) 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

So to many who tend to morph into the theological camp, and it’s not that James isn’t dealing with elements of theology, but that’s not his aim. To many, this is a problem passage, but I would submit to you this isn’t a problem passage. It’s a probing passage!

Last week we asked the question, “When should you be worried whether your faith is real or not?” We answered it in a twofold way from the passage. When there’s no change in your life you have a reason to be worried whether your faith is real. Secondly, when your head doesn’t reach your heart because if you’ve just got a head full of knowledge and your heart isn’t changed and your life won’t be changed. These are reasons to be concerned.

Now in [James 2] verses 20 through 26, which we just read, you’ll note that James gave us two examples from the Old Testament on how to know if your faith is real. That’s the question before us today. How can you know your faith is real? We’re going to give you two answers today. One is if you show signs of life, and the other you’ll see when we get to it; Abraham and Rahab. Abraham and Rahab… Are you kidding me? You couldn’t get more polar opposites in the Old Testament! Abraham was a Jew. Rahab was a Canaanite, an outright pagan. Abraham was well-known, and he’s well-known within Christendom, Judaism, Islam. Rahab… a virtual unknown. Abraham was a patriarch. Rahab a prostitute. Abraham was moral. Rehab… clearly immoral. But here’s the point. The faith that God gives us is the same regardless of your background, regardless of where you’re coming from, whether you come from great stock, or whether you come from the dungeon somewhere. Spiritually… morally… I mean, Abraham is at the top of the food chain here, and by any standard of measurement, Rahab was a bottom feeder, but it doesn’t matter! God saves everybody exactly the same. And He doesn’t just give you eternal life later. He gives you a changed life now, which is the whole point of James.

Now Martin Luther was… no friend of the book of James, and made it known. He actually came around because it was Luther and company that gave us Sola Fide, the Latin term which means it’s faith alone. We say “It’s faith alone that saves it, but faith that saves is never alone,” because as James keeps telling us repeatedly it’s a living faith, it’s alive. Luther said, he talked about Sola Fide, faith alone, but he also said that the faith that justifies is Fide Viva, a living faith. As opposed to what we were told earlier, faith without (were you out working out? is what?) nekros… dead.

I want you to look at …the summary statement in verse 26 where he says,

James 2:26, ”For the body  apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

You know things are bad, really bad, when the doctor is looking for signs of life, right? If somebody gets kidnapped, negotiators are brought in, and one of the first things they ask for is “proof of life.” Have you ever been to a funeral as I have and stood next to the casket and had somebody look in and say, “She looks really good, doesn’t she?” And I’m thinking, “She looks dead!” There’s nothing good about a dead person in a casket. (Sorry, if you’re a mortician. It’s no offense. I know you’re doing your job. I’ll probably hear from you later, but… whatever.) But I really appreciate the news outlets, because the news outlets have good theology when it comes to somebody being found dead in a building or in a apartment. They say, they say ‘the body of John Smith was found.’ I love that! They don’t say John Smith was found. They always say the body was found, and they get it right when they say that, because there’s no animation… The spirit is gone. The person is gone. The body is there, but the person is gone. That’s what James is saying. If your faith isn’t alive, you’re no different than a body that’s lying in state. Alive outwardly, you’re animated, but inwardly, you’re dead.

And speaking of a body… now Abraham is the first example here, and we have a body of evidence in his life. We can study his life. We’re not going to do that today. You can go back to those early chapters of Genesis and study the life of Abraham and his faith, and it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, okay? (Or the other way around, however people say it.) He had serious issues, but if you follow his life, there is a trajectory, there is faith, there is growth, there’re feelings, but there is a trajectory, and it’s going in the right direction.

But what is really interesting is verse 21. Look at verse 21. And this is when I want you to notice how James starts with the life of Abraham. He says,

James 2:21,Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?”

Now this is really interesting to me that James starts with Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, and not when he was actually saved back in Genesis 15. See, back in Genesis 15, God takes Abraham out… He has no kids… He’s almost a hundred years old… He says, ‘Can you count the stars?’ Abraham said, ‘I can’t do that.’ ‘You’re not going to be able to count your ancestry either,’ and Abraham placed his faith in the living God. The Bible says,

Genesis 15:6, “‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.’

That verse is embedded in this text, (Did you notice that?) but not here! That happened 30 years earlier when Abraham was on Mount Moriah with Isaac his teenage son, and God… remember God said,

Genesis 22:2,’Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt sacrifice on Mount Moriah.’

Remember that? So he takes three days, he goes there, and at the end he’s wielding a knife over him and ready to plunge it into him, and offer him up as a burnt sacrifice when the angel of God stops him from so doing. So that’s what he’s referring to in verse 21.

Why does… James start with Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac 30 years after he gets saved? Because, listen, because James isn’t giving us a theology of salvation. He’s giving us a theology of sanctification. He’s not teaching us what salvation is. He is teaching us what salvation does. We often say that Paul writes about being justified before God, but James is talking about being justified before people. This is what I meant when I said, “It’s one thing for you to say, I’m certain… I know, that I’m saved.” It’s one thing for you to say that. It’s another thing for me to say, ‘I know you’re saved.’

So the first question is, does your faith show signs of life? I didn’t say it has to be perfect. I’m not suggesting you haven’t failed a few tests along the way, and we’re going to get to that. But are there signs of life? Which leads to the second way, in which you can know whether your faith is real, that is, if it passes God’s tests. If the so-called faith that you have is passing with regularity, albeit imperfectly, the tests that God puts in your life.

Now back to Abraham… because this is where things get kind of squirrelly for people who look at this and say, ‘Oh, this is… a conflicting with other scripture.’ No, it doesn’t, not if you understand James’ purpose here. Verse 21, again,

James 2:21,  “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?”

Answer, Yes. It says he was justified, and that’s the word that throws us off! If Abraham was saved 30 years earlier, (here’s the question) how is it that he’s justified 30 years later? The answer is, (again, remember James’ purpose here) it’s wrapped up in that word completed in the very next verse. Let’s look at verse 22.

James 2:22, ”You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was (see the word, “Telias”) completed.”

…The word means “to bring to an end” by his works. The word completed means exactly what it sounds like. It could also, (and I find this fascinating) it could also be translated “consummated.” When we use the word consummated, we usually think of marriage, and rightly so. So here’s a question. When does a marriage take place? And the answer is, on the day of the marriage, when they’re pronounced ‘husband and wife.’ Later it’s consummated. Here’s the question. Between the ceremony and the consummation, are they married? Go like this. [Shake your head in the affirmative.] Yes, they’re married, but all kinds of problems occur both relationally, for sure, and legally if a marriage is never consummated. This is why some people call this ‘grounds for divorce’ even. (By the way, I checked this out on the internet, this… legal question. And the first seven links were law offices. Imagine that!) But here’s the point, (and don’t miss it) Abraham’s actions on Mount Moriah wielding the knife over his son 30 years after he trusted in the living God, consummated his faith, proved that it was real! That’s the point. And that’s why in the very next verse 23 it says,

James 2:23, ”And the scripture was fulfilled…”

What scripture? When he was wielding a knife over Isaac in Genesis 22, the scripture was fulfilled back in Genesis 15, 30 years earlier. What’s that scripture?

James 2:23,Abraham believed God, (See it there?) and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” 

Listen. God will test your faith to see if it’s real. As you’ve heard us say before, God never, ever, ever tests His children to make them fail. Just the opposite is true. But He will test your faith, not so that He can know, but that we can know! It’s the fulfillment, so to speak, of our faith.

Now, I know that a number of you have heard this story and to some of you, given to you ad nauseam of what occurred to me a week after I became a Christian. The only verse I knew was John 14:6…

John 14:6, “I am the way the truth in the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.

…I want you to listen carefully. I was at a party with my best friends. I mean, we were inseparable, all of us guys who ran around, and our wives or lady friends, whoever they may be, at the time. It was a keg-er. I had just gotten saved a few days earlier. I’d never told anybody other than my wife, and… my best friends and his wife-to-be were having an argument over what church they should get married in, and they pulled me in. “Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, tell Sue, obviously what church we should get married in!” And I looked at him and I said, “I wouldn’t get married in either one of them if they didn’t preach the gospel,” (I couldn’t believe the words were coming out of my mouth!) and they’re looking at me, and I go, “Well, Jesus said I am the way the truth in the life and no one comes to the Father except through me. If the church isn’t preaching that Jesus is the only way, I wouldn’t get married there.” (And they’re looking at me like I’d been taken by aliens or something, you know?) And they’re going, “What are you talking about?! Gordon over here, he’d do anything for anybody. You’re not telling me he’s not going to heaven!” I go, “Well, Jesus said I am the way the truth in the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and unless they’re going through Jesus, they can’t.” “What do you… wait, wait, we’ve got people bowing down to Mecca. I mean they’re serious with… you’re not telling me, they’re not going to heaven!” I mean, I only knew one verse, and I held them off for three hours… with one verse!

This is why I shared this with you again, because it’s always humorous while making a point of the power of God’s word, memorizing and all of that, and I’ll continue to share it for that reason. But here’s what I want you to know from this passage of Scripture… what I’ve never shared with you. I told you, it wasn’t just a venue. It was a venue with all of my friends… my best friends… my inseparable friends. I knew that night, I had this experience of exhilaration that was in juxtaposition was this heaviness, this soberness, this realization. I knew that night that everything was going to change. I knew that my relationship with my best friends would completely change after that night… and it did change. Was it hard? Yes! Was it heavy? Yes! Was I sad being ostracized? Yes! But there was something else going on inside of me where I felt like, ‘Yes! God, this is what you called me to, to speak up for your Son… regardless!’

Our faith gets tested in a ton of ways, and James, right out of the shoot, chapter 1 verse 5 says,

[James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”]

that’s going to happen to you. Some of you, it was when you told your parents that you trusted Jesus. Some of you when you told your spouse.

The Rejoice event last night was beautiful, but one of my top moments was when Emily Gesink gave her testimony. She talked about how, through a series of circumstances, she came. She was a “box checker.” She was going to come to church. She was going to get this family established in a religion, and she came here and she sat right there for weeks and weeks on end, and she brought her husband once and he said “Enough of that!” And it was just her! She was coming… so proud of herself… coming, coming, coming… and then, one day… the gospel made sense! And on her way home, she repented, believed the gospel in her life… was changed! Then she went home… and didn’t tell her husband. She was fearful. I mean, she was embarrassed. I mean, what was she supposed to say? I mean, she’d been a Christian for so many years… or so she thought. And so she held off. But because her faith was real, she could not hold it in! I just thought about, remember Jeremiah says,

[Jeremiah 20:9, ‘I will not speak of you or mention your name anymore, but your word was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I was weary of holding back and could not!’ ]

That’s kind of what she was like, and eventually she had to just tell her husband. And the next thing you know, he’s getting saved! Praise the Lord! They were here today, and they’re walking with God, but it was a test!

And here’s the point. It might have been when you told your parents. It might have been when you told your spouse. It might have been when you left a church that wasn’t preaching the gospel. It might have been when you walked through these doors, or walked away from a life of drugs, or immorality, or sexual addiction, or pornography, or you spoke up in class. Whatever it was, it was a test! And you know that, when that took place, something exhilarating took place, no matter what sacrifice was taking place on the other side! All of these times are defining. They are perfecting. They are fulfilling moments when faith and works synergize, when they consummate. The time you choose to do something, to not do something, to stop doing something, to say something, to walk away from something, to walk towards something, to accept God’s call to the ministry, to missions, to another church plant… whatever it may be, at your making Christ known, that’s when you say, “Yes! Yes! My faith is real!”

Just the other day, I was with a group of guys, and one of the men in this group, having heard the message last week, was convicted and these were his words. He said. “The message last week convicted me, but it also affirmed my faith. I know God has saved me because he is changing me.” And one by one by one by one, all the guys around the table said, “Yes, we see it! We see it! We see it!” Can you imagine how affirmed he was?

And that’s what James is talking about. Is he changing you? That’s the question. Is there a sign of life? And are you passing the test, albeit imperfectly?

Verse 24 is the verse that sort of throws everybody for a loop.

James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

There’s that word “justified.” It’s the same word Paul uses in Romans. So how is James using this word justified? I’ll tell you how he was using it. He’s using it in the same way Luke uses it when Jesus is talking and the people heard him, and even the tax collectors justified God.

[Luke 7:29, “…When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just”]

Have you ever read that? Literally the Greek says “declared God righteous.” Now what’s going on here? Did God get saved? How silly is that? No, He didn’t get saved, but He did get vindicated, and that’s the purpose of, that’s the meaning. The very same context as “wisdom is vindicated,” “wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Luke 7:35, “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Matthew 11:19, “… wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

When we step out in faith, God vindicates us, proves us, and He does so before people,

so the second question is, are you passing those tests that God brings into your life?

I told you James gave us two examples, and the [second] one only gets one verse, Rahab. But it’s pretty cool! Only one verse, but it’s the same message. Let’s look at it again.

James 2:25,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?”

Well, the answer to this rhetorical question is ‘Yes!’ She risked her life hiding those spies in her home! If you remember the story, this is when Joshua, who came after Moses, leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land. They come to that impenetrably doomed fortress of Jericho, that every one in that place will be slaughtered dead, every one of them… except for Rahab and her family who trusted the living God and survived. She did more than survive, because 1400 years after that incident, we have the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. And what does Matthew, who writes to the Jews who are all about lineage, how does he start off? Here’s how he does it.

Matthew 1:1-5a, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab…”

You knew we’d make it to the Christmas story, didn’t you? Think about this. Rahab, who placed her faith in the living God, would end up marrying an Israelite, give birth to Boaz, who would marry Ruth, become the great, great, grandmother of King David, whose line would give us the greater king himself, Jesus Christ!

[Matthew 1:5b-6, “… and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”]

She makes it into the Christmas story! You talk about vindication!

Is your faith real? If your faith is real, you’re not going to make it into the Christmas story, but you will make it into God’s book of life. Isn’t that awesome that it’s called the Book of Life, because faith, if it’s real, is a living faith! It is “Fide Viva…” a living faith!

And the gospel story, alive in your life, is something others can read and say, ‘Yeah, you think you got certainty? We’ve got it too! We know God has done a work in you!’

That’s exactly what Paul said to the Corinthians. He says,‘I don’t need a letter of commendation. You are my letter, known and read by all.’

[2 Corinthians 3:2-3, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”]

Years ago, somebody wrote these words:

“You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day

by the deeds that you do and the words that you say.

Men read what you write whether faithless or true.

So what is the gospel according to you? Anonymous

Let’s pray.

God, we thank you for the gospel and for its great intrinsic power, and for the Divine synergy whereby you take our faith, changing our lives and, through a changed life, good works. You affirm Yourself and Your power and Your gospel both in our own lives individually and in those who are watching our lives. God, I pray for everyone in this room whose faith is not real. It’s a phony faith. It’s a dead faith. They’re not even on life support. There is just no sign of life, and you know who you are! If in your heart you would say, as an individual after the first service said to me, “That’s me,” in tears, weeping, repenting, would you repent this morning and acknowledge your faith is dead? You want it to come alive. You want to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. You want to repent of your sin and believe that Christ died for you and rose again for you, that you might be saved, and you could have that if you were repent right now. God help us all to ask those questions of whether or not You’re changing our lives. Is there sign of life? Is there proof of life in us? And are we passing the test that you bring into our life, not perfectly, not with impeccability like Jesus, but we’re passing and we’re growing and we’re being affirmed? These are great opportunities, Lord, for us to examine ourselves as we go to your table. And as we go and take these powerful symbols of the impeccable life of Jesus who never failed the test, and then became a sacrifice, may we worship you anew, find forgiveness, and maybe, for some in this very room or watching online, real faith, real salvation. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.


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