2019-9-08 Faith without Works…(Part 2)

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          September 8, 2019

“Faith without Works…(Part 2)”
James 2:18-26

Last week we learned (or recalled) that good works are nowhere meritorious for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), but they are everywhere evidentiary for it (James 2:14-26).  We continue in a similar vein this week—and we continue with more copious illustration than was possible last week.  Let us hear God’s Word in this place once again, and may He bless us to hear it well and to understand it well.

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We see today that faith, externally at least, is implausible without works.  To the potential claim, “You have faith, and I have works,” James responds through the Spirit, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  Later James will assert correctly that faith without works is useless.  Much of the rest of this exposition is example; let’s turn to it.[1]

James begins with a negative example—to wit, the demons.  The Lord says through James, “You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe—and shudder!”  Indeed, the demons claim to believe that God is one (or, cf. NIV, there is one God)—and they believe the claim more fervently than most, for their fear is sufficiently high to cause them to shudder and tremble.  We see this repeatedly in the Gospels (e.g., Mark 1:21-28, 5:1-20, par.).  Yet such a faith is not saving faith; the works of the demons conform not to God’s moral law, but to the nefarious will of their father below.  Merely saying right truth about God, though necessary for salvation, is insufficient for it—the devils are the proof of this.

Now let’s consider two positive examples.  We begin with Abraham—particularly in the matter of him offering his son Isaac on Mount Moriah as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:1-19).  We read nowhere in Moses’ Spirit-led account of Abraham murmuring against God or questioning Him.  Rather, Abraham showed his faith in God by the work of obedience—be it ever so grievous.  Perhaps Abraham hoped that God would countermand His dark decree—though, again, we read nothing of this in the inspired record.  Perhaps Abraham trusted God either to raise Isaac from the dead or to provide another heir from his own body in Isaac’s stead.  In any case, Abraham obeyed perfectly until the arrest of the trial and the provision of a lamb for sacrifice.  Hence, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  Moreover, Abraham was, and is, called the friend of God.  The evidence lies in what Abraham did generally—his works—especially on Mount Moriah.

Now we look at Rahab’s example.  Rahab was a harlot—a lady of ill repute.[2]  Yet God in His providence directed the spies Joshua sent to Jericho unto Rahab’s house—which shared a wall with the city wall (Joshua 2:1-24).  She hid them in her home, misled those who sought their harm, and released them down the city wall to safety.  She did this at considerable risk to herself, but she received, along with her family, the reward of being spared when the children of Israel, under Joshua, destroyed the city (Joshua 6:22-23).  For her further earthly reward, see footnote two, below.

These examples now adduced, James makes the final point that faith is dead apart from works—just as the body is dead apart from the soul.

Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, declared, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Harry Reeder, longtime senior pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and author of Embers to a Flame, urges his conference attendees to perform “Gospel deeds of love and mercy,” in the wider culture.[3]  Let’s do some ourselves in Jesus’ Name.

Let’s do these works, however, with certain things in mind.  Let’s do these works consistent both with our spiritual gifts and with our God-given talents and developed skills.  Let’s also do these works consistent with expressed and perceived need in our community.  Should we comply with these, we will do the works that best match our individual and corporate make-ups, on the one hand, and we will do the works that have maximal short- and long-term impact in the wider culture.  Moreover, let’s us do these words as an expression of God’s love in Christ for people.  This is one way the lost may be moved toward saving faith in Jesus—and in our day, this way may bear fruit above many others.

Faith without works is dead.  So is works without faith.  Faith, with evidentiary works accompanying, is powerful.  It is powerful in the believer’s life as he or she sees God at work through his life to the blessing of many.  It is powerful in the lives of fellow Christians as they see ministry discharged and receive that ministry at times themselves.  It is powerful in the lives of those not yet inside Christ’s saving fold, for it testifies that God’s loves them after all—and they have firsthand evidence in the loving, needful ministry they receive from our hands.  May God bless us as we display the manifold works of God’s saving grace—and that for His glory and the good which He intends the work to accomplish.

AMEN.

[1] For insights concerning these examples I am indebted to George R. Stulac, James.  The InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), found at https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Three-Examples, accessed September 6, 2019, et al.

[2] Matthew Henry, in his Commentary, notes that Rahab had repented of her earlier ways before the spies came.  Though this is disputable, it is indisputable that she became a member of God’s Old Testament Church and is a member of the human ancestry of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

 

[3] Dr. Reeder uttered this memorable phrase as part of his Embers to a Flame conference at Independent Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee, April 2010.

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