Faith Tested True

A Study of the Epistle of James

 

James 2

 

James is a letter written to those who are in particular being persecuted and in general are dealing with trials. We have seen that trials are allowed by God to enter our lives in order to build our faith through testing. So important is this process that James states we should actually be joyful when trials enter our lives (James 1:2).

The first eight verses of James 1 spell out the purpose of trials is to test and prove our faith. A faith untested can't be trusted. But a faith that is tested become trustworthy or worthy of our trusting it. That's because a tested faith produces the patience we need to endure and persevere through life. In this process James says if anyone lacks wisdom on how their trial is testing their faith they only need ask the Lord for wisdom to understand and He will give it (James 1:5).

Beginning in James 1:9 James begins to paint a picture of what trustworthy faith looks like in various situations. For instance we have already learned:

·       Trustworthy Faith has a proper perspective on worldly wealth – 1:9-11

·       Trustworthy Faith endures temptation successfully – 1:12-15

·       Trustworthy Faith knows every good and perfect gift in life comes from God 1:16-18

·       Trustworthy Faith is self-controlled – 1:19-20

·       Trustworthy Faith obediently applies the word of God in life – 1:21-25

·       Trustworthy Faith has pure and undefiled religion – 1:26-27

In chapter 2 of James we will continue to see the nature of tested true trustworthy faith in various situations of life.

James 2 (NKJV)

2 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

Trustworthy faith is fair to all and unprejudiced. God is impartial (Jn. 6:37; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11). So is Jesus (Luke 20:21). Those who serve as God's ministers are advised to be impartial (1 Tim. 5:21). And in Christ equality of value is promoted (Gal. 3:26-29). But impartiality and treating people fairly does not mean people shouldn't be corrected for their sins and exhorted to live holy lives. The Bible is written to correct waywardness and sin. One of the reasons for the scriptures is to reprove and correct people to live righteous lives  and in doing so people are prepared and equipped to work effectively for the Lord's purposes (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

There is no place for bigotry or prejudice in the Christian life. History is unfortunately filled with far too many examples of bigotry in the church. Bigotry and prejudice is a symptom of ignorance. This is especially the case when it comes to racial discrimination. In Acts when the apostle Paul teaches in the Areopagus on Mars Hill in Athens among the powerful truth he shares in that message are the words, "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and boundaries of their dwellings" (Acts 17:26). Every "race" of humans comes from "one blood." The only thing that makes the races look different is the amount of melanin in a person's skin. Melanin serves as a protective umbrella from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The blood of every human is the same (except for the types of course). The difference in skin color is simply due to God's created skin protection melanin in various people groups. Evolution has done a great disservice to humanity by promoting the idea of the superiority of certain races. Biblical Christianity has the answer to the racial divides in our world today. In Christ we are one! (e.g. Galatians 3:26-28). We need to start acting like it so the world can see that in this area we have the answer to questions that divide and the solution to the problem of racial bigotry.

We need to practice liberty to be different in the church. Paul in his inspired letter to the Romans speaks about the attitude we should have toward those in the church who differ from us in nonessentials of the faith. For him the big issue was eating meat that had been offered to pagan idols. For us it might be a cultural difference, mode of dress, hair style, etc. In nonessentials in which we in the church differ we need to be gracious. Older saints need to tolerate younger saints and younger saints need to tolerate older saints. We need to be generationally gracious. The bottom line for Paul was, "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5b). In nonessentials there needs to be tolerance amongst brethren. Paul substantiated this by saying, "For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. . . . For we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. . . . So then each of us shall give account of himself to God." (Romans 14:8, 10b, and 12). We need to give room for personal convictions in matters of nonessential aspects of our faith. The determining factor as to whether we do or do not do something or practice something is our faith conviction. Paul says, "for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23b). People can differ on various things that are not essential to salvation. The faith of each person is different and progressing. In heaven we will be completed. Until then, "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification" (Romans 15:1-2). This is the attitude of genuine trustworthy faith toward those who differ.

What we find in the verses in James is an explanation that trustworthy faith is fair faith. These verses provide us with the perfect and fair balance between fairness and correction. What does James tell us about fair faith?

Fair faith is not partial. James states, " My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality." "Partiality" (Greek prosopolepsia )means favoritism, respect of persons. Partiality is treating people differently based on perceived personal benefits you might receive from them. Partiality is forming likes or dislikes based merely on outward appearance. We need to see all people as people Jesus loved and saw worthy of His giving His life for on the cross. Jesus died for the world. So should we. Jesus calls us to deny self, pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23).

Fair faith does not treat people differently based on perceived benefits. James illustrates partiality in the following way - " For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" What's going on here? Partiality is paying attention to and treating people differently based on a perception of possible benefits. In James' illustration he speaks of a person who gives preferential treatment to a rich person over a poor person. Why? Because what is implied is that a rich person has money and resources that may come in handy to help you in some way. A poor person is not going to profit you and possibly will require you give them support from your resources therefore costing you instead of benefitting you. In both cases the attitude is wrong because it is self-centered rather than Christ-centered.

James says to show favoritism in such ways  makes us people who become " judges with evil thoughts." "Judges" (Greek krites) refers to a judge; one who passes judgment on others. God alone is Judge. To judge others in the way we see in this context is to have "evil thoughts." "Evil" (Greek poneros ) means hurtful, degenerate, diseased, morally culpable, derelict, vicious, bad, evil, wicked, harmful. "Thoughts" (Greek dialogismos ) are reasonings, inward discussion, consideration, thoughts. When you act in such prejudiced ways you've allowed your thinking to turn evil; devilish.

Our attitude toward all people should be Lord how do you want to use me to serve these people You have brought into my life?

Fair faith is not prestige seeking. Another reason a person may treat a rich versus poor person differently is that there is a perceived prestige that comes with associating with a wealthy person and a lack of prestige with associating with a poor person. A wealthy person may run in societal circles and rub shoulders with other wealthy people. We may want to associate with them in order to make contacts with other wealthy people and thereby benefit from open doors of opportunity.

But there is prestige to be found in associating with the poor too! How many people associate with and minister to the poor for the sake of building an image of mercy and "selflessness" while all the while simply using the poor to build that image? This ulterior motive is usually exposed by the compliments from others that are sought or from publicizing one's interaction with the poor. The poor are therefore used to build a popular image of humility and service when in fact it is just another proud agenda being sought. Pride is at the root of all such attitudes.

Fair faith doesn't use rewards or punishments to influence people. When you prefer the rich and offer them a "good place" to sit in hope of building a friendship or association that will benefit one's influence or position, that is wrong. That is dishonest. When we punish people we don't want around by various ways of communicating "sit at my footstool" or not blessing them in order to run them off, this is heartless, and not Christlike. Fair faith freely treats people equitably with no thought of trying to influence them other than to facilitate them getting closer to the Lord.

Fair faith "pays attention" equally to all people. The issue here is how we look at others. "Pays attention" (Greek epiblepo ) means to gaze at, look upon, regard, have respect to, turn one's eyes upon. If prejudicial actions are based on our perceptions or first glances at people, then the implication is that we need to guard against treating people a certain way merely based on outward appearances. Again we should look at people through the eyes of Jesus who demonstrated on the cross that He loved all people and that He showed His love was genuine and real by going to the cross to redeem them. Jesus looks at the heart in order to redeem and transform it. Jesus seeks to apply His sin cleansing blood to people. So should we.

Fair faith doesn't treat people differently but in love treats all as "beloved brethren." I don't believe it's an accident that James calls the recipients of his letter to listen by referring to them as "beloved brethren." Fair faith looks with love toward all people, especially those in the body of Christ. Such love is sacrificial in nature. Such love is looking lustfully at people and treating them a certain way based on how we think they will profit us. Fair faith looks in selfless love toward others.

This is the "royal law." James says, " If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well." When Jesus was asked who a "neighbor" was, He answered with the Parable of the Good Samaritan which communicates that every person God brings across our path is a neighbor to be loved, served, and if possible helped (Luke 10:25-37). This is how fair faith is trustworthy faith.

Fair faith recognizes partiality is sin. James states, " but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." Sin is sin. If you live right in some areas but err in one, you are guilty of sin, period. Fair faith sees prejudice and partiality as sin and steers clear of it.

Fair faith is liberal with mercy and restricts judgment. James continues,  "So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." The "law of liberty" is not a law or principle that frees people to sin. Far from it! Grace and God's word always point us away from sin. Any interpretation of scripture that condones or minimizes the seriousness of sin is in error. The "law of liberty" based on this context is properly interpreted to mean that mercy is to be liberally applied to all people. Even in circumstances where judgment may be required James is inspired to write "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

 

James draws attention to the fact that we will stand before judgment ourselves one day. And with that in mind he states, "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy." If we don't show mercy to others. God won't show mercy to us. Jesus said similarly: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38). These words should motivate us away from a judgmental preferential spirit toward a more merciful and loving attitude to all other people.

"Mercy" (Greek eleos ) is defined as compassion, kindness, showing good will toward others, having a desire to help and see God's best for others. When mercy and judgment are connected judgment is seen as a person getting what they deserve, while mercy is not getting what one deserves. For instance, we are all sinners who justly deserve to be condemned by God and sentenced to an eternity in hell. But God in mercy provided a way for our redemption and forgiveness even though we did not deserve it. God is the "Father of mercies" and we are so thankful for that (2 Corinthians 1:3). He is "rich in mercy" (Ephesians 2:4). And because of God's mercy we have reason to be encouraged and not lose heart when we err or sin (2 Corinthians 4:1). It is that spirit that we who have been shown mercy by God should show mercy to others. Fair faith acts toward others in a way that encourages them and prevents them from losing heart no matter their circumstance. The very nature of being merciful is to show it to those who don't deserve it. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Therefore, "put on tender mercies" toward others (Colossians 3:12).  Fair faith is merciful; full of mercy. When you have fair faith, "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

 

Unity, Diversity and Division that Glorifies God

There is a unity that glorifies God. There is a diversity that glorifies God. There is a division that glorifies God. God is clear on what unity, diversity and division is acceptable to Him and brings glory to Him. The Bible reveals that in the Last Days there will be a one world religion. This religion of unity is referred to as Mystery Babylon and has its roots at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This false religious system will ultimately be brought down by God (cf. Revelation 17). The unity of Mystery Babylon is not glorifying to God but opposes God with all deception and rebellion against Him and His word. This false unity is on the rise today. That is a unity true Christians do not want to be a part of. Having a Biblical God ordained understanding of how unity, diversity and division relate to one another is critical to glorifying God by both what we participate in and what we separate from.

What marks the unity that glorifies God? Jesus expressed that one of His main purposes was to bring a unity to His followers that would be representative of the unity He experienced in the Triune Godhead (John 17:20-23). It glorifies God when people come together who are steadfastly devoted to the Bible, fellowship, worship and prayer (Acts 2:42-47). God is glorified by the unity of those who hold to “the foundation of the apostles and prophets”  with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” and where the Holy Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:19-22; 4:4-6; Philippians 2:1-2).

What marks the diversity that glorifies God? Jesus acknowledged diversity in ministry (Mark 9:38-41). He initially came to give the gospel to Israel but thank God He also spoke of opening the gospel to the diversity of the Gentile world! (John 10:16). When people of different races, nations, actual genders, financial means, intellectual capacities, and cultural backgrounds come together in Christ, it glorifies God. When people who have different spiritual gifting, callings and roles in the church (1 Corinthians 12) come together in the love of Jesus (1 Corinthians 13) it glorifies God. When people who worship God differently come together it glorifies God. Whenever people who agree in the essentials of the faith but differ in nonessentials of the faith come together, it glorifies God.

Diversity in the body of Christ is good. We can all learn from those who are different from us. And diversity is necessary to make us whole. God Himself is diverse in that He is One God in Three persons. My wife and I are different in many ways. She is a woman. I am a man. She is practical. I am not always practical. I am big and strong. She is delicate and soft. She sees things I do not always see. I see things she does not always see. Separately we might be vulnerable. Together we are strong and watch each others’ back. The same is true of the church. When churches unite regardless of denomination, location, or mode of worship, it glorifies God.  People in the church are different in many ways but our differences make us stronger. Our differences make us more versatile, perceptive, sensitive to the needs of the lost and empathetic. Our differences enable us to watch each other’s back. Such diversity does not only glorify God, it is the will of God.

What marks the division that glorifies God? Division based on prejudice, ignorance and a lack of love never glorifies God. Division characterized by backbiting and gossip in the church does not glorify God. But there is a division that glorifies God. God glorified Himself when His people separated from Egypt (Exodus 4-14). And when God’s people were about to enter the Promised Land He warned them through Moses to remain separate from the pagan peoples, false prophets and their false teaching (Deuteronomy 7; 13 and 18). God tells us to watch out for those who cause division because of doctrinal deception and false teaching and that we are to “keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). It is not doctrine or the teaching of God’s word that we are to keep away from; we are to unite in the truth of God’s word. We are to stay away from those who teach false doctrine. Whether a person or group holds to the teaching of God’s word determines whether they belong to God and so this is eternally important and therefore worth dividing over (2 John 9).

What makes this area of division a bit more complicated sometimes is the mindset expressed by the Arabian quote the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There are certain circumstances and situations in life where we are tempted to join with those who we had previously opposed to unite in confronting a common foe. Is it ever right to unite with a secular group or religious group who has unscriptural or Christ denying ways? There are many diverse groups that oppose abortion, immorality, and what we would call sin. Uniting with those who believe differently than God says in His word is permissible if and only if you can maintain your scriptural Christian identity. But don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into a situation where you compromise the truth of God’s word. If uniting in such situations means approving of or condoning sin or scriptural heresy and falsehood, then it would be better to fight whatever cause it is separately. God put Joseph in a position that was second in command to Pharaoh of pagan Egypt  to save the messianic line (Genesis 37-50). God used the pagan Persian King Artaxerxes to help Nehemiah rebuild the walls of the holy city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1-2). God can use the unsaved for His purposes. And it is by infiltration rather than isolation that we can be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). In such situations  we serve as a restraining force against evil (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7).

But the Bible also says we are to “come out” and not be “unequally yoked with” unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6). We are not to be united with unbelievers in a way that disregards the holy difference of God’s people. Unity with the ACLU, NOW, or the Church of Satan would not glorify God but division from them would. A worship service where Christians unite with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and other religions would be inappropriate because all of these groups define “God” in unscriptural and even blasphemous ways. What about certain church movements? Would it glorify God to unite with churches that ordain homosexuals or who perform same sex marriages or who approve of abortion, even partial birth abortion? No, divisions from such groups and opposition to their sin by proclaiming the truth of God’s word in love to them is what would bring glory to God. What about uniting with those who claim to be a church but whose teachings deny the truth of God’s word? For instance, what if a “church” group denies the deity of Christ or teaches that salvation is by works and not by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone? What if a “church” teaches that Jesus is not the only way of salvation but that there are many roads of many religions that are acceptable to God? (See John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.) Do we really want to unite with “churches” that misrepresent God? God is clear on how He feels about those who misrepresent Him; His judgment is on them. God barred Moses from the Promised Land because he misrepresented God (Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13). God allowed His people to be defeated and taken into captivity because of their associations with pagan sinful peoples and adopting their sinful religious practices (2 Chronicles 36:14-21). The New Testament is full of exhortations to maintain purity and unity in the teachings of God’s holy word (for example Jude 3-4). When we divide from those who disregard or rebel against God, it glorifies God. It glorifies God because it demonstrates we put Him and His word above the comfort that comes from tolerance of sin and compromising the truth He has revealed (for example Matthew 5:10-16; 10:32-39). But even if we disagree with someone and have to remain separate from them, it should still always be in love (John 13:34-35).  Making the distinction and separating from the groups I just mentioned is clear cut to anyone who respects and holds dear God and His word. We speak the truth in love and share the gospel with such groups, but we do not unite with them. Division sometimes glorifies God. 

There is a unity, diversity and a division that glorifies God. I pray we obey God and submit to Him in these things and that He is glorified greatly as a result.

 

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

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

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

 

Trustworthy faith is seen as genuine when it is evidenced in tangible works. If fair faith is impartial, genuine faith is practical. James has just addressed the fact that faith should be fair. He wrote quite clearly that people with trustworthy faith should not treat people bad or good based on what they might think they could get out of them. Fair faith doesn't treat people good simply because they think they can profit from them. And fair faith doesn't treat people bad simply because they think they won't profit from them. This provides the transition point for James to speak about the genuineness of a person's faith. Such situations and the other examples given in this epistle serve to test and show the genuineness of a person's faith.  

Faith versus Works

From the start of this section we need to clarify the relationship between faith and works. There has been a perceived conflict between faith and works as it relates to salvation. We look at the apostle Paul's clear statement that we are not saved by works but through faith and then at what James says in chapter two here emphasizing works and we perceive and conflict. But this is not the case.

James and Paul  a problem solved with the proper perspective. The relationship between Paul's and James discussion of faith is clarified when we see that each was writing from a different perspective. Paul was apparently writing to relay the truth about faith from a heavenly God-oriented perspective. The context proves this. In Ephesians one Paul gives one of the most glorious attestations to the redemptive blessings we have from the Father in Jesus. He begins by saying, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). Then he is inspired to rattle off the particulars of such a blessing in Jesus by mentioning our being chosen in Him (election), imputed holiness, His predestined plan, our adoption into His eternal family, "the good pleasure of His will," His gracious provisions, our acceptance in Christ, redemption through His blood, forgiveness of sins, the riches of His abundant wise prudent grace, the revealed mystery of the church (elaborated on in Ephesians 3), unity in Christ, our inheritance in Him, that we become the "praise of His glory," and being sealed in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14). Paul then offers a beautifully inspired prayer where he asks that God provide "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17). And then Paul concludes by saying, "And He put all things under His feet. and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). It truly is a majestic passage of scripture.

From the context and perspective of Paul's inspired letter to the Ephesians it is clear that God saves people by grace when they accept through faith. The atoning redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and belief that God raised Jesus from the dead affirms the sufficiency and just fulfillment of His holy heavenly just basis for forgiving humanities' sins. Paul therefore is presenting salvation from God's gracious perspective.

James on the other hand was looking at faith from a human perspective. James was concerned with how we as human beings with limited perspective can discern true from false faith. This was important for personal self assessment as well as for discerning between holy saints and unholy heretics. Remember, James is writing to people who are being persecuted. Many of these people have lost everything. There may have been wolves in sheep's clothing who were creeping into the flock of God to spy on them and gather evidence to base persecution on. There may have been false-Christians undermining the body of Christ. There may have been agents of the enemy Satan who were infiltrating the church and compounding the pain of the persecuted by promoting a hollow talking disingenuous faith. True genuine believers in Christ needed to be identifiable so that counterfeit workless "Christianity" could be exposed and dealt with. What James was inspired to teach as the solution to this problem was that on a human level, from a human perspective, genuine faith is evidenced by its works.

While a person is not saved by works but by faith, the faith that saves works. When we examine the great portion of Ephesians that speaks of salvation by grace through faith in Ephesians 2:1-10 we see God’s salvation plan involves a faith whose purpose does not end at salvation but is meant to press on to do "good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walks in them." Paul's inspired passage reads:

  • Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” 

So we see here that even with Paul there is an involvement with "good works." We simply need to put works in their right place.

A person is saved by God’s grace. We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). That doesn't mean we are or ever will be "God." But it does mean God created humanity with the capacity to reason, relate relationally with others, know right from wrong, and exert a free will to chooses right or wrong. We would have no capacity to choose or step one way or the other by faith if it weren't for God creating us with that capacity. Therefore, we can take no credit for how we exert our faith. When it comes to salvation grace is God's riches at Christ's expense. Humanity is hopeless lost in sin (Romans 3:9-20). And it is only as a free gift of God's grace that in love He made a way for our sins to be justly forgiven by the atoning work of Jesus (Romans 3:21-31). God by grace made a way for humanity to be forgiven their sins and spared an eternity in hell (Romans 5). This is all God's work not ours. Salvation is a gift to be received by faith (e.g. John 1:12). Salvation therefore is "not of yourselves.”

The Ephesians passage says, “we are His workmanship,” we are His artwork. The English word translated “workmanship” is translated from the Greek term poema from which we get another English word, “poem.” The person who is saved is like a piece of God’s poetry. The gracious God-incidents and work of God to save a soul bears witness to the beautiful poetic work of God in life.

But look at God’s stated purpose for our salvation. It states, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  God doesn’t save a soul so that soul can sit around with one’s head in the clouds. God has redemptive work, ministry, for the saved to do. God plans on and wants us to do, “good works.” We are not saved by our “good works,” but the faith that saves, received by grace, is purposeful. We are not saved by OUR good works; but the faith of God’s grace that saves us is proved authentic and real in fulfilling GOD’s GOOD WORKS that He prepares for the saved to do. And  the good works we do are not in our own strength, (i.e. our flesh), but God empowers us by the Spirit to do them. Good works are good only when God is the Author and Enabler of them.

In the 16th century the church had gotten far away from Biblical Christianity. During this time God spoke to a man named Martin Luther. Martin Luther’s Spirit illuminated revelation of Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith,” brought a mighty revolution and regeneration to the church. In Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans he gives the following comment on faith saying:

“Instead, faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.  Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. . . . Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of  God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The  Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you  freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they're smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.” [1]

 

Now what does James say about the working out of trustworthy faith?

Trustworthy genuine faith is personally worthless without works. James writes, " What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" This is a rhetorical question with an implied negative answer. Faith without works has no "profit." "Profit" (Greek aphelos ) means gain, advantage, profit, benefit, accumulated worth. Faith without works degenerates to a useless assent. It means little to nothing to believe your house is on fire and it will profit you nothing if you are too lazy to get up off the couch to rescue others and yourself escape.

Trustworthy genuine faith is corporately worthless without works. James continues, " If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" Again, the rhetorical question has an implied negative response. If our "faith" dismisses or disregards the needs of others, if our "faith" has no action to it, then it is profitless to others. Just think if God has such workless attitude when He looked down on sinful humanity? We would still be lost and for eternity! Thank you Lord for modeling works and actions to be joined to our faith.

Trustworthy genuine faith is dead without works. James therefore concludes, " Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." "Dead" (Greek nekros ) means a corpse, one that has breathed their last, lifeless, deceased, departed, destitute of life, inanimate, dead.  The Holy Spirit is referred to as the "Spirit of life" (Romans 8:2). The Holy Spirit regenerates us at conversion and gives us spiritual life (e.g. John 3; Titus 3:4-7). Therefore, if our faith is devoid of works and according to James "dead," then it also shows that we are not spiritually alive. If we are merely paying lip service to what we believe and not living it out in life, we remain in our sins and are dead spiritually.

 

Trustworthy genuine faith is evidenced by works. James states, "But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." It's not enough to talk a good talk about what you believe. For your words to mean anything they must be lived or worked out in life. There should never be a separation of faith from works. Some theologies seek to do this in their explanation of justification. But James here speaks God's truth that the evidence for a trustworthy genuine faith is how it works out in life.

 

Trustworthy genuine faith without works is demonic. James states, "19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" In the gospels the demons who possessed people proclaimed to Jesus, "I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" (Mark 1:24). These demons had their theology right! But they were still devilish and degenerate. It's not enough to know and even believe all the right things about Jesus and the word of God. It's not enough to have merely an academic kind of faith. Right belief and right doctrine need to be practically lived. And really, if someone has right doctrine and belief they will be living it our practically in life. (See Faith Like a Demon below.)

Trustworthy genuine faith without works is a foolish view. James corrects his readers by stating, "20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" It's foolish to think of faith being genuine without the necessary practical works attached to it. The Bible describes a fool as someone who says there is no God (e.g. Psalm 14:1). A fool therefore is someone who fails to factor God into their life equation. The one who thinks faith is worth anything without works has failed to factor God into their life equation. It's godless to think of faith without works. It's foolish!

Trustworthy genuine faith is validated by works. James argues, "21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only." James uses the phrase, "justified by works" and this is what some find confusing. But what we need to understand is that James is talking more about a faith validated and verified by works than about working our way to heaven. He is simply describing the faith of the patriarch Abraham. Paul also referred to Abraham as a model of faith (Romans 4). These verse are meant to gives us a picture of genuine faith that was exhibited in the life of Abraham.

 

James also refers to Rahab as an example of faith being validated by works. He states, "25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?" Rahab had only heard rumors of how God had delivered His people and defended them in the wilderness. But whether or not she believed was proven and verified when the spies sent out by Joshua to scope out the city of Jericho were received into her home and protected by her. And she did this at under the threat and danger of personal loss of life for herself and her loved ones. But she trusted in God enough to protect his men. If she had just paid lip service and said to them, "Sure, come on in. I'll protect you" and then when Jericho soldiers came she gave up the two spies, her "faith" would have been exposed as really no faith at all. It's one thing to talk a good talk. It's another to follow through on it.

 

James really strikes the perfect balance when he states, "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" Both faith alone and works alone are inadequate to save or justify us. Faith without works is dead. Works without faith in Jesus are weak and inadequate. We can never work our way to heaven. There is no work we can do that would offset our sin and offense to Holy God Almighty. It is only when a person puts their God-given faith in Jesus and it is verified as real through its working out in life that the connection is complete and we, like Abraham, can enter into a relationship with God described as being "called the friend of God."

 

We are "justified by works, and not by faith only." Works are to faith as the resurrection is to the cross of Christ. The resurrection validates and shows the atoning work of Jesus was completely sufficient and acceptable to God. If Jesus hadn't risen from the dead we would still be in our sins and lost for eternity (1 Corinthians 15).  But Jesus did rise from the dead and therefore we have full assurance that all He said and lived and promised is true. Similarly, we on this human level can know our faith and the faith of others is genuine when it is validated and verified  true as it is practically carried out in life through works. God can look into a heart and know simply by a person's faith that they are saved (i.e. Ephesians 2:8-9). We can't do that. But we can see the outward manifestation and realization of genuine faith when it is tangibly seen with evidence of good works.

 

The bottom line is that "26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." If you are settling for a faith that is in word only and never takes a stand for God and His truth and never shows itself in helping or ministry to others, then you should question its genuineness. A faith that is devoid of works is not trustworthy. A faith without works is like a dead corpse in a casket, it's lifeless and departed.

 

Faith Like a Demon

“I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” – Mark 1:24

 

Do you have faith? What kind of faith do you have? Is it an informed faith? Do you take comfort in defining your faith as knowing who Jesus is? Do you think that is sufficient faith for eternal life? If so, I have to inform you that you are relying on demonic faith. The demons believe in God. Demons know quite a lot about God. In the gospels they knew more about Jesus than the  religious people of the day. They believed and knew that Jesus was: “Jesus of Nazareth . . . the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34); “the Son of God” (Mark 3:11); and “the Christ, the Son of God!” (Luke 4:41). Demons demonstrated their knowledge by identifying the apostles as, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17-18). Their proclamation was annoying and counterproductive to the ministry. Paul eventually cast them out of their human vessel. But demons believe in the existence of God and know who His ministers are.

This demonic faith in God is more than a lot of people have today. Today many people deny the existence of God or that Jesus was a literal historical figure. Many deny that Jesus is the Son of God or that He is “the Christ,” the Savior of the world. Many deny that Jesus is God, the second Person of the Triune Godhead. This is because the god of this age has blinded unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4-5). He has blinded the lost and deluded them into thinking either there is no God (e.g. atheism), that there are many gods (e.g. polytheism), or that God is everywhere and in everything (e.g. pantheism). There are those who have been deceived into thinking “God” is who they conjure Him up to be. This is nothing more than idolatry; God in man’s image. God is who He says He is, not who we say He is. Still others follow false religious views of God (e.g. Islam). The god of this age, Satan, has deluded people into misinterpreting faith in God and in particular the genuine saving faith of the gospel. This should not surprise us. Scripture warns, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

The deceptive doctrinal teaching of demons seeks to strike at the core of genuine saving faith. It pitches the idea that saving faith is merely the accumulation of knowledge or assent to certain things. But such a definition is no better than the faith the demons themselves hold! And they are not going to heaven. They are destined for an eternal existence in hell. Is that the kind of faith you want? Is that the kind of faith you are relying on? The apostle James spoke of such faith saying, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). In these words James enlightens his readers in telling them that not even belief in a monotheistic God is enough to save them.  No, demons have a theology; and much of it is correct theology; but they are still destined for hell. What’s your theology? What kind of faith are you relying on for your salvation? “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

What then is the nature of the faith that saves us? What is the difference between the genuine saving faith of gospel and the faith of demons? The apostle John addresses this very question of distinction when he is inspired by God to write:

·       1 John 3:7-10 - 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

From these inspired words of God’s revelation truth we see that genuine saving faith, faith that is of God, is faith that “practices righteousness.” It is faith that is applied to life. It is faith that makes a difference in the way we live life. It is faith that leads to measureable change in a person claiming to be a Christian. Genuine saving faith does not practice sin. “He who sins is of the devil.” A “faith” that does not lead to righteous living is not a saving faith. This is not a works righteousness statement for the faith that genuinely saves merely opens the door to God’s working in and through us for righteousness’ sake (Philippians 2:12-13).

These verses tell us that the purpose for Jesus coming was to destroy the works of the devil. That would include all his false and deceptive doctrines about the nature of faith. Jesus came to establish the sincere truth that “Whoever is born of God does not sin” (cf. John 3:1-21). The person with genuine saving faith hates sin. They have received spiritual eye transplants so that like their God they have become “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13). You can’t claim to be genuinely saved if you are living in a sinful state contrary to the word of God. You aren’t genuinely saved if you live in contradiction to God’s holy word which He esteems more highly than His own very name! (Psalm 138:2). You can’t be a walking contradiction to God’s word and be a true genuinely saved Christian. If you think you can, you have fallen prey to the pernicious deceptive influences of Satan and his demons.

There is one distinguishing characteristic of those who are genuinely saved. There is one evidence that separates the child of God from those with mere demonic faith. There is one point of clarity that reveals the truth about who you are and whether or not God sees you as an opponent or ally. That one all determining characteristic that exposes the truth is love. It is not the love of the world. It is not love that saves. But it is love defined by God and it is love that is the fruit of the enlivening Holy Spirit in a person (Gal. 5:22a). Without the Holy Spirit indwelling you, you aren’t genuinely saved (Romans 8:9-11). And when the Spirit is in a person, so is His love. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). John says this is the message given by Jesus from the beginning (1 John 3:11). He states, “We know we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14).

God defines and illustrates that love through Jesus’ atoning work. It is a love that acts. It is a love that makes a difference (1 John 3:16-18). He demonstrates “His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is a love that even loves its enemies (Mat. 5:44). The kind of love that distinguishes godly from demonic faith is particularly illustrated by God in the cross of Christ. Demonic worldly “love” can sit by and complacently watch those in need without moving a finger. Demonic worldly “love” refuses to give glory to God. Demonic worldly “love” is a tool for getting glory for yourself. Demonic worldly “love” is self-centered. It can give the appearance of being selfless. Demonic worldly “love” uses emotions to justify selfishness or inaction. Demonic worldly “love” can even seek to show the world that “good” can be done apart from God. Such demonic “love” manifests itself in secular or false religious humanitarian efforts (few as they may be). This demonic worldly love proves one is not of God. This is not God’s true love.

But what we need to understand is that demonic faith is faith that resides solely in thought. Demonic faith believes but continues with a rebellious heart. Genuine saving gospel faith is a matter of the heart. God pours out His love in our hearts. “If you believe in your heart” is where genuine saving faith resides (cf. Romans 10:9). “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). Demons believe and tremble because they have and continue to rebel against God in their hearts. They want people to settle in the anti-salvation state of mere cerebral faith. Demons preach a doctrine of assent to knowledge that is cut off from any actual application to life.

The bottom line is the faith that saves; the faith that is all God intends it to be, is faith of the heart. Genuine saving faith involves giving Jesus your heart. It is total surrender. It is forsaking all alternatives and trusting completely in the saving work of Christ for salvation. It is knowing Him, fully surrendering to Jesus, IN YOUR HEART. It is faith that relinquishes control and lordship to the King of kings and LORD of lords, Jesus.

Do you have faith? What kind of faith do you have? Is it an informed faith? Is it faith like a demon? Or do you have genuine saving faith; faith that not only knows who Jesus is, but gives  your heart to Him in full surrender? “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.”

 



[1] Martin Luther's Definition of Faith: An excerpt from "An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans,"

Luther's German Bible of 1522by Martin Luther, 1483-1546Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith

from DR. MARTIN LUTHER'S VERMISCHTE DEUTSCHE SCHRIFTEN. Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63

(Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125]August 1994