Faith and Works

Yesterday, we began looking at the issue of faith and works. James tells us that faith apart from works isn't really faith at all. Today, James uses Abraham to help us understand his point.

Let's read James 2, verses 20-26.

20 “Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Yesterday, we clarified that James is not saying faith and works are two different, yet necessary, parts of the salvation process. Instead, he says that a claim of faith unaccompanied by life change is just that, a claim.

How can we be sure? We know this because the rest of scripture supports it. We already mentioned Romans 3:28. But Paul also echoes the doctrine of salvation by faith alone in Ephesians 2:8, "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—"

So why does James say Abraham was saved by works? This is where most people get confused. First, we have to literally come to terms with what Paul means by faith and what James means by faith. They're using the same vocabulary, but not the same dictionary. We have to remember the context. In Romans and Ephesians, Paul is using the word "faith" to mean trusting God in the saving work of Christ alone. When he uses the word "justify," he's speaking to the act of making us right before God.

When James uses "faith" in chapter two, he's referring to the hollow claim of faith, empty words unsubstantiated by any visible evidence of life change. "Justify" is the act of proving faith by visible works. When he says in verse 22 that Abraham's works "made complete" his faith, the actual rendering here is "brought to maturity." Abraham's faith, which is credited to him in Genesis 15, is in no way incomplete or partial. Instead, what he does in Genesis 22 by placing Isaac on the altar, evidences that faith in a very real way. We see the maturity of Abraham's faith in that moment.

Paul doesn't contradict James. In fact, he agrees. He speaks of this same kind of works in Romans 1:5 and "the obedience that comes from faith" (NIV).

Works can't save us. But neither can empty claims of faith. Let's pray.

"Lord, let our lives evidence a mature faith, one that accomplishes much work for the sake of Your Kingdom. Amen."

Tomorrow, we'll complete our look at these last few verses as we continue to explore true, living faith.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

This devotional was written and read by Brandon Abbott. Brandon is the Connection Minister at the Church at Station Hill. You can read more about him here.