Thursday, November 13, 2014

Justified by Works

Part 3 of Faith and Works

You can listen to this sermon here.

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

Same Word, Different Meaning 

Do you know what a homograph is? A homograph is a word that is spelled like another word but is different in meaning (e.g., “park,” “bat,” “fine”).

The word “faith” has more than one meaning in the Bible (though perhaps not technically a homograph). “Faith” in the Bible does not always refer to saving faith. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (v. 14). In this verse, James is referring to a certain kind of faith—a faith he describes as “dead” (vv. 17, 26) and “useless” (v. 20). [1] It’s a faith of words but not deeds. How can I be sure that my faith is not dead and useless? 

Saving faith results in good works. 

Abraham's Faith and Works

James writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (v. 21). In Genesis 22, God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). [2] But as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, the angel of the LORD said to him, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12).

In verse 23, James writes, “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” (v. 23). The quote about Abraham’s faith is from Genesis 15:6, which indicates that Abraham had faith in God long before his obedience recorded in Genesis 22.

Abraham believed God before he obeyed God. 

How was Abraham “justified by works”? “Justified” is another word that has more than one meaning in the Bible.
James 2:21, 24, and 25 are the only verses in James that contain forms of the verb “justify”...; in each case, the term means to “show to be righteous.” Thus [Abraham was] shown, in history, to be righteous by [his] actions, giving proof of [his] prior spiritual state (cf. Ge 22:12, with its “now I know”). [3]
When Paul writes that Abraham was “justified by faith,” he’s referring to Abraham’s initial justification (declared righteous by God through faith). But when James writes that Abraham was “justified by works,” he’s referring to a present justification (shown to be righteous through works). [4]  Jesus used “justified” in the same way that James does: “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37; cf. 11:19).

James states that Abraham’s obedience demonstrated that “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (v. 22). The Greek word translated “completed” (teleioo) is also found in 1 John 4:12: “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Douglas Moo writes,
Clearly our love does not "complete" God's love in the sense that the love of God is in-adequate or faulty without our response. It is rather that God's love comes to expression, reaches its intended goal, when we respond to his grace with love toward others. So also, Abraham's faith, James suggests, reached its intended goal with the patriarch did what God was asking him to do. [5]

Testing the Genuineness of Our Faith 

James states, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (v. 24). The NIV says, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

How we treat others is a good test of the genuineness of our faith.

What James writes in 2:14-26 is possibly in response to people saying, “We have faith. Don’t bother us about helping others.” This could be why James says what he does in vv. 15-17 (see also 2:1-4, 8-9; 3:8-11).

[1] John 6:66 mentions that “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” John 12:42-43 says that “many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” These are two examples of people who possessed faith that did not save.
[2] Skeptics often claim that it would be immoral for God to tell Abraham to kill his son. However, God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was a test of faith (Gen. 22:1) that resulted in a promise of divine blessing for Abraham and his descendents (Gen. 22:15-18) and foreshadowed God’s gracious sacrifice of his only Son (Rom. 8:32).
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Miriam J. Kamell, James, 136.
[4] Many commentators see this justification as a future justification at the final judgment: “Paul refers to the initial declaration of a sinner’s innocence before God; James to the ultimate verdict of innocence pronounced over a person at the last judgment. If a sinner can get into relationship with God only by faith (Paul), the ultimate validation of that relationship takes into account the works that true faith must inevitably produce (James)” (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James, 141).
[5] Moo, 137.

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