James, Part 4.

JAMES 4

Your Faith Was Made For Shoes

Introduction

This section of James’ letter has often been views as being at odds with Paul’s cornerstone teaching of Justification of faith. No less a theologian than Martin Luther was so perplexed by the letter of James that he described it as being as useful as straw. However, in reality there is no contradiction between James’ teaching and that of Paul. They compliment each other.

1. The Principle, vv. 14–17

James asks two questions that actually demand the obvious answer that faith not accompanied by good works is of no saving value. The hypothetical case presented by James involves a man who “claims to have” genuine saving faith. Take note of the fact that James does not say this man actually has this kind of faith, merely that he says he does. The question is phrased in such as a way to demand a negative answer. The question can be expressed like this: “This faith can’t save him, can it?” The article refers to the faith the man claims to have–that is, faith not accompanied by deeds.

Faith without works cannot save; for saving faith is evidenced by the works it produces. It is very important to take note of what James is not saying here. James is not suggesting that these good works can earn merit before God. In fact, genuine faith and works work concurrently together. Saving faith will work itself in every aspect of the believer’s life.

In James’ mind, this principle is so obvious that he next gives a ludicrous illustration. It involves the case of a believer who has no clothes or food. The Greek word really means “naked,” suggesting this is an extreme illustration given to prove a point.

In this case, “one of you” says to this naked person, “Go, I wish you well.” This is actually a translation of a common Hebrew farewell, similar to “Go in peace.” The rest of the verse is somewhat misleading. “Keep warm and well fed” contains two verbs known as passives, meaning they are (1) commands to someone else to clothe and feed the person in need, or (2) commands to the person in need to “go get some warm clothes on and eat your fill.” A person who treats someone in need with such disregard is demonstrating that their faith is worthless, “what good is it?”

In verse 17, James states his thesis: “Faith not accompanied by action is dead.” Another way to put this proposition is to say that action is the natural fruit of real, living, saving faith. Since life is active and productive, faith that lives will also be active and productive. So if no deeds are seen in an individual’s life, it is proof that the professed faith is dead. Of note is that James does not deny that it is faith, merely that it is the wrong kind of faith.

2. The Argument, vv. 18–25

Next, James will develop several points in support of his proposition.

1. Works are necessary to prove that a person has faith. The implication of the phrase “Show me your faith without deeds” is that faith cannot be demonstrated apart from the actions of the one who claims to have it. Merely professing faith proves nothing; only action can demonstrate the reality of it.

2. The second point contains the nature of saving faith. All faithful Jews held to the Shema, a creed found in Deuteronomy 6:4–Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. James tells his readers believing that is “good,” but merely agreeing with a creed is not enough to save a person. To prove that point, James says even demons believe the Shema; the know there is one God and they “shudder.” The Greek term phrisso describes shaking in fear. That they have that reaction to God is evidence that their faith is not saving faith; belief alone does not bring peace. So saving faith, then, has nothing to do with the intellectual acceptance of creeds or doctrines. Saving faith goes much deeper than that; it involves the whole man–the inner man–expressing itself outwardly in a life marked by change and works.

3. Next, James is going to offer “evidence” in support of his proposition in verse 17. To say that James is blunt would be an understatement; the Greek word rendered “foolish” really means “empty,” as in “empty-headed.” It also carries with it a spiritual component. So James’ imagined opponent is empty-headed and has no understanding of spiritual truth. Back in verse 17, this kind of faith is described as “dead;” here it is described as something “useless,” or perhaps more accurately, something that “doesn’t work.” James is going to offer Old Testament examples–Abraham and Rahab.

  • Abraham. Abraham was “considered righteous,” a term that means “declared righteous.” The Greek edikaiothe is a legal term that never refers subjective righteousness, but always to the act of declaring a person to be righteous. Notice that James is saying that Abraham was declared righteous “for what he did”–that is, the obedient offering of his son, Genesis 22:1–14. But James makes it clear that it was not his actions alone that justified him. Just looking at verse 21 alone can lead one to conclude that. Rather, verse 22 indicates that it was both his faith and his actions working together that produced justification. Faith, then, is the means of obtaining justification, but by its nature faith produces works. Abraham’s faith was validated by his deeds; if there had been no good deeds, his faith would have been incomplete, dead and useless. Interestingly, some 30 years may have elapsed between the Scripture James refers to as “fulfilled,” Genesis 15:6 and the account of the offering of Isaac on the altar, Genesis 22:1–14. In the first passage Abraham’s faith is said to have been “credited to him as righteousness.” The obedient offering of Abraham in the second passage “fulfilled” the statement of the first passage. While not to be taken as a prophecy, it is a completion or an outworking of the faith described in chapter 15. This is the kind of faith that justifies. God’s act of declaring Abraham righteous because of his faith was vindicated by Abraham’s act of obedience.
  • Rahab. The prostitute Rahab is the second person given as an example of genuine faith. She, like Abraham, was considered righteous “for what she did.” Even though her faith was like that of Abraham, that is where the similarity with the patriarch ended, for she was different from him in virtually every other way. Remember, she was a pagan; she was a woman; and she was a prostitute. And yet, she chose to become identified with the people of Israel. This decision was based on faith (Josh. 2:8–13; Heb. 11:31). Her faith was far from dead or worthless; it moved her to risk her very life to protect the Jewish spies. As a result of that kind of faith, Rahab was declared righteous. Notice that James does not condone her former life. It was her living faith contrasted with her previous immorality that he comments.

Conclusion

James concludes his argument with an illustration of the human body. “The body without the spirit” is a corpse. “Faith without deeds” is as dead as a corpse and useless.

Some have seen James as contradicting Paul’s teaching of Ephesians 2:8–9. If both passages can be looked at in context, the contradiction vanishes. Works complete faith; works are the natural outworking of genuine faith; works are the evidence that saving faith is present in ones life. James was writing against a superficial faith that was of no value; Paul was combating legalism–the idea that a believer may earn favor with God by his good works. Consequently, Paul stressed that salvation was by faith alone. Yet he immediately followed up that declaration with “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Eph. 2:10).

If there are no acts proceeding from faith, then that faith is no more alive than a corpse.

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1 Response to “James, Part 4.”


  1. 1 Mike P. January 12, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you . At long last . Seems like we have waited a long time . Better late than never .


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