The General Epistle of James (Part 13)
A. James sets forth the doctrine of justification by works.
1. This seems to contradict Paul's teaching. ROM 3:20; GAL 2:16.
2. Martin Luther once condemned this epistle because of this seeming contradiction.
3. There are no contradictions in God's word. 2PE 1:20.
B. These verses expand the theme of how to have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1) and not be guilty of vain religion. v. 20.
1. They should not have it with respect of persons. v. 1.
2. They should not have it without works.
a. Faith without works is not profitable and cannot save a man. v. 14.
(1) This is temporal salvation from the deceits of Satan and unto fellowship with
God. 2TI 2:10; 1JO 1:6-7.
(2) Our faith and works do not save us eternally.
EPH 2:8-10; 1JO 5:1; 2:29.
b. A workless faith profited the Jewish Christian no more than lawless circumcision.
c. The sum is that faith without works is dead. vs. 17, 20, 26.
(1) It is alone. v. 17.
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(2) It is a single work. JOH 6:28-29; 1JO 3:22-23.
(3) God requires more than the single work of faith.
(4) Abraham's faith wrought (past tense and past participle of WORK) with his
works. v. 22.
d. A dead, unprofitable faith that cannot save is not genuine faith since genuine faith
saves. 1CO 15:1-2.
e. A dead, unprofitable faith that cannot save is therefore not the faith of the Lord
Jesus Christ but tantamount to the futile, notional faith of devils. v. 19.
(1) Those begotten of God are created unto good works. EPH 2:10. (2) It should be constantly affirmed that believers maintain good works.
f. At issue here are two things that a man may say:
(1) A man may say he has faith (but has no works which prove that).
(2) Another man may say in retort, “...Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew
me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works”
3. The example which James uses here echoes the despite of the poor mentioned earlier.
vs. 6, 15-16.
a. Only saying something nice to a desperate saint is a hollow substitute for rendering aid.
(1) That kind of faith does not profit either person.
(2) That kind of “love” is feigned love that shows the lack of God's indwelling
love. 1PE 1:22; 1JO 3:16-17.
b. The elect are created unto good works, not words. EPH 2:10.
c. Scripture even speaks of those who “...bless with their mouth, but they curse
inwardly” (PSA 62:4).
d. Mind that James is not affirming a wealth redistribution program to relieve all
inconveniences of life.
(1) naked: Unclothed, having no clothing upon the body, stripped to the skin,
nude. Also occas. having only an undergarment on.
(2) destitute: a. Deprived or bereft of (something formerly possessed). Devoid
of, wanting or entirely lacking in (something desirable).
(3) Even Paul experienced such conditions. 2CO 11:27.
(4) It is the things “...needful to the body...” (v. 16) that demand our attention.
(5) Necessity is the operative term. ROM 12:13; EPH 4:28.
4. The man who says he has faith but has no works is a vain man with dead faith. v. 20.
a. vain: Devoid of real value, worth or significance; idle, unprofitable, useless,
worthless; of no effect, force or power; fruitless, futile, unavailing.
b. Such a man is a burden that will eventually be purged out.
LUK 13:6-9; MAT 25:30.
C. It seems that there were some of these Jews who were building their hopes upon the great tenet of Jewish religion: monotheism. v. 19 c/w MAR 12:29.
1. This distinguishes a man from an atheist or an idolater but not from a devil.
2. The atheist and the idolater have less “faith” than a devil!
3. Devils affirm the most high God and that Jesus is His Son. MAR 5:7; ACT 16:17.
4. Devils believe what an unbelieving Jew or Muslim does not believe.
5. The devils' faith, though, only makes them tremble, not do good works. c/w ACT 24:25.
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6. The implication here is that some of these Christians did not even tremble at the obvious vanity of their workless, dead faith. c/w 2PE 2:13; JUDE 1:12.
D. James cites two notable examples of justification by works: Abraham and Rahab. vs. 20-25.
1. Abraham was a Hebrew man, Rahab a Gentile woman.
2. Abraham was noted as God's Friend, Rahab was noted as a harlot.
3. Abraham was noted for lifelong faith, Rahab was noted for sin.
4. Abraham was noted for great faith, Rahab for some faith.
5. The ultimate test for both was whether life could be entrusted to God. c/w LUK 23:46.
6. Thus, whether a believer is Jew, Gentile, famous, infamous, great faith or little faith, good
works are expected for justification as James presents it.
a. There is justification in the sense of setting one free from the guilt and penalty of
sin and making him righteous. In this sense we are justified by Christ alone without
our faith and works. GAL 2:16; ROM 4:6; 5:9, 19.
b. There is justification in the sense of proving the righteousness of a person or action
(LUK 7:29; 1TI 3:16). In this sense our faith and works prove that we already
have been made righteous and justified from sin by Christ. ACT 13:39; 1JO 3:7. c. Our faith must be more than the notional faith of a devil to justify us in this latter
sense. It must be demonstrated by good works.
d. Mind how this is so contrary to “easy-believe-ism” evangelism which emphasizes a
decision as the key and proof of eternal life.
E. Abraham was justified by works when he offered his son upon an altar at God's command.
v. 21 c/w GEN 22.
1. HEB 11:17-19 says that he did this by faith, i.e., upon the word of God. ROM 10:17.
2. Abraham had been a man of faith since he was called out of Ur. HEB 11:8.
3. Abraham later believed God would give him a seed. GEN 15:4-6.
4. Abraham's faith alone did not produce that seed; it was faith AND work! ROM 4:19-22.
5. The grand fulfillment or realization of GEN 15:6 was in the trial of offering Isaac. v. 23.
a. This was a great trial on top of the trials Abraham had already faced.
b. Isaac was the promised son by which his seed would be multiplied.
c. Abraham was called upon to put obedience to God ahead of his natural affection for his son. c/w LUK 14:26, 33.
d. Abraham did not chafe or pit his reason against God's word but believed God would solve any problems this would cause. HEB 11:19.
e. Abraham offered Isaac in a figure inasmuch as he received him from the dead in a figure. HEB 11:19.
f. By works his faith was made perfect (v. 22), i.e. fully accomplished.
g. The real proof of genuine faith is in the darkness of trials.
6. He was thus called “...the Friend of God” (v. 23).
a. friend: One joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy.
b. Christ declares those who DO His commandments His friends. JOH 15:14.
7. Those who prove their faith by their works are the spiritual children of Abraham and
blessed with him. GAL 3:7-9.
F. Rahab was justified by works also when she received the messengers (spies) with peace and sent
them out another way. v. 25 c/w JOS 2.
1. What she did was also an act of faith. HEB 11:31.
2. She had heard of Israel's God and what He had done and promised.
3. She therefore forsook her unbelieving fellow-citizens and aligned with Israel.
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4. This she did at risk of her life! What if the authorities had found out?
5. On the other hand, her belief in Israel's God would also have jeopardized her life if she
hadn't acted upon it, since she was convinced that God had given them the city.
6. Her faith with her works saved her! She became a citizen of Israel and ancestor of Jesus
Christ. JOS 6:25; MAT 1:5-6.
G. One never loses when one works what faith demands though it appears to imply great loss.
H. (JAM 2:26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
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