Jennifer Speer Notes: Week Two
James 2/ Real Faith
I. In review. We cannot begin to live the truth of James without a firm grasp on the prerequisites
Salvation. We must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. James is meant for Christians. It is not a handbook of behavior for those who do not know Jesus.
Spirit. If we have this relationship with Christ, we also have His Holy Spirit living within us. The Holy Spirit is the energy, the dynamic of the Christian life. He strengthens and empowers us to live in the way Christ commands us to live (Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 3:16). The Holy Spirit does not come and go in us. He is permanent in the life of a believer (Ephesians 1: 13-14). We do, however, have the daily responsibility of allowing Him to be in control and surrendering to His ways and His leadership.
Seasoned in the Word. The primary tool the Holy Spirit uses is the Word of God, Scripture. Read Hebrew 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. We fill our minds with Scripture. The Holy Spirit in turn uses that Scripture to teach us, direct us, correct us, encourage us, confront us, or comfort us.
James 1:22 is a key verse in the book of James. We MUST be both hearers of God’s Word and also doers of His word.
*What we say we believe and what we do (both actions and words) cannot be separated.
II. Real Issues
James 2:1-4 delves into specific behaviors that need to be addressed among Christians. The first is an attitude of personal favoritism.
Personal favoritism means to show partiality, to be a respecter of persons. Partiality can be favoritism toward or prejudice against. Regardless of how partiality is expressed, it is a wrong distinction that has evil motives behind it. And in James 2, it is a distinction based on external factors.
James 2:4 says in making these distinctions we have become critics (judges) and our thought and actions are wrong. Then James illustrates the problem.
James gives an example in verses 2-3. (He does this throughout the book. He presents a truth then gives an example)
Other ways we show favoritism or make partial distinctions are numerous: Race, nationality, regions of the country, education or intellect, politics, job or titles, stereotypes. The list is endless because sin is often creative. Whatever the source of the distinction, we are making sinful estimations based on our own skewed criteria.
Like the psalmist we must ask the Lord to search our hearts and minds, and see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23-24).
James 2:8 is key in the passage. He reminds these Jewish Christians of the “royal law”. He quotes Leviticus 19:18 from the Old Testament--- a verse they know well. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus uses this same text when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Luke 10: 37 states the neighbor is the one who showed mercy.
The centerpiece of the royal law is love. It is agape love which a direction of the will—not feelings. Agape is always God’s love toward mankind. It is His willful direction toward man. It involves God doing what He knows is best for mankind and not necessarily what man desires. For example: John 3:16. God so love the world that He gave His son, Jesus. If God has asked the world what kind of savior they wanted, it would have been a savior based on power or wealth. But God loved man as man needed to be love and sent Christ to save us from our own sinful selves. Agape love.
Additionally, Ephesians 2:4-5 gives us insight into how God’s love is manifested toward us. God is love and His great love is manifested or demonstrated to us in two ways. Grace and mercy.
Grace is giving us that which we do not deserve. Salvation is by grace. Every blessing is given by grace.
Mercy is withholding from us that which we deserve. Because we are sinners, (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23) we deserve death. But in His great mercy, God withholds eternal judgement and death by paying the price Himself, through Christ. In addition to salvation, many times God responds with mercy when we do not deserve mercy.
No one can earn grace or mercy! They are gifts given to us out of God’s love.
James is saying, deal with people as God has dealt with you—with unearned, undeserved grace and mercy. Love your neighbor. It is the royal or kingly law because this is how God our King operates. Your relationship with the KING affects the way you behave toward others.
Something to remember. Grace and Mercy are always redemptive in nature but never, never do grace and mercy disregard or throw away God’s standards or principles. To exercise Biblical grace and mercy we must have truth as well. Relying on James 1:6 is imperative—ask for wisdom!
James 2:9-11 reminds us that we all guilty of breaking God’s law. I think James knows there is someone out there smugly thinking, “Well I don’t do THAT!” Even if those thoughts are true—we all are guilty of something, making us guilty of breaking the whole law and in desperate need of forgiveness and a Savior.
The word judge comes up again in verses 12-13 but the shade of meaning is different. James lets us know we will be judged or held accountable for our dealings with people. We don’t often think about Christians being judged. God will not judge us for our sins; those have been taken care of on the cross. God will not weigh our lives on some cosmic scale to see if the good outweighs the bad thus determining our eternal destination. Scripture does, however, say we receive reward in heaven based on what we have done with what we have been given here on earth. According to James, the standard of measure is the mercy we have shown.
III. Real Faith (James 2:14-26)
As the passage continues, James explores the subject of faith further. He asks the question, what is real faith?
For our study let me give you a concise, working definition. Faith is acting on revealed truth. God reveals truth in His word. We believe Him, trust Him, and obey Him. Faith is not a leap into the dark. It is not reserved for the super Christian (whatever that may be). Faith is knowing, trusting, AND obeying the truth God has revealed in His Word. Hebrews 11 bears this out. Each person listed in Hebrews 11 was given truth or instruction by God. That person had the choice to obey it or not. Each person listed in Hebrews 11 chose to not only hear the truth but to trust God enough to obey it. It is very much like the old hymn, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
James, however, for the sake of argument or for the sake of making a point is going to use the word faith but separate the two elements of faith. In separating the two elements (believing and doing) he will help us realize what is real faith and to ask ourselves, “Are we exercising genuine faith?”
James is in NO WAY contradicting the Apostle Paul’s teaching. When Paul uses the word faith, he is including both elements of faith. James is separating belief and action for the sake of making a point.
A. Dead Faith
James begins to draw a contrast between dead faith or useless faith and real, dynamic, saving faith. Verse 14 can be translated this way. “Of what value is it if a man professes to have faith but has no good works to prove it? Can that kind of faith save him?
Verse 15-16 are an illustration of the truth presented. James says nice words can never take the place of action. They just become empty, meaningless words.This that kind of faith is a dead, useless faith.
The Amplified Bible reads nicely for verse 18. “ But someone will say to you, ‘You say you have faith and I have good works. Now, you show me alleged faith apart from any good works, if you can, and I by my good works of obedience will show you mu faith’.”
Notice. James is not saying good works can save us. He is saying good works of obedience to God revealed truth is the proof we have a living faith.
Verse 19 is a profound point. James again reaches back into the Old Testament and quotes the Jewish Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4. He says it is good to believe the Shema! But he warns even the demons believe the Shema. Huh?
Revelation 12:7-9 tells of a great war in heaven. Lucifer, a created angel, tried to usurp God’s place. He waged war against God. Lucifer was cast out of heave and won to earth, becoming Satan. His following angels were cast down with him. These fallen angels are now demons. They have seen Go., They have been in the presence of God. They know more truth and doctrine than any of us. They have met Christ. They have vast knowledge of the spiritual realm. BUT they do not trust God neither do they obey God. They only have a belief system. What they believe even makes them shudder-it brings an emotional response. But it cannot or will not save them because the demons do not trust and obey the God they have actually seen.
The warning is glaring! It is not enough for you and I to have a belief system. It is not enough to attend church, to go to Bible study, to know the catechism, to be immersed or sprinkled. It is not enough to attend mass or Sunday worship services. It is not enough to believe the right things. Believing is only a portion of the definition of faith. It is indeed imperative to know and believe the right things. But if that belief does not translate into everyday living, James says it is useless, dead, false faith. In fact, it is not genuine Biblical faith at all. It is simply religion. And oh dear woman, religion will not save you.
B. Living Faith (vs 21-26)
James gives two illustrations of people who demonstrated Biblical faith. Abraham and Rahab. Both people are familiar to the Jewish audience to who James is writing. Both are listed in Hebrews 11.
Justified is a word James uses twice in these verses. Let’s explore that word for a moment.
Justified or justification is a onetime act of God whereby God declares the believing sinner right (in right standing)with God. God graciously presents us with the truth of the gospel. We believe Him, we trust Him, and we willingly surrender our lives to Him. He declares us right with Him. This is a onetime change in our position. He transfers us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. We are no longer strangers and aliens but heirs and family members of Christ. We are justified, never to be un-justified. It is our new standing because of God’s grace. Faith is the doorway to enter into His grace.
But what about the Old Testament people? The people before Jesus birth, death and resurrection? Are they “saved” too? Unfortunately we have been taught that the Old Testament folks earned their salvation by keeping the Law. This could not be further from the truth.
The Old Testament believers obeyed the Law because they already had a relationship with God. They, like us, could not earn salvation. It was given by grace. Any time sinful man has a relationship with Holy God is purely on the basis of God’s grace extended toward man. The keeping of the Law was proof of their salvation/their relationship with God. (No one could keep the whole law perfectly. It was a temporary system. Christ fulfills the Law completely and perfectly.Our surrender and obedience to Him is evidence of our salvation.)
Abraham believed God when God told Abe to move to a new land which God would give to him. God also promised a son who would be the child of promise. This son would become a great nation and bless all the earth. (We know this to be the Jewish nation through whom the Messiah would come). Abraham could have said, “ NO, get someone else.” But he didn’t. He trusted what God said and then obeyed God. His faith contained both elements –both believing and doing.
At this point in the argument James again has separated the two elements of faith emphasizing the obedience/doing part in the life of Abraham. Obviously Abraham believed God. But the thing that set Abraham apart is the fact that he actually put feet to his belief and obeyed.
Rahab the Canaanite harlot does the same thing. Her story is in Joshua 2. She has indeed heard all that God has done for His people Israel. In Joshua 2:11 she makes a profound statement of belief in God. But Joshua 2:12 and following, lets us know she actually did something about her confession of faith. She asked to be rescued. When the spies gave her instructions, she followed them completely. Scripture says she was indeed rescued when Jericho fell. She came into the camp of the Israelites and she married a man named Salmon. She had a baby named Boaz. Boaz had Obed and Obed had Jesse. Jesse had David –the king. But Rahab’s obedient faith does not stop there. David’s lineage (yea Rahab’s lineage) is the lineage of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. (Read the genealogy in Matthew 1). Rahab’s declaration of faith was good but it was not enough to save her from the destruction of Jericho. What she did worked together with what she believed and Rahab was saved. She was justified, declared righteous, and later hailed as a woman of faith because of what she believed and because of what she did.
James wants us to understand the doing of faith is of great importance. It is an outflow of our belief. We cannot have genuine Biblical faith without both believing and obedience. Good works alone cannot save us. Belief alone cannot save us. They work together. Real faith is acting on revealed truth.
What we say we believe and what we do cannot be separated. It matters what we believe. It also matters how we live.