Dr. Sinclair Ferguson tells the story. The funeral was not long over when the brother of the deceased man came up to the minister and said, “He’s okay isn’t he? He’s okay?” The minister said, “Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘okay.’ What do you mean by okay?” The brother said, “He’s saved isn’t he?” The man the minister had just buried had not darkened a church door in many, many years. He’d not been known in the community as a Christian believer. He’d not given any signs that he was a follower of Jesus to any of those who knew him. The man said, “He’s okay. You know, once saved always saved, right?” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He took out a crumpled piece of paper and written at the top were the words, “Decision Card.” He showed the minister where his brother had made a decision to follow Christ 35 years ago. “So, he’s okay isn’t he?” “Well,” the wise minister told him, “Why don’t we talk about that some time, but not today.”
It was wise of the minister to tell the man, “Let’s talk about this some time, but not today.” But, here this morning, after we began our study of James 2:14-26 last week and we learned what James said about “faith without works,” what do you believe about the man who walked an aisle, professed faith in Jesus, but never demonstrated any evidence of walking with Jesus? What do you believe? What do you believe James would say about the situation if he were with us this morning? I don’t think we need much time to respond to the question. James would say, “Faith without works is dead.” Not just because it lacks works, but because it isn’t faith. James is teaching us that if faith doesn’t have an impact on our life, if it doesn’t produce fruit, then it isn’t genuine faith at all. Let’s read our Scripture and we’ll get back to the study we began last week.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that– and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 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 what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:14-26 NIVO)
Last week we began our study of this section of Scripture by taking a look at James 2:14-19. We spent a lot of our time taking a look at what some say is the contradiction of James with the teaching of Paul who wrote that we are saved by faith alone. If you weren’t here last Sunday then I hope you will go back and read the study, “Faith: Dead or Alive?” In the study we learned that Paul and James are in absolute agreement that good works do not save us. It is faith, trusting in what Jesus has done on our behalf through offering His life as a sinless sacrifice on the Cross that justifies, reconciles us to a Holy and Righteous God. James would absolutely agree with Paul that there is only one way for us to be reconciled to God. And it is also true that Paul would agree with James that salvation, the salvation that God provides for those who believe and receive Jesus’ completed work, will most definitely produce change in us that leads to good works, never to earn salvation, but as a result of the salvation that God has bestowed upon us. Let me show you one of the best examples, from the Apostle Paul, of the two truths working together. Turn with me to Ephesians 2:8-10 and let’s read together.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIVO)
We are saved. How? “Through faith…not by works.” Faith, trust, in what God has done for us, and to us, through Jesus’ offering His sinless life for our sins. What a gift from God that He would reconcile us to Himself! What grace, unimaginable grace, that God would do this for someone like me, someone like you! Now, make sure you don’t stop at verse 9. Verse 10 tells us “…we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” God created us, He also recreated us through our reconciled relationship, and He has done this that we might be His people, actively engaged in caring for others in this broken, hurting world. There’s an amazing example of this in Matthew 25, if you will turn there with me.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus paints a picture for us of the final judgment. All of the people of the world will be gathered together before Jesus and He will separate the people into two groups like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. Listen to what Jesus said,
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40 NIVO)
Now, we need to notice something about what Jesus said or we will easily fall back into thinking that doing good things is what “earns” our way into God’s good graces and punches our ticket to Heaven. Jesus said, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father…” Those who saw the hungry and did something about it are those who were first blessed by the Father, they were not blessed because of what they did. Those who gave something to drink to those who were thirsty are those who recognize how God had quenced their own thirst. Those who invited the stranger in are those who remembered that they were once also strangers and the Lord brought them in and called them His very own. You see, these are those whose lives had been transformed through faith and their faith led them to do something, whatever work He set before them.
There is a second part of the parable of the sheep and the goats. After Jesus addressed those He called “sheep,” He then turned to those on His left, the goats. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus said,
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41 NIVO)
“Depart from me…” Those would have to be the most dreaded words anyone could ever hear. “Depart from me…” Knowing the heart of Jesus like I do I can’t imagine what would lead Him to speak those words to any of His own. What was it? What could possibly lead to this final verdict? Was it doctrinal error? A failure to understand and be able to describe in detail matters concerning christology, soteriology, theology, pneumatology, and eschatology? I don’t find any evidence that would lead us to believe this is what led Jesus to hand down the final verdict. How about gross sin? Surely that must have been what led Jesus to wave His hand and declare, “Depart from me…” Gross sin, repulsive sin, sin that causes us to cringe when we think about it? Is that what caused such a response from Jesus? No, that’s not it. I know that’s not it because in the Scripture we’re reading this morning from James we find an illustration of faith that works, saving faith, and the illustration James uses is a woman named Rahab, a prostitute. So what was it then? Well, if we read the Scripture we will find out that Jesus said the same thing to the goats that He had said to the sheep. “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was sick and in prison…” The difference between the sheep and the goats is the difference between what they did and didn’t do. I know I need to highlight once again the origination, the cause of what they did and didn’t do or we’ll conclude that because they were “uncaring,” they didn’t get into Heaven. James would say they never had faith, genuine faith, in the first place. Authentic faith, genuine faith, brings transformation. It’s inevitable, it’s impossible for it not to happen.
We’re learning from James that it is faith, genuine faith that produces a change in us that leads to actions that bless God’s people and brings glory and honor to God. James gives us two illustrations of genuine faith. James’ first example shouldn’t surprise any of us. Abraham is the most respected, the most revered of all of the examples James could have used. Abraham is the father of the Jews. James writes,
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 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 what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:21-24 NIVO)
Some of you bristled when you heard me read what James has written: “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” You know your Bible very well and you remember what Paul wrote in Romans 4. Let me refresh your memory. Turn with me to Romans 4:2-5.
2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about– but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:2-5 NIVO)
Paul is teaching that Abraham was declared righteous, justified before God through faith alone. Paul stresses that faith is the only means of being declared righteous. James stresses that works are the validation of the faith that is professed. Works are of no value in bringing a person into a right relationship with God, but works are the evidence that we’ve been made right with God. Paul had in mind Genesis 15 when he wrote about “faith alone.” James had in mind Genesis 22:10-12 when he wrote, “Faith without works is dead.” In Genesis 15:1-6 we read,
1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” 4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars– if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6 NIVO)
This is an amazing story. God had first appeared to Abraham in Genesis 12. God told him to leave his country and go to the land God would show him. in Genesis 12, God also said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Abraham had no offspring. He and his wife Sarah had no children. Fast forward to Genesis 15, the Scripture we just read, and Abraham questioned God. “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless…” God reassured Abraham and we read, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” What did you do Abraham? “I believed God.” But there was no evidence Abraham? “Yes, I know, but I believed Him anyway.”
Many Bible teachers believe 10 years had passed between Genesis 12 and Genesis 15, and still no children. It would be another 15 years before Abraham and Sarah would hold the child, promised by God, in their arms. The boy grew and some believe as many as 40 years had passed since God made Abraham the initial promise.
In Genesis 22, God asked Abraham to take his son, the son God had promised, the son God had given, and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. I can’t even imagine the questions that must have stormed Abraham’s mind like an invading army, but Abraham did as God said. He and Isaac carried the wood, the fire, and the knife and made their way to their destination. We know it was a long walk because Genesis 22:4 tells us, “On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.” In the next verse we get a clue that Abraham still believed Isaac was the child promised by God, because he says to his servants who had made the journey with him.
5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Gen. 22:5 NIVO)
When Abraham and Isaac reached their destination on Mt. Moriah, Abraham made all of the preparations, then he bound Isaac and laid him on the altar. In Genesis 22:10-12 we read,
10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:10-12 NIVO)
“Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Did God not yet know about Abraham’s faith? Was the jury still out on Abraham’s faith? If God is omniscient then this can’t be the case can it? Of course not! Alec Motyer writes,
We know, of course, that the Lord did not need this process of validation. He knew from the start. But he is represented as needing it; he is depicted as if he came to a final decision about Abraham’s faith through the observation of Abraham’s works. And he graciously condescends to be represented to us like this, so that we can share his point of view. A true faith produces results, and in particular the result of costly and wholly trustful obedience to the word of God. It fell to James, alone in the New Testament, to bring out this total view of the faith of Abraham. (Motyer, J.A. The Message of James. pg. 115)
Abraham’s faith resulted in the “work” of obedience to God. This is really the same message Jesus shared when He said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (John 14:23).
There is a second illustration James shares with his readers and it is an illustration no one would have ever chosen, the prostitute Rahab. How in the world would James ever think of plucking Rahab from his file of the faithful to use as an illustration of genuine faith, and using her right next to Abraham? From the most obvious witness to the least likely witness. Rahab was a Canaanite from Jericho. A Canaanite? You’ve got to be kidding?! Rahab was a prostitute. A woman of the night. A shady lady. She was living in Jericho among people who were enemies of the people of God. Yet, when you read Joshua 2 you will find out that Rahab had faith and her faith led her to act. Let me give you some background.
Joshua sent out the spies to spy out Jericho before his army marched around it. When the two spies entered Jericho we are told they came to Rahab’s house which was built into the wall of the city by the city gate. That’s a prime location for a prostitute as visitors would travel by her house at all hours of the day and night. Word got out and the king of Jericho sent his men out to search for the spies. They came to Rahab’s house and asked her about the men. Rahab admitted, “Yes, they were here, but they’ve since left and I don’t know where they are now. It hasn’t been that long since they left so if you hurry I bet you will catch up to them.” In actuality Rahab had hidden the men on the roof of her house. Later that night, Rahab went up on the roof, where she had hidden the men, and we read about what happened next. Turn with me to Joshua 2:8-11.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:8-11 NIVO)
That is quite a confession isn’t it? She had very little knowledge about God, but she knew enough to know that “the LORD has given this land to you,” and “the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” As a result Rahab risked everything to act on the knowledge she had. She put her faith in the God of heaven and earth and risked her life to help His people. Let’s put James’ “test of faith” to the test in the faith of Rahab. Suppose she learned about the God of heaven and earth, she learned that He was giving her city to His people, she met the spies, and she said, “Go, I wish you well, be safe and watch your back.” What good would that have done? Rahab acted on her faith by risking it all.
Rahab is such a glaring example of the grace and mercy of God. Rahab was the least likely, wasn’t she? Yet, God moved upon Rahab’s heart. He extended His grace to her. His mercy moved a woman who had made a mess of her life. He redeemed her, saved her, and her name still lives on in the history of God’s faithful men and women. Hebrews 11 has been called, “The Hall of Faith,” by many people. In this one chapter you will find the names of people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David. Tucked in this chapter, chronicling the faith of those who have gone before us, we find this verse,
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31 NIVO)
Even more astonishing is the fact that Rahab was the great, great, great grandmother of David, Israel’s greatest king. David was not Rahab’s most famous descendant. Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us that Rahab was a great, great, several times removed grandmother to Jesus, our Savior! Think of that! What was it about Rahab? Her theological brilliance? Her moral superiority? Hardly. Rahab believed God and she believed to the point of putting her faith into action. Faith works my friend. Won’t you put your faith in Jesus this morning and allow Him to redeem you, then use you to produce the fruit of faith in following in His steps?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 21, 2018