James 011 – Clearing Up the ConfusionJames 2:14 • Dr. Andy Woods • January 6, 2021 • James
James 11: Clearing Up the Confusion — James 2:14
The Book of James was written by James who was the half-brother of Christ. Probably the most important thing on the list of Eleven Questions was #3 that he wrote to the believing Jews in the dispersion, with the key word being ‘believing,’ because what you believe about believing controls how you interpret the passage we will start looking at tonight — one of the most abused passages in the whole Bible, James 2:14-26.
He wrote his book from Jerusalem. This is the very first New Testament book ever written, the earliest letter that we have, and it isn’t really so much a book about how to get saved, but about how saved people should live. So, it isn’t a book about positional righteousness but about practical righteousness; how our practice as Christians catches up with our position.
The Book of James essentially has two parts: the first part of it is faith, and there it isn’t so much talking about faith in how to become a Christian, but it is dealing with the subject of faith in terms of how to keep trusting God in the midst of life’s difficulties. These folks here who he was writing to were going through a lot of difficulties; they had been pushed out of Jerusalem by Saul of Tarsus, and you can imagine being pushed out of your house, your home, your city. You are a brand new Christian and under physical persecution, so how do you manifest a practical righteousness that pleases God? James’ first half of the book is: ‘you keep trusting God in the midst of life’s problems.’ These people had a lot of problems. So, the first half of the book then is about continuing to trust God in the trials of life. That is what he deals with in James 1:2-18. There we learn that when trials hit, we are to rejoice, and then he gives all of the reasons in 1:2-12 on why the Christian should rejoice in the midst of trials. Then beginning in 1:13, it is very tempting in the midst of trials to charge God foolishly, to say that God is trying to destroy you. So, James, beginning in 1:13-18, deals with a command to follow about not charging God foolishly in the midst of trials.
From there, he moved on to obedience to God’s Word in 1:19-27 which involves slowness to speech and anger in 1:19-20. The need to take in and obey God’s Word in 1:21-25, and the need to practice true religion, which is helping widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world. All of that goes under the category of obeying God.
From there he switched to the subject that dealt with the topic of favoritism. There was a situation there occurring in the early churches that were meeting in synagogues, and they were showing preference to the wealthy. The wealthy were given privileges that those who lacked resources were not given, so James explains that this isn’t how to please God in their daily lives. So, there is the command not to show favoritism in James 2:1; there is a situation described where the wealthy are given privileges in these synagogues, and then James goes on there, in III, per the slide on James Structure, and he explains why favoritism is contrary to God’s character and purposes. In other words, when showing favoritism like that, we aren’t emulating the character of God.
So that is a fly-by kind of explaining what we have studied thus far in the Book of James. Now, we begin in James 2:14-26 which says, 17 “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead [nekros],…”
What I would like to do is to give some background to this paragraph. If you don’t understand the background, you will be pulled into all kinds of confusion concerning what it is teaching because most people, in fact, 99% of the teaching you get on this, if I can be so bold as to say this, is inaccurate. You will notice 2:17, 17 “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead [nekros],…”being by itself… 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless [argos]?…26 The end of the paragraph says “For just as the body without the spirit is dead [nekros], so also faith without works is dead [nekros].”
So, what 99% of the Christian world believes that this text means is that if you don’t enough works following your alleged conversion to Christianity, then you really never were a Christian to begin with. Has anyone heard that interpretation before? I’d say that this is the dominant interpretation out there. For whatever reason it has the dominant market share, and almost everybody across the theological spectrum, when they teach this passage, that is how they present it. Let me give you some examples to show you how pervasive this teaching is, and when I bring up names, I’m not trying to out people and say, ‘Let’s burn their ministries to the ground;’ there are a lot of good things in these ministries, but what I am trying to show you is the inaccuracy of this interpretation across the spectrum and the pervasiveness of what I think is the wrong view.
John MacArthur in the MacArthur Study Bible makes a comment about ‘faith by itself is dead.’ He says, “faith by itself…is dead: Just as professed compassion without action is phony, the kind of faith that is without works is mere empty profession, not genuine saving faith.” So, if you have a person who claims the name of Christ, yet they don’t have the works that we think we should see in them, then there are grounds for saying they’re not a Christian. John MacArthur, in his book, Faith Works, says, “Faith in this context, [commenting on our passage here, James 2:14-26], is clearly saving faith. James is peaking of eternal salvation. He has referred to ‘the word implanted, which is able to save your souls’ 1:21. Here he has the same salvation in view. He is not disputing whether faith saves. Rather, he is opposing the notion that faith can be a passive, fruitless, intellectual exercise and still save. Where there are no works [now, who makes that call? John MacArthur makes that call, right?, as if God can’t be at work in someone’s life in a way that you can’t see…He says that], “we must assume no faith exists either.” So that is the typical interpretation of ‘faith without works is dead.’
Even people who are closer to our theological camp than John MacArthur, people who I really like in a lot of ways, Charles Swindoll, in the Swindoll Study Bible says virtually the same thing. When Charles Swindoll is commenting on our passage, he says, “First, Paul is looking [now he is comparing James and Paul, which we will do in just a second]… at the root of our salvation, while James is looking at the fruit of our salvation. Paul emphasizes the point that at the time of conversion, the root of salvation is faith alone. James sees that the faith that saves us does not remain alone, though we are saved by faith alone. After salvation, there are things that will inevitably happen [that word ‘inevitably’ is important; he is saying it is unavoidable]… in our lives that show the reality of our salvation…Can a faith that is not validated save? The answer is clearly implied by James’ argument: No, that phony kind of faith cannot save anyone.” So, if there is no corresponding works, then the faith that is professed on the front end is just professed but not possessed, not authentic saving faith. Again, the dominant view from people on this particular paragraph.
Here is an individual who is more on the level, not of the popular commentator like some I have read before, but more of a scholar, Douglas J Moo in the Pillar New Testament Commentary, says, “In what way is such faith ‘dead’? In the sense that it does not attain its purpose: it cannot save (v.14) or justify (v.24). Critical to understanding the argument of the section and integrating it successfully into a broader biblical perspective is the recognition that James is not arguing that works must be added to faith. [At that point, I completely agree with him, but he goes on]… His point, rather, is that genuine biblical faith will inevitably [there is that word again] be characterized by works…James, in a sense, proposes for us in these verses a ‘test’ by which we determine the genuineness of faith: deeds of obedience to the will of God.” So, if there aren’t deeds of obedience to the will of God, then you never had saving faith to begin with, which is the typical interpretation.
Hitting a little closer to home is one of my favorite commentaries is the Bible Knowledge Commentary, and Ron Blue did the James Section, and he said this concerning James 2:14-26, “Just as the law of love gives no excuse for respect of persons, so the possession of faith gives no license to dispense with good works. A believer must not only demonstrate his love by ready acceptance of others, but he must also demonstrate his faith by responsible aid to others. James went on in his letter to emphasize the expression of true faith, to outline the evidence of true faith, and finally to cite examples of true faith… Here is his direct comment to James 2:14. Can such faith save him? A negative answer is anticipated in the Greek. Merely claiming to have faith is not enough. Genuine evidence is evidenced by works.” So, it is the same basic interpretation of modern-day Christendom.
Now this one hurts because I quote Arnold Fruchtenbaum favorably 99.9% of the time, and I always recommend his materials to people, but notice what he says in his The Messianic Jewish Epistles, where he is dealing with the epistles written to Hebrew Christians, one of them is James, and he makes a Comment on James 2:14. Fruchtenbaum says, “The meaning of justification: for Paul the word justification meant acquittal, and Paul was concerned with legal justification in that no man can gain justification by means of works, specifically the works of the Law, for Jacob/James, the meaning of justification was vindication, and he was concerned with the justification of one’s profession of faith in that his claim must be demonstrated by his works, specifically the works of love and faith…Fourth, Jacob/James’ point is a faith that saves is a faith that is expected to produce works. Fifth, a living faith will authenticate itself in the production of works. Sixth, while faith and works are two opposing elements insofar as the means of salvation is concerned, they are, nevertheless, both involved in salvation. One is the means of salvation and the other is the evidence of salvation.” Comment on James 2:15-17: Faith without works is a dead faith. It is dead in itself; it is not merely outwardly barren, but it is dead inwardly. It is lifeless. It shows that it is not true saving faith because true saving faith will reveal itself by works, which are the fruits of faith. This very same concept is taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16).” So again, Fruchtenbaum is sounding like everyone else here where he believes James is saying that if there are not works, there never was saving faith to begin with.
This one hurts because I just gave my Ryrie Study Bible to my daughter for Christmas. I love the Ryrie Study Bible, but as you probably know, the notes are not inspired by God. Amen. A study Bible by definition is a work of man so it will have things in it that you will agree with or may not agree with. But I think Ryrie actually gets it wrong here in James 2:14. Ryrie says, “Can a non-working, dead, spurious [a key word because what they’re saying is if there’s not corresponding works, then the initial faith that one had is not true faith; it’s a false faith; an inauthentic faith; a what they call a ‘spurious’ faith]…faith save a person? James is not saying that we are saved by works [I mean, he is right there]…but that faith that does not produce good works is a dead faith. James was not refuting the Pauline doctrine of justification by true faith [Amen?]…but a perversion of it. Both Paul and James define faith as a living, productive trust in Christ. Genuine faith cannot be ‘dead’ to morality or barren to works.” So again, if there are not corresponding good works, then the faith was spurious to begin with; it was someone who professed Christ but never possessed Christ; it was never an authentic conversion. All of these commentators believe that is what James is saying here.
Warren Wiersbe, another one, I mean, it is almost like the Who’s Who of Christianity here. I love Warren Wiersbe in almost everything he says but not this. Here is his comment on James 2:14:
“The question in James 2:14 should read, ‘Can that kind of faith save him?’ What kind? The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works. The answer is no! Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration. That kind of faith is dead faith. ‘Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone’ (James 2:17). The great theologian, John Calvin, wrote, ‘It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.’ The word alone in James 2:17 simply means ‘by itself.’ True saving faith can never be by itself: it always brings life, and life produces good works.” Wiersbe goes on to Comment on James 2:18-19: “But it is not a saving experience to believe and tremble. A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and be lost forever. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life. ‘Show me thy faith without thy works,’ challenged James, ‘and I will show thee my faith by my works’ (James 2:18).” So, if there isn’t a changed life, then the faith that someone professes on the front end was never possessed; it was spurious.
Wiersbe goes on to comment on James 2:20-26. “True saving faith leads to action. Dynamic faith is not intellectual contemplation or emotional consternation; it leads to obedience on the part of the will. And this obedience is not an isolated event: it continues throughout the whole life. It leads to works…It is important that each professing Christian examine his own heart and life and make sure that he possesses true saving faith, dynamic faith. ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves’ (2 Corinthians 13:5a). [Now I have dealt with that particular verse in depth, ‘…examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith.’ You can find it on the internet; on our soteriology study, and I try to show that when he says to examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith, he isn’t talking about first tense salvation, he is talking about middle tense salvation. Not about whether you are saved to begin with but about your growth in Christ. And I dealt with that and Warren Wiersbe saying that, so I just bring that to your attention. But
he goes on and says], …Satan is the great deceiver; one of his devices is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit faith is true faith, he has that person in his power.”
So, have you heard these interpretations before? In fact, probably before you came to this study, you might be saying, ‘Amen, that is what I believe.’ I want to communicate that none of what you just heard is correct. This is not the issue that James is dealing with. I just wanted to show you those quotes to show you how reformed theology has almost hijacked this passage, and it is to the point where almost anyone who teaches on this gives the reformed view, the reformed view being ‘If you don’t have enough or any works, then you were never saved to begin with.’ That is what Christendom, 99% of it, believes that James 2:14-26 says. This is taught by your favorite Bible teachers on Christian media and you read on the printed page — they’re all saying this.
So, what is my problem with this? How much works does a Christian have to have to prove he is saved? That might be a really interesting conversation. We might break out some coffee, and you can come over to my house, and we can talk about it until 3 AM, having a great time bantering that about trying to figure it out. But James is not talking about that, in fact, I believe that this is the furthest thought from James’ mind. I believe that if James himself, the Lord’s half-brother, was given an early resurrection, and he was sitting right here in the audience, he would be shocked at how all of these Christian teachers have interpreted what he was saying because he wasn’t even talking about what everybody thinks he was talking about. So essentially what is happening is that people come to James 2:14-26, and they’re trying to get James to answer an issue or a question that James is not asking or answering. Why do we want James to answer this question? Maybe because it is a question on our minds. Because we all know people who, when they were 17 or younger, professed Christ, and now their lives are as far away from Christ as you can imagine. So, what is on our minds is are they really saved? That is something we are interested in, so we come to this passage, and we want James to deal with that. The problem is that the Bible is not set up that way: it is set up to answer questions that are on the minds of the biblical writers, so our job in biblical interpretation is not to come to the Bible and say, ‘Answer this question.’ Our job in biblical interpretation is trying to figure out what was on James’ mind; what was he asking and answering? The reason I don’t think that James is dealing with this subject is because all the way through this book, he is presuming that his readers are believers. That is why we made such a big deal about #3, as we were introducing the book of James last quarter, in demonstrating that James was writing to a believing audience. James is not dealing with a situation where he has a bunch of people in front of him where he thinks that some are saved and some are not. Now, that is our situation in the Bible belt; people come to church and we wonder if they’re saved or not. That isn’t James’ situation. Don’t transfer our situation back to James’ situation.
To remind us of the fact that James is dealing with an already saved audience, go back to James 1:18. What does James say one chapter earlier? “In the exercise of His will, he brought us [see the word, ‘us’ there? Now is James saved? I hope so. His audience had the same saved status as he had, that is why he is using ‘us.’]…forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” When James addresses his audience, he says that we have heard the gospel, we’ve heard the Word of God, and we’ve been brought forth as kind of a first fruits. There is no hint here where James is saying that ‘Some of you might not be Christians.’
Take a look at James 2:5, which is just before our paragraph, “Listen, my beloved brethren [he doesn’t just call his audience ‘brethren,’ he calls them ‘beloved brethren.’ Jesus said, ‘…who are my brothers, who are my sisters, etc, are they not the ones who do the will of my Father who is in heaven’ — Matthew 12:50. So quite clearly, when James is talking about brethren, he is talking about saved people, and just so there is no mistake, he doesn’t just say ‘brethren,’ he says, ‘beloved brethren.’ Go to James 4:5 for half a second — “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?” Did James have the Holy Spirit? Obviously, he did, and what he is saying to his audience is, ‘I have the Holy Spirit and you have the exact same Holy Spirit that I have.’ If they didn’t have the Holy Spirit, they wouldn’t be Christians. Doesn’t Paul say, however, ‘you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you but if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him’ Romans 8:9. It is impossible to be a Christian without the Holy Spirit. So, when James says the Spirit that is already in us richly desires us, he is acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is inside of his audience just like it is inside of him. If that is true, then he couldn’t be suddenly reversing course midstream, and calling into question his audience’s salvation because they don’t have enough good works.
What James is dealing with, remember the three tenses of salvation? Justification, sanctification, glorification. Justification past tense of salvation, we are freed from sin’s penalty at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. We have been saved, Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5.
Then after you get saved, God ushers you into the middle tense of your salvation, not justification but sanctification where now, you are not being delivered from sin’s penalty as that happened when you trusted Christ, but now you are gradually being delivered from sin’s power as you trust in the resources of Christ and live by faith moment by moment. There you will find ‘save’ in the middle tense as in Philippians 2:12.
But one of these days the rapture will occur, or you will die. I hope the rapture comes first, Amen? Then you will be ushered into the third tense of your salvation, which is glorification where you will be delivered from sin’s very presence because you will no longer be dual-natured: new nature and sin nature, but you will be in a glorified body which doesn’t even have a sin nature. You won’t even be able to sin if you want to, and you won’t want to because you won’t have the old nature telling you to come back to the old nature. There, ‘save’ is used in the future tense.
So when someone asks ‘Are you saved?’ The right answer is, ‘I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.’ That is how the word, ‘saved’ is used in the Bible. It is used in the past, present and in the future tenses.
So, given what we have said about the book of James and his audience, which tense of salvation is James interested in here? The middle tense. That is James’ whole focus; he is trying to help Christians to grow, so if that is his focus, he isn’t dealing with first tense salvation issues here. Maybe you are justified, maybe you’re not. We can ask questions like that of people, but that is not what James is asking. What people do is to grab this paragraph and try to get James to deal with this question, and James is not dealing with our question. James is dealing with his questions that God put on his heart with his flock, which is middle tense salvation-type things. And if you just follow the context of this, you will see it very clearly because at the end of chapter 1, what does he want his audience to do? To be unstained by the world, James 1:26,27 and to help widows and orphans in their distress. In other words, he wants the faith that’s already inside of them to become useful and productive and living. To the point where God can actually use it through a Christian to expand His purposes on the earth. That is the interest of James; what he is interested in talking about.
Go to chapter 2 just before our paragraph, James 2:2,3 where people are showing preference to the wealthy. What is James upset about here? He isn’t saying, ‘Well you guys aren’t Christians,’ what he is upset about is ‘Your faith in you is not useful; productive; you aren’t reflecting the mind of God because you are doing something that God Himself doesn’t even do — He doesn’t show favor to the wealthy. God doesn’t do that, and that’s what you’re doing.’ So, James is not second guessing whether these people are believers. What he is second guessing is whether the faith that is inside of them is being useful or productive in such a way that God wants to extend His purposes through the believer. That is what James is focused on here.
If you go to chapter 2, verses 12,13, you remember from last quarter, he was dealing with the Bema Seat, remember that? “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
At the end of the last quarter, we went into a lot of teaching as to why that is a reference to the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ and why that is what James is dealing with. The judgment seat of Christ is the judgement seat of rewards for the Christian. It is not, ‘Oh, you’re saved, you’re not.’ It is, ‘You’re all saved or you wouldn’t be at the judgment seat of Christ.’ It is just a matter of who will be rewarded and who won’t be. So, all believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will be equally rewarded in heaven. That is what James is dealing with in 2:12-13, and 2:13 is followed by 2:14. So when he says, ‘faith without works is dead’ and these kind of things, he is not focused on ‘You’re a Christian, you’re not a Christian,’ what he is focused on is ‘Are you going to get into heaven as a believer and be fully rewarded?’ That is what he is focused on.
You can see that this is what James is dealing with here in our paragraph by simply following the context. What are the three rules of real estate? Location, location, location. What are the three rules of Bible study? CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT! Now if you have a pre-existing systematic theology that says, ‘So and so has spurious faith because they don’t have enough works to prove they’re a Christian,’ and that is your belief, then you will come to James 2:14-26 and grab it out of context and use it as a point to prove your pre-existing theological system. This is the great danger of systematic theology. Systematic theologians do this all the time. Even the very best in Christianity, a lot of the names I called out earlier and gave you the source on, do this all the time. The problem and danger with that is that you start to ask and answer questions that the biblical author is not asking or answering. You are asking and answering them because you have bought into the pre-existing system, but the biblical writer isn’t asking and answering them. So contextually, James is focused on the Bema Seat; he is focused on favoritism, and why Christians shouldn’t show favoritism. He is focused on helping the widows and orphans in distress. Why is it that you are in a church and you have all of these saved people, and someone in the church who is a widow or an orphan, and they get no ministry? That is what James is focused on. Not who is saved and who isn’t.
So, a lot of this confusion about James 2:14-26 is related to forcing James to ask and answer questions that he isn’t asking nor answering. A lot of the confusion on this relates to the fact that Paul and James use the same vocabulary, so people think that James just used the same vocabulary word that Paul used. When the fact of the matter is that both men, Paul and James, used the same vocabulary, but they attach different meanings to the vocabulary words. That is the error that people make — they see the word, ‘justify’ and think, that is how Paul used it, so that must mean what James means here. People see the word, ‘save,’ what did Paul mean by ‘save,’ it must mean what James means by ‘save,’. People see the word, ‘works’ and ask what Paul meant by ‘works’ and assume that James meant the same thing as Paul did. It isn’t the same word. The thing to understand is that words are tricky because they can have multiple meanings. When I use the word, ‘apple,’ how many words can be generated from ‘apple?’ It is a piece of fruit, or New York City, the Big Apple, which no one wants to visit anymore, by the way, or it is a computer, or it is the pupil of one’s eye, the ‘apple of one’s eye.’ So since apple has all of those meanings, how would I determine which meaning to supply? Remember our
three rules of Bible study—CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT! It is the same in the scriptures.
‘Justify, save, faith’, doesn’t mean the exact same thing everywhere it is used. The error that is made is by people assuming that the same word always means the same thing — that isn’t true. Here is a chart I put together that might help — the differences between Paul and James —see table below on:
Harmony Between Paul and James
|Phase of Salvation||Justification||Sanctification|
|Tense of Salvation||First tense||Second tense|
|Issue||Self-righteous Judaism||Dead orthodoxy|
|Genesis||Gen 15:6||Gen 22|
I use Paul, because more than anyone else, he talked about justification by faith alone. Paul is primarily focused on justification, not exclusively, but primarily. James is focused on sanctification. Paul is focused, not excusively, but primarily on the first tense of salvation. James is focused on the second tense of salvation. What is the issue with Paul? It is self-righteous Judaism — people who think they are right with God on the basis of good works — is what Paul is condemning in Romans, Galatians, etc. Is James focused on ‘If you don’t have enough good works, you aren’t a Christian?’ Not at all. James is focused on dead orthodoxy — people who are believers, but who aren’t useful to God because their faith is not a useful faith. They have it, it exists, they’re going to heaven; they have their fire insurance paid up, but they won’t be well-rewarded once they get there. God isn’t using them the way He wants to use them to advance His purposes.
The Book of Genesis, both Paul and James like to quote that book. Paul likes Genesis 15:6 — ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to Him for righteousness.’ That is when we believe Abraham was justified by faith alone. Now James likes Genesis, too, but he doesn’t camp on Genesis 15:6 as Paul does; James will quote Genesis 22, ‘When Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac.’ I will demonstrate this when I get into all of that, but between Genesis 15:6 and Genesis 22, there are about 20 years in Abraham’s life. He got saved by faith alone. But his faith that was already inside of him did not become useful until he was willing to sacrifice his son two decades later. So James will focus on Genesis 22 and Paul focus on Genesis 15:6 as both men are dealing with different subjects.
Here is where it gets tricky: Paul uses the word, ‘justification’ a lot. When Paul uses the word, ‘justification’ he is talking about a declaration of innocence before God that a lost sinner receives the moment they trust Christ.
James uses the word, ‘justification,’ but he does not mean the same thing by it. When James uses the word, ‘justification’ he is speaking of evidence of the usefulness of the believer’s faith before God? No, in the eyes of man. In other words, Abraham’s faith that was already inside of him did not become productive until he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, and in that sense, Abraham was justified before man in Genesis 22 twenty years after he had already been justified before God in Genesis 15:6.
How about the word, ‘save?’ When Paul uses the word, ‘save,’ he is talking about being saved from hell. When James uses the word, ‘save,’ he is talking about middle tense salvation, so he is dealing with our walk as we are being saved from sin’s power — middle tense salvation.
By the way how does Paul use the words, ‘faith’ and ‘save?’ Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5. When James uses the word, ‘save,’ write down Philippians 2:12-15. James uses the word, ‘save’ in middle tense salvation and Paul uses the word, ‘save’ in first tense of salvation.
How about the word, ‘faith?’ When Paul uses the word, ‘faith,’ he is speaking of saving faith, which is our focus generally in western Christianity. We want to know when people were saved. Are you saved? We are basically asking them, ‘When was it that you trusted in Christ and you were saved from sin’s penalty?’ When James uses the word, ‘faith,’ he isn’t talking about saving faith but serving faith. You mean there is a difference between saving faith and serving faith? Yes, there is. I gave you the quote by Lewis Sperry Chafer last quarter, and it talks about saving faith when a person trusted in Christ and is saved from the penalty of sin. He goes on in the same paragraph and he talks about serving faith, and uses that as a synonym for sanctifying or sustaining faith. He says, “…The justified one, having become what he is by faith, must go ahead living on the same principle of utter dependence upon God.” So, ‘I’m a believer and I just got thrust into a whole bunch of trials and problems. What is the message of the Lord to me?’ The message of the Lord to me is not that ‘You need to be justified again.’ That isn’t the message of the Lord. Rather, the message of the Lord to you as a Christian who is experiencing trials is simply this: ‘The same faith that saved you — now use that same faith to keep trusting God in the midst of your problems.’ So, when James uses the word, ‘faith,’ he is dealing with it in that latter sense, which makes sense when you look at his audience and realize that they were already justified in all of the problems that they were already having.
Does the Bible actually use the expression, ‘serving faith?’ I think you find it in the issue of spiritual gifts. By the way, did you know that you have at least one spiritual gift on the authority of God’s Word? ‘I don’t know, Pastor, I’m afraid to step out and use my spiritual gift; I’m afraid what people are going to say about me.’ What is God’s message to you? It is not, ‘Well, you are obviously not a Christian.’ That is not God’s message to you. God’s message to you is, ‘The same faith that you exercised in Christ for purposes of justification—now keep trusting God as you serve Him.’ That is no longer saving faith but serving faith. Paul: saving faith. James: serving faith. See the difference?
Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. [Now, what is the context here? It isn’t, ‘Hey, you guys need to become Christians.’ The whole context here is spiritual gifts. You need faith to step out and serve the Lord. The faith is already in you because you’re a believer, now keep trusting God as you serve Him. That is what James is dealing with].
Romans 12:6, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; [so if a person is prophesying, ‘Hey, I want to prophesy today, but I am scared to do it because I think people are going to reject my message.’ If that is your situation, God’s message to you is not, “Well, you’re obviously not a Christian, or you wouldn’t act that way.’ Rather, God’s message to you is, ‘The same faith that you exercised in Christ, keep using that faith to serve the Lord, and prophesy.’ That is what James is dealing with.
This distinction between saving faith and serving faith really needs to be brought out into the open because reformed theologians will tell you that not all faith is saving faith. There is the faith that saves and the faith that doesn’t save, and they talk about that distinction. James knows no such distinction. Any faith that exercised in Christ for salvation saves. So now as you’re moving into your Christian life, and you’re in a problem or circumstance where you are afraid, reformed theology will say that you never had the true faith; you never had authentic faith, or you wouldn’t be afraid.
William Hendriksen says, “…Not all faith is saving faith…” That doctrine is not what James is dealing with here at all. He is dealing with the fact that their faith is real; they’re going to heaven; they’re God’s people, but in a crisis in life where they’re intimidated. So, what you need to do is not to second guess about whether you have the true faith or not, but to take the faith that is already inside of you and exercise that in a different area. You are no longer exercising that in Christ for purposes of justification, you’re now exercising that same faith which just means trust in your problem. So, you can make it through this, you just need to trust the Lord. If you couldn’t even trust the Lord, you wouldn’t even be a Christian, right? So, you obviously can trust the Lord for something, you trusted Him for the most important thing already, right? Now it is just a matter of allowing that faith to become productive and useful where you step out and serve. You trust Him to step out and give. You trust Him to help you with a work-related issue or whatever.
When Paul uses the word, ‘works,’ he is talking about people who are trying to use good works to be made right with God, and Paul says you can’t do this. You can’t use your good works to be justified. People think that when James uses the same word, ‘works,’ that he must be talking about the same thing. That isn’t what James is talking about. When James uses the word, ‘works,’ he is talking about the believer’s moral deeds. ‘Works’ that God wants to produce in us as our faith is now becoming productive where He is actually using us to expand His purposes on the earth. The faith isn’t just something that exists now, but is now productive; it isn’t just dead orthodoxy.
So, the good works that you do for the Lord that God does through you, might be a better way of saying it, have absolutely nothing to do with whether you get into heaven or not. Did you know that? The only good work that God will accept in terms of your getting into heaven is ‘Did you believe in Jesus or not?’ There will be people in heaven who will be there and will have absolutely no good works on the back end of salvation. You say, “Well, is that in the Bible?’ It is right there in 1 Corinthians 3:15 as clear as it can be where Paul is dealing with people who stand before the Lord at the Bema Seat Judgment and their works are being tried, and he says, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” ‘You mean, I can get into heaven and have my works tried before the Lord and have them all burn up, and I have not a single good work to show for my Christian life?’ That is the door that Paul is opening up here. He isn’t saying, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ He is saying, ‘Don’t be in this category.’
“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” James is writing a book to prevent the Christian from ending up like these folks here in verse 15 because they never really, they believed in Christ, their fire insurance is paid up, but God never really used them the way He wants to use them. So, they go into heaven, but they’re unrewarded, and James says, ‘Don’t be like that you Christians. Why waste your life in Christ? Why not allow God to max out His purposes in and through you?’
Now, I am going to stop talking because if we start more, it will be like Eutychus who fell asleep on the window sill, and by the way, he died, so don’t fall asleep in church, so that’s the message.
And I just want to bring this up. But there is a big problem with dead. ‘Faith without works is dead,’ and what everybody does, is to take their 21st century definition of death, which is non-existence, because when someone dies, we say that they don’t exist anymore, right? And they read that back into the first century, and I’m here to tell you that this isn’t what death means in the Bible. Death never means non-existence. It means separation, and that is half the problem when people see ‘faith without works is dead.’ ‘If you don’t have enough works on the back end, then your faith didn’t exist, because the 21st century defines death as non-existence.’ That isn’t what the Bible defines death as, and I will try to demonstrate that next time.