James 012 – Faith Without Works is Dead? Pt 1

James 012 – Faith Without Works is Dead? Pt 1
James 2:14 • Dr. Andy Woods • January 13, 2021 • James


In James session 012, “Faith Without Works is Dead?”, Dr. Andy Woods continues his progression through the Book of James as he arrives at James 2:14-26. Is James here teaching that if you do not have enough good works as a Christian, then your initial faith was illusory, inauthentic, or spurious? Or, rather, is James’ point here something completely different? Is James instead dealing with whether the Christian’s faith is productive and useful rather than questioning its existence in the first place? This session also provides an analysis of the arguments favoring the assurance of the believer’s salvation.

James 12 — Faith Without Works is Dead?  James 2:14

Let’s open in a word of prayer:  Father, we thank You for this evening; thank You for Your eternal Word, and in the midst of all of the confusion in the culture, I ask right now that You would speak to Your people through Your eternal Word as we try to study it this evening, particularly as we look at a section of it that is very controversial.  So, I do ask, Lord, that You would help us to rightfully divide Your Word and apply it this evening.  We will be careful to give You all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things In Jesus’ Name, and God’s people said, Amen!” 

 I want to welcome you to the Wednesday evening, mid-week service here at Sugarland Bible Church. If you could take your Bibles and open them to the book of James 2:14.  Beginning, I think, last quarter we started a study on the book of James, and we made it all the way to 2:13 before Christmas break, and we reconvened the spring quarter in the new year last Wednesday, and picked it up at 2:14.  So that’s the paragraph we’re looking at this evening, and as you’re going to see, we are just barely starting to look at it, because it’s one of the most controversial, misunderstood, misapplied sections of scripture in the entire Bible, so we want to make sure that we get this one right.

The book of James, as you know, is a book written by James the half-brother of Christ, written from Jerusalem to the Hebrew Christians scattered in the Diaspora outside the land of Israel, and he’s teaching them on the subject of, not positional righteousness but practical righteousness. In other words, once you’re a Christian, how then shall we live—that’s really the point of the book of James.

The book has two major parts: the first part of it is faith James 1:1-3:12, faith here being used as as a Christian, we are saved by faith, but we need to keep trusting God through the trials and the difficulties of life.  So how do we do that?  Well, by way of review, the first thing we need to do is to adopt the mind of God on the subject of suffering. We need to look at suffering in our lives as Christians the way God looks at it.  And that involves 1:2-12, rejoicing in the midst of trials. And then 1:13-18, not charging God foolishly in the midst of trials, charging God with trying to destroy us; telling God that ‘Look this trial is here to destroy me,’ when the reality of the situation is that the trial is not there to make us bitter but better.

The second major way that we continue our walk of faith and develop a practical righteousness that pleases God is that we need to obey His word, 1:19-27.  What does that mean?  Slowness in speech and anger.  It means the need to take in God’s word and obey it.  And then it also means allowing the Word of God to change us the way we live as we practice true religion; keeping oneself unstained by the world, and helping widows and orphans in their distress.

And then from there, we moved out of James 1 into James 2, where we learned that we should, in order to to continue our walk of faith and to have a practical righteousness that pleases God, we should not fall into the trap of showing favoritism to people on the basis of some privilege they have in life.  So, there is a command there, James 2:1:  don’t show favoritism. There’s a situation described there in 2:2,3 where the wealthy within the assembly were given places of privilege that others were not given. Then in James 2:4-13 is basically James’ reasoning that showing favoritism in that way is contrary to God’s plan and purposes and character.

That is where we left off at the end of last quarter, and this year we started off with 2:14-26 where we started looking at this important paragraph the last time we were together last week.  Now we will continue to build this evening on that foundation.

James 2:14-26 is all about, and most people know these verses very well:  they are about this idea that faith, unless it is accompanied by works, is dead.  You see that in 2:17, 26, 20, and the last time I was with you, I gave you a whole bunch of quotes that really span the spectrum — it almost reads like the Who’s Who List of Christianity.  I am not doing this to denigrate people’s ministries; I am trying to expose you to the fact that across the spectrum, the dominant interpretation of these verses is as follows:  If you don’t have works as a Christian, then you were never saved to begin with.  I want to show you how epidemic this interpretation is before I react against it.  I want to give you what I consider to be the proper interpretation.

John MacArthur talks about how if you don’t have works, then you never had genuine saving faith.  To him, if you have no works, faith is just an intellectual exercise, and no faith really exists.

Charles Swindoll holds to the exact same interpretation.  He says that after salvation there are things that will inevitably happen — good works, in other words, they’re unavoidable, and if you don’t have these good works, then you have what Swindoll calls here, “phony faith.”

Douglas Moo, a scholar, says basically the same thing, that genuine biblical faith inevitably leads to good works, and if you don’t have good works, then your faith on the front end was never authentic or genuine.

Ronald Blue, in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, says that genuine faith is always evidenced by good works.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum, one of my favorites, unfortunately, holds this position as well.  He says that ‘a living faith will authenticate itself in the production of good works.’  In other words, if the works aren’t there, then the faith was inauthentic.  Works, he says, are ‘the evidence of salvation,… true saving faith will reveal itself by works.’ 

Again, Charles Ryrie, someone I agree with on most things, I think, has it wrong here.  He talks about a spurious faith; a faith that is not living or productive.  A faith that does not produce good works is dead; in other words, it is non-existent, says Charles Ryrie.

Warren Wiersbe says basically the same thing, “…Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration…True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life.”  Translation:  no changed life, no faith on the front end.  He goes on and calls it a counterfeit faith; in other words, you are just a mere professor, but you never were an actual possessor of authentic, saving faith.

That is how all of these interpreters are interpreting our paragraph “Faith without works is dead.”  The last time I was with you I tried to show you that all of these remarks basically violate the context.  They force James to ask and answer a question that James is not asking or answering.  The reason for that is that James is writing to a saved audience.  The audience that James is addressing is already saved, so if they’re already saved, why would he question whether their faith is genuine?

I gave you a lot of proofs of this in the series and last time, but you might just want to refresh your memory with James 4:5.  It says, Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose:  “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?”  Us.  James says the spirit is in me, and to his audience, ‘the spirit is in you.’   If they were unbelievers, or if some were saved and some weren’t, there is no way that he could make a statement like that.  If a person is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit is inside of them.  The Holy Spirit was inside of James when James says, ‘us’ he is saying that the Holy Spirit is inside of you as well, which means that James is not writing a book about justification — how to get saved.  He is writing to them a book about sanctification, the middle tense of their salvation.  This becomes very obvious as you just follow the context of the book of James.

This is one of the reasons that we like to teach the Bible verse by verse, because when you are doing that, you can’t cherry pick paragraphs or verses to support a preordained systematic theology.   Our theology is only as good as the text it comes from.  If you have a theology that says, ‘Gosh, if you don’t have enough good works, then you were never saved to begin with,’—that may be an interesting theological discussion, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what James is talking about here.

James is all about getting these folks that he is addressing who are saved and on their way to heaven, heaven-bound, he is trying to get them to a point where their faith that is already in existence and is already inside of them, is going to become productive to the point where God can actually use them to accomplish His purposes on the earth.  You will notice at the end of James 1:26,27 that he talked about comforting and helping widows and orphans in their distress.  In James 2:1-13, he talked about not showing favoritism in the assembly.  In 2:12,13, he talked about them having a favorable ruling at the Judgment Seat of Rewards, the Bema Seat Judgment.  With that context in mind, then he says ‘faith without works is dead.’  So obviously, he isn’t second guessing whether these people are saved; what he wants them to do is to become productive.  The faith that existed in them to become useful where it can accomplish all of these other things that James is speaking of in the letter.

Now, when most people quote, “faith without works is dead,” they never give you that context, but the context of the surrounding verses explains what James is getting at in James 2:14-26.  As we mentioned last time, a lot of the battle here is this idea that Paul and James are addressing totally different issues.  As they’re addressing totally different issues, they’re using the identical words, but they are pouring different meanings into those words.  Paul’s primary thrust is justification, not exclusively, but primarily, and James’ thrust is not justification but progressive sanctification.   Paul, to a large extent, is focused on the first tense of salvation; James is focused on the second tense of salvation.  Paul is condemning self-righteous Judaism.  People who think that they can be made right with God through their own good works, Paul condemns.  James is not dealing with that issue; he is dealing with what we would call ‘dead orthodoxy’—people who are saved and are going to heaven, but their Christian life thus far is a non-productive life.  Paul will camp on Genesis 15:6 which was the verse that describes Abraham’s justification.  James is going to camp on something that happened 20-30 years later in Abraham’s life, where Abraham’s faith became useful because he was willing, at that point, to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

When Paul talks about justification, he is talking about the declaration of innocence before God that we receive at the point of faith alone in Christ alone.   James, by contrast, uses the same word, justification, but he has a totally different meaning that he brings to it,.  When James uses the word, justification, he is talking about the evidence of the usefulness of a believer’s faith before man.   So, Paul has a vertical perspective related to justification and James has a horizontal perspective.

When Paul uses the word, save, he is speaking of justification; when James uses the word save, he is speaking of progressive sanctification.  When Paul uses the word, faith, he is speaking of saving faith; when James uses the word, faith, he is speaking of serving faith.  Remember the quote I gave from Lewis Sperry Chafer last time where he speaks of saving faith and then serving faith and then sanctifying faith.   Chafer says, (per slide,Lewis Sperry Chafer), “…The justified one, having become what he is by faith, must go ahead living on the same principle of utter dependence upon God.” That is what James is dealing with.  What we have there in that last sentence, I think, in green (on the slide).

Faith, in the Bible, doesn’t always mean the same thing every time it is used.  Paul, in Romans 12:3 and Romans 12:8, says that we should use our spiritual gifts according to the proportion of our faith.  So, when Paul makes those statements, he isn’t talking about faith to become a Christian, he is talking about continuing on in the walk of faith allowing our faith to become productive and useful as we step out and begin to serve the Lord based on the spiritual gifts that He has given to us.  Backing up for just a minute, you will see that when Paul is speaking about faith, he is talking about saving faith; when James is talking about faith, he is talking about serving faith.

Paul, when he talks about works, he talks about the attempt by people to curry favor with God through their good works, thinking that somehow that makes them right with God; the religious person.   James, by contrast, when he uses the word, works, is not talking about that at all.  He is talking about the believer’s moral deeds that God produces through the life of the Christian, which justifies that person in the presence of his fellow man — that his faith is in fact, not an authentic faith, but a useful faith, or a serving faith.

So, I want to go through this, and if you wanted a slower explanation of this, go back to last week’s lesson, but much of the battle here and the misunderstanding about James is not understanding the differences in vocabulary.  If you think that James and Paul are answering the same question, you will be confused about James 2:14-26 for your whole Christian life.  If, on the other hand, you understand that James and Paul are dealing with different questions, and using the same words but in a different sense, then all of a sudden, the light bulb will go on and you will never be confused about 2:14-26 ever again.

I didn’t get a chance to go into this last time, so let me spend a little bit of time on this as we are speaking about vocabulary.  It has to do with this word, death.  “Faith without works is dead,” James tells us, and sadly, at this point, most people commit what is called the anachronistic exegetical fallacy.  You recognize the word, chronos, as time, and anachronistic is outside of time. In other words, you take a definition of something outside of time, and you read it back into the Bible.  You see this with the word, death, and how all of these interpreters that I showed you earlier, misinterpret the word, death.  “Faith without works is dead;” if you don’t have works, then your faith doesn’t exist, and they’re defining death as non-existence.  Now, that might be a very valid definition of death in the 20th and 21st centuries, but that is not what the Bible means by the word, death.  In fact, when the Bible uses the word, death, it never means non-existence.  So, if you’re looking the word, death, here in “faith without works is dead” and if you think that since there are not enough good works, then faith is non-existent, you have committed the anachronistic exegetical fallacy, where you have defined the word death from the 21st century and read it back into biblical times.

What did the biblical writers mean by the word, death?  Here is a standard Lexical work (see slide on “Death” in the Old Testament), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, there is the Hebrew word, death, and notice what it says, “Death is the consequence and the punishment of sin.  It originated with sin.  A grand theme of the Old Testament is God’s holiness, which separates Him from all that is in harmony with His character.  Death, then, in the Old Testament means ultimate separation from God due to sin.”  Death does not mean non-existence in the Old Testament; death means separation.   You see this in Daniel 12:2, when it describes what happens to people when they die and they experience the final resurrection.  Daniel 12:2 says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting, [notice the word, everlasting]… “life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”  That is what death is.  Death is never non-existence.  Death is separation from God if you die without Christ, or it involves eternal life with God if you die with Christ, but for both the saved and the unsaved, there is never a point of non-existence.  The only issue with the unsaved is that they spend eternity, not in a state of non-existence; they’re everlasting.  But they are separated from God.  Death equals separation in the Old Testament.  Death does not equal non-existence.

You ask, ‘Well is that true in the New Testament?’  It is true in the New Testament.  Here is the Greek word for death, here (see slide on “Death” in the New Testament) is Thayer’s Green English Lexicon, a standard work, and it says concerning this Greek word, death, “that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul from the body by which the life on earth is ended.”  What happens to a person when they die?  Their soul and body separate; that is what death is, separation, but the soul doesn’t ever stop existing for both the believer and the unbeliever; it continues on and on and on.

So, if you are coming to this word, death, in James 2, “faith without works is dead,” and you are saying that if there aren’t enough works, then faith is dead or non-existent, then you are automatically violating the standard Greek and Hebrew definition of what constitutes death.  Notice Matthew 25:46, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  You will notice that when people die, no one stops existing, the unsaved go into eternal punishment, and the righteous or the saved go into eternal life.  I need to drive this point home because for whatever reason, people, when they see this word, death in James 2, and they develop a theology which says, ‘Well if there are not enough works, then faith never existed,’ they’re going against everything the Greek and Hebrew languages communicate.  It might be a valid definition of death in the 21st century, but it isn’t what the Bible means here at all.

Notice, if you will, Luke 16:22-25, “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.”  Now, if death here means non-existence, then when these two died, when the rich man died, he would stop existing, right?  But you keep reading here that he didn’t stop existing.  In verse 23, it says, “In Hades he” {the rich man who died]… “lifted up his eyes”, [does it sound like he stopped existing there?],… “being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.  And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am”[present tense]… ‘ in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember [in other words, he could remember; he could think back; he could lift up his eyes; he could cry out; he could experience agony], … ‘that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are’… [all these are present tense ideas and verbs]… ‘in agony.’  See, this man is experiencing these things although he died.  So quite clearly, died or death, does not mean non-existence.  What this man is experiencing is separation, that is what the Greek and Hebrew means through this word, death, and you must keep this mind when you are going through our passage, “faith without works is dead.”

How about 1 Timothy 5:6 speaking of the young widow living in wanton pleasure?  What does Paul say about her in 1 Timothy 5:6, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.”  So obviously, death is not non-existence because she is dead even though she lives, so what does it mean then that she is dead while she lives?  It means that she continues to exist, but she is separated from God because of her sin.

All of this needs to be factored in when you see this expression, “faith without works is dead.”  Now, notice James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…” See verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”  Now, based on all of those commentators earlier, how do all of them interpret 2:17,26, that as if you don’t have enough works, then your faith never existed.   That is a problem because that isn’t what death means in the Bible, the Old Testament or the New Testament.  It might be what it means today, but that isn’t what it meant in biblical times, so it is very poor, shallow, superficial exegesis on this passage.

Now look very carefully at James 2:20, right in the middle of verses 17,26But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that “faith without works is [see how the NASB translates this, word, argos] is useless.”  The NASB translators are recognizing that death doesn’t mean non-existence, death in verses 17, 26, does not mean non-existence, for if it meant non-existence, it would have said that in verse 20.  In fact, James would probably have used some word if there was such a word as non-existence, but James doesn’t use that; he uses the word, useless.  That is James’ point.  James is not second-guessing whether these people have faith.  When he says it is dead, he isn’t saying that it doesn’t exist; what he is saying is that it is useless; non-productive.  Yes, you have your fire insurance paid up, and you aren’t going to hell, but can God use you to stem favoritism in the Church?  No.  Can God use you to have a favorable ruling of rewards at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ?  No.  Can God use you to comfort widows and orphans in their distress?  No.  Are you going to hell?  No.  Your faith is there; it exists, but it is useless, you see?  It is non-productive.

All of this is important to understand how we will interpret James 2:14-26.  Folks, let me tell you something.  You had better get this one straight, and the reason you need to get it straight is because there is an epidemic within Christendom today amongst believers who don’t know if they are saved or not.  They trusted in Christ, but they don’t really know if their faith is authentic faith.  Why?  Because they don’t see enough good works in their lives, and they question whether they’re Christians to begin with.  They don’t question whether they’re productive Christians.  That is what James wants us to question.  They question whether they are Christians.  Theologians and commentators and very bad teaching on this, teach this doctrine around the clock, and they make it sound like James is second-guessing whether these people are saved at all; whether their faith exists at all, when in fact, that isn’t even James’ point.  James’ point is:  Is your faith productive?

If you start to question whether your faith exists because you are under bad teaching, and you are misunderstanding James 2, then you, too, have big doubts about whether you are going to heaven.

So, notice this chart (see slide of colored pie chart) here:  10%, 30%, 60% reads like the weather report, 60% chance of rain or whatever.  That is how a lot of people feel concerning the assurance of their salvation.  Are you going to heaven?  ‘Well, I don’t know, I hope so.’  When assurance of salvation is not an ‘I hope so’ thing, it is an ‘I know so’ thing, biblically.

John Piper says, “No Christian can be sure that he is a true believer.  Hence, there is an ongoing need to be dedicated to the Lord and to deny ourselves so that we might make it.”  What a horrible teaching that he is giving there!   John Piper elsewhere, coming from a recent radio interview he did, says, “What causes me to be anxious is the possibility that I may not be a Christian—that I might be fake [you know, we have fake news, now we have fake Christianity, I guess] that everything I’ve ever done might be a farce—those are horrible, horrible thoughts; right?”  Well, they are horrible thoughts, and I would probably think this way, too, if I sat under pastors and teachers that misinterpreted for me perpetually, James 2:14-26.

RC Sproul said, “A while back I had one of those moments…Suddenly the question hit me: ‘RC what if you are not one of the redeemed?  What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?’  Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with the chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine.  I was terrified.  I begin to take stock of my life [there is the problem; you are taking stock of your own life and looking at your own life, when you ought to look at Jesus’ life, who transferred His righteousness to you.  So, your eyes are on the wrong place.  Continuing with the quote]…I looked at my performance [wooo, don’t do that.  I mean, if you’re going to spend your whole life looking at your performance, you will never think you’re saved]. My sins came pouring into my mind, and the more I looked at myself the worst I felt.  I thought, ‘maybe its really true.  Maybe I’m not saved after all.’…Then I remembered John 6:68.  Jesus had been giving out hard teaching, and many of His former followers had left Him.  When He asked Peter if he was also to leave, Peter said, ‘where else can we go?  Only you have the words of eternal life.’  In other words, Peter was also uncomfortable, but he realized that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option.”  RC Sproul himself wasn’t even sure he was a Christian.  Neither is John Piper.

This is an epidemic that goes all the way through Puritan writings.  RT Kendall says, “…nearly all of the Puritan ‘divines’ {you know who the Puritans were?  They were the people who came and founded the United States of America.  All of your great Ivy League institutions on the east coast arose because of the influence of the Puritans, but listen to what RT Kendall says about the Puritans.]  “…nearly all of the Puritan ‘divines’” [men who were Calvinistic and taught perseverance]. In other words, they were taught that if there was not good works after you are saved, then your faith is non-existent.  It is spurious.… “went through great dread and despair on their deathbeds,” RT Kendall says, “as they realized their lives did not give perfect evidence that they were elect.” Instead of going to death with joy, ‘absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,’ the Puritans under wrong teaching went to their death beds terrified because they were taught this doctrine that there must be good works.  How many?  How frequent?  How fast?  Never objectively identified or defined, so you always wonder, is there enough?  If there isn’t enough, and you don’t know what enough is, then maybe your faith was spurious on the front end because, after all, James 2 says, “faith without works is dead“.

This teaching that is so off has nothing to do with God, nothing to do with the Bible, it has everything to do with Roman Catholicism; this is what Roman Catholics believe.  Cardinal John O’Connor of New York said, “Church teaching is that I don’t know, at any given moment, what my eternal future will be…I can hope, pray, do my very best—but I still don’t know.  Pope John II doesn’t absolutely know that he will go to heaven, nor does mother Theresa of Calcutta, unless either has had a special divine revelation.”  If mother Theresa doesn’t know if she has done enough good works, what hope do the rest of us have?  If the Pope himself doesn’t know if he has done enough good works to demonstrate that his faith is authentic, then what hope do the rest of us have?

So you can see this teaching from Roman Catholicism, the Puritans, the neo-Calvinist movement of today; you can see what it has done to God’s people; it has taken the assurance of salvation and destroyed it by getting them to ask a question that James is not asking!  James is not asking, ‘are you Christians?!’  That is the wrong question.  James is asking, ‘Are you as saved people, allowing God to use you in a productive sense?’  Totally different question!  Yet because of all of these misunderstandings, you have an epidemic in Christendom today of a lack of assurance.

At some point, you have to decide which John you want to believe.  John Piper or the apostle John who records the words of Christ, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has [present tense] eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of [perfect tense, a one-time action, ongoing results] death into life.” You read a passage like that and your assurance of salvation is not a ‘I hope so’ thing; it is an ‘I know so’ thing because it doesn’t depend on you; it depends on what Jesus did for you.  Your willingness to receive it by faith is a free gift.  If it was on my shoulders, I wouldn’t even know half the time if I was a Christian or not.  But I don’t spend my Christian life looking at myself to determine whether I am going to heaven.  I spend my Christian life looking at what Jesus did for me and the promises He made to me, and the fact that He cannot lie, and I want to follow the exhortations in the book of James and allow the faith that is already in me to be productive in this life.  That is what I look at.

Acts 16:30,31, this is the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Philippi, “and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and [maybe you will make it if you have enough good works, whoops, doesn’t say that]… you will be saved, you and your household.’” In other words, as the message now gets into your household and they believe it, they’ll be saved, too.  Look at that: “you will be saved.” There is no ambiguity or doubt on the assurance of salvation.

1 John 5:13 says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 

 God wants us to know that we are on our way to heaven.  He wants us to know that absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.  He wants us to know that ‘to live is Christ to die is gain.’  He doesn’t want you to go to your deathbed wondering, are you a Christian, or are you not?  That idea of a lack of assurance, to be completely frank with you, reminds me of Islam.  In Islam, Allah means deceiver, and that is why Muslims are so wrapped up in good works because they don’t know, really, until they get to the very end, are their good works going to outweigh their bad works?  If Allah is a deceiver, he could pull out the carpet from any one of them, couldn’t he?

Do you understand the complete and total satanic bondage that people are in under these doctrines?

Here at Sugar Land Bible Church, we teach eternal security, but we don’t just teach eternal security.  Eternal security is once saved always saved.  Because a lot of people will teach eternal security, and then they’ll say, ‘Well, you really don’t know if you have eternal security because you don’t know if your faith is authentic or not.’  Because of misunderstandings of James 2.  We teach once saved always saved; eternal security, AND the moment you take Christ as your Savior, you can 100% know for your whole life, that if you were to die you would go directly into the presence of the Lord.  We teach eternal security, and we also teach the assurance of salvation that you are a present tense possessor of eternal security.

See:  DTS Doctrinal Statement Article XI—Assurance Slide

These doctrines that I’m teaching — people have never heard them before because the bad doctrine is so prevalent that they think that what I’m teaching is some kind of new thing.  No.  if you were to go back into the 1920’s, when Dallas Seminary was founded roughly in 1929, you would see that the doctrines I’m proclaiming here were in the majority.  Here is the Dallas Seminary doctrinal statement, Article 11 on the assurance of salvation.  Notice what they say:

“We believe it is the privilege, not only of some, but of all by the Spirit through faith who are born again in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, to be assured of their salvation from the very day [look at that] they take Him to be their Savior and that this assurance is not founded upon any fancied discovery of their own worthiness or fitness, but wholly upon the testimony of God in His written Word,…”

 The Word of God is what will never lie to you; it is objectively true; like the compass in a vehicle; you can feel you are driving the right or the wrong way, but the compass is objectively true.  You can feel like you are saved one day and unsaved on another day, but God’s Word is objectively true; God cannot lie; God told you are saved the moment that you trusted Christ as your Savior.  You can have that assurance of salvation not getting to the end of your life wondering ‘Do you have enough good works to prove that your faith was authentic on the front end?’ But you can have that assurance of salvation from the very day, the very moment in time that you trust in Christ.  Now you say, ‘Well, what about other experiences that people have, I mean, you ask your average Christian today how do you know you are savedWell, I have a renewed interest in prayer.  Well, I have a renewed interest in Bible study; I have a desire to share my faith; I didn’t have any of those desires before, but now that I’m a Christian, I have those desires, so aren’t those desires and new experiences proof that I am a Christian?’  Notice what Lewis Sperry Chafer says, “There is a normal Christian experience.  There are new and blessed emotions and desires.  Old things do pass away; and behold all things do become new; but all such experiences are but secondary evidences, as to the fact of salvation, in that they grow out of that positive repose of faith which is the primary evidence.”

I mean, having a desire to share your faith, to pray, to study the Bible — those are wonderful things that God does, but those are not the ultimate proof that you are going to heaven.  Chafer calls them ‘secondary evidences.’  ‘Primary evidence’ is what?  It is what God said about you.  It is a promise that God made you the moment you placed your faith in Christ alone for salvation.  That is how you can go to your grave with joy and courage.  Because you have built your life on the promises of God, and you’re not introspectively always looking at yourself, ‘Did I have up week or a down week?  Am I close to God today or far away from Him?’  Those things come and go with life, and we should pay attention to those things in terms of our productivity, reward once we get to heaven, but they’re no evidence in a primary sense of whether you are going to heaven or not.

So, this is why I am going into the detail that I am in the book of James 2:14-26, because this whole epidemic of a lack of assurance of salvation comes mostly from this passage and from people misunderstanding it.  They interpret the word, death, as non-existence, when the fact of the matter is that death here does not mean non-existence, it means a lack of productivity.

If you are coming to the book of James 2:14-26, and you’re asking the question, ‘Am I saved?’ based on this passage, you are misreading and misapplying it; it has been mistaught to you, you are misunderstanding it because that isn’t James’ point.  For whatever reason, everybody is forcing James to answer some question that he isn’t answering.  James’ point is ‘Is your faith ’and he never second guesses, which always exists — James’ point is ‘Is that faith productive?  ‘Are you visiting widows and orphans in their distress; are you keeping yourself unstained by the world; are you not showing favoritism in the church?  Are you adopting the right mindset of God on trials.’ Now, if you aren’t, James’ point is, ‘Well, I guess your faith doesn’t exist.’  That isn’t his point at all.  His point is that it exists, but it is separated from works, and therefore, it is saving faith only, but not serving faith.  That is James’ point.

So, you can see here our outline of James 2:14 is James’ thesis statement; James 2:14 thesis statement (see slide on Faith Manifesting Works 2:14-26), and basically, what he is getting at here in 2:14 is that he is trying to set up a question.  James 2:14 says, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can that faith save him?”  James’ point is not, ‘Maybe your faith is spurious; maybe your faith is inauthentic.’  That is not James’ point.  If you believe that is James’ point, you will struggle with the assurance of salvation for your whole Christian life.  Rather, James’ point is as follows:  Can a believer, 2:14, make progress in the middle tense of his salvation, progressive sanctification, and become useful to others, and consequently, be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment, which he just finished talking about in the prior verses, 2:12,13 — so that he can become fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ — can all of those things happen if he has no works?  If he has no works, can he make progress in the middle tense of his salvation?  Can he be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ?  Can God use him for useful purposes on the earth?  Can those things happen if a person is a believer in Christ, but has no works?  James’ answer is, ‘No, that can’t happen.’

So, for James to communicate his point, just giving you the lay of the land of this passage, he has given us his thesis statement.  If there are no works, how can you be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ; how can God use you for His purposes here on earth; how can your faith be useful; productive, if there are no works?  James, to communicate his thesis statement, gives five illustrations:

  1. The Needy Brother              James 2:15-17
  2. The Demonic Monotheist James 2:18,19
  3. Abraham James 2:20-24 — when did Abraham’s faith become productive?  When could Abraham say, ‘Yes, God is using me to accomplish His purposes on the earth?’  When could Abraham say that?  Do you realize that Abraham could not say that until Genesis 22, where he was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac?  You say, ‘Well, wasn’t Abraham saved in Genesis 22; wasn’t he justified before God in Genesis 22?’  Absolutely not!  He was justified before God 20-30 years earlier!  In a famous verse that Paul uses all the time, Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.”  That is when Abraham was justified before God; that’s when he was heaven-bound.  Yet it took 30, Tom Constable says 20 years, I have a later quote from John Calvin, which I won’t get to tonight, and I quote Calvin because John Calvin, himself says there were 30 years between Abraham’s justification Genesis 15:6 and Genesis 22 when he was willing to sacrifice Isaac.  So, between Genesis 15:6 and Genesis 22, three decades, according to John Calvin himself, Abraham had a saving faith but not a serving faith.  That is his third illustration.  His fourth illustration is going to be…
  4. Rahab, who as a harlot in Canaan; who as a saved person, and I will show you exactly where in the Bible that she was clearly justified; she had a knowledge of Yahweh; she had that for years, but the faith that was inside of her did not become useful until she hid the spies at risk to her own life James 2:25, and then his last illustration is…
  5. Lifeless Corpse James 2:26

So, James’ thesis statement is in 2:14:  Can a believer make progress in the middle tense of his salvation and become useful to others and be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ if he has no works?  James answers, ‘No!’  Now, let me prove that through these five illustrations.  The whole thrust of this is on the productivity of one’s faith and not on the existence of it.  If you get tripped up here, what are you consigned to for your whole Christian life?  You are consigned to wondering if your faith is really there or not.  That is why we are going into this in detail.

So, we spent two weeks just on an introduction on this paragraph, and the next time I am with you, we will take a look at this verse by verse.

“Let’s pray:  Father, we are grateful for these verses and grateful for Your Word, but we are also mindful of the fact that we can get very confused very fast.  So, we just ask that You make us good stewards of these truths, and we will rightfully divide Your Word, and we will live our lives with joyful assurance that we are going to heaven, but we also live in such a way that our faith is actually being used by You to expand Your purposes on the earth that is useful and productive. We will be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things n Jesus’ Name, and God’s people said, Amen!”