James 013 – Faith Without Works is Dead? Pt 2James 2:14-19 • Dr. Andy Woods • January 20, 2021 • James
James 013 – Faith Without Works is Dead? Part 2; James 2:14-19
Father, we are grateful for tonight, grateful for this evening, and grateful for a chance to study Your Word, and we do ask that you would be with us, particularly this evening, Lord as we’re looking at an issue of scripture that is sort of controversial, hard to interpret correctly, and give us guidance as we seek to rightly divide Your Word 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!
Well, if you can take your Bibles this evening and open them to the book of James chapter 2 and verse 14, we are continuing our verse by verse study through the book of James and as we have talked about throughout this series, James is a book written by the Lord’s half brother, James, from Jerusalem to a believing Jewish audience in the diaspora, or the dispersion — not teaching them how to become a Christian, but teaching them how to live as a Christian. So the book is really about practical living as a believer. We might even call it this: practical righteousness.
And we’re in the midst of the first half of the book. The first part of the book in the first half deals with trials. Learning to live a life that’s pleasing to God as a Christian, involves first of all, adopting the Lord’s mindset on trials or adversity. And you see that in verses 2-18, that includes rejoicing in the midst of trials, and then not charging God foolishly in the midst of trials.
And then the second major subsection has to do with obedience to God’s Word. How do we live a life that’s pleasing to God as His children? Well, we are slow to speech and anger, we take in and obey God’s Word, and we practice true religion; it’s a piety that wants to help our fellow man, particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ in their point of need. We are going to see that, by the way, this evening, in our passage.
And then living a life which is practically pleasing to the Lord also involves not showing favoritism. Not preferring people because of their socioeconomic status, particularly in the assembly. And so we saw that in chapter James 2:1-13.
And now as we have done the last two weeks, which was just background, now we are actually getting into this paragraph verse by verse, but what we learn here is another way to live a life which is pleasing to God is to allow our faith, which is already inside of us, to mature to the point where it manifests itself in good works. And that’s Chapter 2 verses 14-26.
You know, as we have talked about and as we move into this passage this evening, we have to keep it in context. The context of it really has to do with not showing favoritism, which is a practical righteous-ness issue. It has to do with the need of showing true piety or true religion, which again, is a practical righteousness kind of issue. It has to do with not showing favoritism in the assembly, which is a practical righteousness kind of issue, and it has to do with the fact that we need to be mindful of the future judgment seat of rewards, which is a practical righteousness kind of issue.
And so therefore, when you get into chapter 2 verses 14-26, the tragedy is that people remove those verses from their original context, but these verses are dealing with practical righteousness kind of issues. It’s not so much a second guessing on whether faith exists at all, any more than those other sections would deal with that. Rather the whole focus here is allowing the faith that’s already in us, which can’t be taken away, to mature to the point where it begins to do good works in a practical righteousness kind of issue sense. And it’s interesting that our paragraph, and the reason I’m going through this is because this paragraph is very disputed as to its meaning, which we’ve talked about. But our paragraph is followed by chapter 3 verses 1-12, which involves taming the tongue, which again, is a practical righteousness kind of issue.
So, if all of the surrounding context is practical righteousness and not second guessing the existence of faith in a person, then why would I switch horses in midstream, and get to chapter 2 verses 14-26, and read the words, ‘faith without works is dead,’ and suddenly adopt a mindset that James is questioning whether these people are saved or not because they don’t have enough good works in their lives?
If I were to interpret those verses that way, then I would be interpreting them differently than all the other sections that we have covered this far prior, and even the ones yet coming in the book of James. And so context becomes a big deal in terms of how to interpret chapter 2 verses 14-26.
So here is my point: my point is when you’re coming to this paragraph, and you’re reading the words, ‘faith without works is dead,’ the proper understanding of it is it’s an opportunity to question whether our faith is useful. It is an opportunity to question whether our faith is productive. It is not the opportunity, as many incorrectly teach this, to question whether the audience’s faith exists at all, which as we have talked about very sadly, is the most dominant interpretation of these verses, ‘faith without works is dead.’
So as we have now laid that background to this passage, we’re now in a position where we can start to move through the passage verse by verse, and you’ll notice here that James sets out his thesis: verse 14, and then in verses 15-26, he backs up his thesis with 5 illustrations. So what is his thesis?
Notice, if you will, the book of James, chapter 2, and notice verse 14. “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but has no works. Can that faith save him?” Now, we want to focus here on some of the key words in verse 14. First of all, verse 14, you’ll notice the word, ‘brethren.’ When he uses the word, ‘brethren,’ it makes it very clear that he is speaking to a group of people that he knows are saved. In fact, in other sections of the book of James, he refers to them not just as ‘brethren,’ but ‘beloved brethren.’
Jesus defined who the brethren are in Matthew 12 verses 46-50, when someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”
And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!
For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
So when James says ‘my brothers,’ he’s not saying, ‘well maybe you’re Christian, maybe you’re not’ —
to his audience. ‘Gee, I hope you’re a Christian as demonstrated by the fact that you have enough works to prove you’re a Christian.’ That is the furthest thing from James’ mind, and the word, ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’ clues us into the fact that he is speaking to a believing audience. So he is not questioning the existence of their faith; he is not questioning whether they are heaven-bound. What he is questioning is whether their faith is useful or productive. Can God use them to extend and expand His purposes upon the earth?
You’ll notice also that he uses the word, ‘faith.’ “What use is it my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works?” Now, what does James here mean when he uses the word, ‘faith?’
Now here is a chart that I’m going to be referring to quite a bit as I move through this paragraph, and it’s a chart that we have referenced in our prior lessons together in the introduction to these verses. And it’s a very important chart to understand because James and Paul use the identical words, ‘justification,’ ‘save,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘works,’ and yet these men, when they use those same words, are pouring into those words — different meanings. If you think that same word means same meaning in both Paul and James, you’re going to suddenly conclude that James and Paul contradict each other, but when you understand it is the same word—different meanings, then you’ll see very clearly that the two, Paul and James, are not in contradiction with each other at all.
It is sort of interesting how people in church history have missed this point. The great Martin Luther, for example, hated the book of James. He felt that the book of James contradicted the doctrine that he wanted to emphasize: ‘sole fidei,’ or ‘justification by faith alone.’ In fact, Luther called the book of James an epistle of straw. Luther came up with a German translation of Old Testament and New Testament — The Luther Translation, and spent a [lot of] many years of his life doing it. He, in doing it, took the book of James and put it in the appendix because he felt that the book of James contradicted Paul. The reason, I think, that Luther and many have felt that James contradicts Paul and that Paul contradicts James, is because they think same word, same meaning, but as I’ll show you, and as this chart demonstrates, both men use the same words but pour into those words entirely different meanings.
So when Paul uses the word, ‘faith,’ he’s talking about saving faith, primarily; not exclusively, but primarily. Trust in Christ and His finished work to be justified before God; however, when James uses the word, ‘faith,’ he is not speaking of saving faith, but something that Lewis Sperry Chafer called, ‘serving faith.’ It is interesting that in Chafer’s Systematic Theology, he distinguishes between saving faith and serving 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 it takes faith, for example, for me to get up here and teach. I mean, how do I know that this message is going to go out? How do I know it is going to impact people? Well, I have to have faith in the promises that God makes concerning His Word—that when His Word goes forth, it does not return void.
So I am not justified before God by teaching a Bible study. But the same principle that got me saved, trust in Christ, is now the same principle that I continue to exercise as I move into my life of service and walk with the Lord. That’s what Chafer means here when he talks about the distinction between saving faith and serving faith.
Paul, saving faith; James, serving faith. In fact, the New Testament uses the word, ‘faith’ in that very way when it talks about the necessity of us to use our spiritual gifts in the measure of faith that God has allotted to us.
Romans 12:3,8 — does that mean I become a Christian by stepping out in faith and using my spiritual gifts? No. I become a Christian by trusting in Christ’s finished work for my salvation, but the same faith that I exercised in that transaction is now the same faith I continue to exercise as I serve the Lord, and that moves me in the direction of a maturing faith. And that is what James is speaking of here,
James 2:14 when he mentions the word, ‘faith.’ What does James say, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but has no works.” Now notice that word, ‘works.’ What is Paul speaking of when he mentions ‘works’? Paul is dealing with the religious crowd that thought they were made right with God through human works, and Paul properly condemns that.
James likes to use the word, “works,” too, but he is speaking of something completely different when he uses that same word, “works.” James is talking about the believer’s moral deeds that demonstrate to his fellow man that his faith that’s already in him has graduated from merely being a saving faith to now a serving faith.
And then you’ll also notice this word, ‘save.’ “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14 NASB) When Paul uses the word, ‘save,’ he is speaking of justification.
When James uses the word, ‘save,’ he is talking about ‘save’ in terms of our progressive salvation, better called progressive sanctification, the middle tense of our salvation.
So when Paul uses the word, ‘save,’ Paul will use it in an Ephesians 2:8,9 sense — “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” When Paul uses the word, ‘save,’ he is talking about trusting Christ and being saved from hell.
James uses the word, ‘save,’ the Greek word, ‘sōzō’ verb form, ‘soteria,’ noun form, and James is not using the word, ‘save’ in a justification sense. He is using the word, ‘save’ in a sanctification sense. Where I am being saved or delivered, not from the penalty of sin; that happened in the first tense of my salvation, but being saved or delivered from the power of sin. That is happening now in the middle tense of my salvation. And one of these days, I am going to be saved—future tense—from the presence of sin, and that’s glorification.
So Paul uses the word ‘saved’ past tense of salvation per Ephesians 2:8,9. There is also a ‘save’ in the future tense of salvation, glorification. James is talking about being saved from sin’s power in the middle tense of salvation, and if you don’t see that distinction, you’ll be confused for your whole Christian life as to what James is actually talking about.
Notice James 1:19-23, where we have already encountered the word, ‘save’ in our study in the book of James. Notice what it says there; I’m looking at verse 21: “…Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted in you, which is able to save [Greek: sōzō] your souls.” So notice, it’s the word ‘save;’ — the same word that Paul used in Ephesians 2:8,9, “For by grace we are saved through faith.” James uses the exact same word, but you notice what James is doing here—he is not using it in a justification sense.
The word ‘implanted’ in you ‘which is able to save your souls’ — what is James talking about? He is talking about not becoming a Christian but he’s talking about growing as a Christian, and as you grow as a Christian, you are not delivered from sin’s penalty—that already happened at justification. But now you are being delivered gradually from sin’s power.
How do I know that James is using the word, ‘save’ which is the exact word Paul uses in a different sense? Well, look at the context. “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness.” That’s a growth in Christ issue. He talks in verse 19 about how everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger; that is not a situation whereby I become a Christian; it is a situation by which I grow as a Christian.
Look down at verse 23, it talks about how if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in the mirror. Again, that’s not a how to become a Christian passage; that is how to grow as a Christian.
So it is quite obvious when James uses the word, ‘save,’ he is talking about our growth in Christ. You’ll notice James 5:19,20 where James, again, uses this word, ‘save’ or ‘sōzō.’ James says, ‘My brethren, if any among you…” [so he’s speaking of a situation amongst the brethren amongst the believers]…”My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Notice again, it’s the word, ‘save’ or the Greek verb, sōzō, but how is James using it? He is saying, ‘Look, if you take a fellow Christian that’s moving off into sin and you counsel them properly, where you turn them away from sin, then you’re going to save his soul from a multitude of sins and death.’ Meaning that you are going to spare that fellow believer’s life from a whole lot of consequences that they’re going to reap in their life[time] — even though they’re heaven-bound, they’re going to reap a whole lot of consequences in their life if they pursue this particular sin.
So you’re in a situation with a fellow Christian, and they’re thinking about getting a divorce; it is a situation where they don’t have biblical grounds for divorce, or they’re thinking about committing adultery, or they’re thinking about doing this or that, which happens to be sinful, and you sit down and talk with them, and give them a level-headed biblical approach, and you tell them not to go down that sinful route, and they say, you know, you’re right— look at all the problems they’re shielded from because they didn’t fulfill a sinful course or path. James says that when you do that you save their soul. He’s not talking about counseling people towards holy living so they could go to heaven; they’re already going to heaven. He’s talking about shielding them from temporal consequences; you saved their soul. So that is how James uses this word, ‘save’ or sōzō.
You’ll notice that with each of these that I have gone through, it is the identical word, but James is infusing that word with a completely different meaning. When James uses ‘save,’ he’s talking about sanctification. When he uses the word ‘faith,’ he’s talking about serving faith; when he uses the word, ‘works,’ he is talking about the believer’s moral deeds. James is using the word, ‘save’ a lot like Philippians 2:12, which says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Again, that is a middle tense use of ‘save’ because the surrounding verses say ‘do all things without grumbling and disputing.’ Verse 15, for example, talks about being blameless and innocent children, you know, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as lights in the world. And again, you will notice here that ‘save’ in Philippians 2:12, is being used in the sanctification sense. That’s how James is using this word, ‘save.’
So with all of that being said, what is James’ thesis statement? James’ thesis statement in James 2:14, when he says, ‘what use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but has no works, can that faith save him?’ What is James’ thesis statement, and here it is. He is asking this question: 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 Judgement of Christ, if he has no accompanying works? Can that happen? James’ thesis statement is NO. In other words, if you’re a Christian that’s on their way to heaven, you’re saved by God’s grace, and yet there are no works in your life whereby you’re making progress in the middle tense of your salvation, whereby you are a blessing to those around you; whereby you will be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgement of Christ. If that describes you, then can you be progressing in
terms of your faith; can you be maturing in terms of your faith? The answer is NO. So that’s the question James is asking. I mean, can your faith be mature and useful if it has no works? James says NO.
Now that thesis statement is a far cry from the quotes we gave last week and the week before, where interpreter after interpreter after interpreter, commentator, after commentator, after commentator across the board says that James’ thesis statement, is: if you have no works, is your faith real; if you have no works, is your faith in existence; if you have no works, is your faith authentic? Those commentators say no. If you have no works, is your faith spurious? Those commentators say yes. So what everybody thinks this passage means is James is advancing the idea that faith without works is dead; if you don’t have enough works, you’re not a Christian; and you’ll notice how differently we are interpreting this.
He is not asking and answering that question; he’s not asking and answering any such notion. What he is asking and answering, is is your faith productive, useful, a blessing to your fellow man, which will allow you to be fully rewarded at the Bema Seat Judgement of Christ? James is saying, NO, that will not happen, and NO, your faith is not maturing if it has no works. He’s questioning the usefulness of their faith and not its existence. So that’s his thesis statement. His thesis statement is: works accompany useful faith. Works accompany productive faith; that is the point that he is driving at, and now having explained his thesis statement, verse 14, he backs up that thesis statement, verses 15-26 with five illustrations.
Illustration #1 is the needy brother (2:15-17).
Illustration #2 is the demonic monotheist (2:18-19)
Illustration #3 is Abraham himself (2:20-24)
Illustration #4 is Rahab, who you might remember, in the Book of Joshua, hid the spies at risk
to her own life (2:25)
Illustration #5 is the lifeless corpse (2:26)
All of these illustrations are not saying that if you don’t have enough works, you’re not a Christian; that’s not James’ point. His point, rather, is you have to have works to demonstrate that your faith is useful or productive; it’s not just something that you rely on to get to heaven; it’s something that God is actually using to advance His cause and His purposes towards your fellow man; towards fellow believers on the earth.
So lets take a look here a illustration # 1: the needy brother. So take a look at James 2, now that we’ve seen the thesis statement of verse 14. Let’s move into the first illustration of the needy brother in verses 15 and 16. “If a brother or a sister, verse 15, is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled, and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use [notice the word, ‘use’ there—‘usefulness’] what use is that?” Now, I like this verse for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons is that it reveals to us the purpose of prosperity. Why is it that God puts into the hands of some Christians material things above and beyond what they need? And that certainly describes our situation, at least for the time being, here in North America where, when you look at our standard of living, compared to what others experience worldwide, we have most of the world’s wealthiest Christians living in our country. You go to other countries in the world and that is not the case. So why is it that God has put resources into the hands of the American Christian?
When God sovereignly decided to do that, what was His purpose? His purpose is that we might use those articles of wealth to be a blessing to someone else. So God blessed you so that you can be a blessing to another. That is what I like to call the purpose of prosperity. The purpose of prosperity is not so I can raise my standard of living. The purpose of prosperity biblically may even be that I might lower my standard of living so that I might have more liquidity in my fingertips to give to others around the world who are in need.
You’ll notice that Jesus made this statement when He sent out the 12 to offer the Kingdom to Israel in Matthew 10. He says, “Heal the sick, raise the dread, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” I mean, you have been blessed so you can bless others; you’ve received those blessings freely, so now, give them away freely — the purpose of prosperity.
1 John 3:17 — a wonderful parallel passage which is a different passage in a different part of the Bible expressing the same idea. “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” John asks rhetorically. If you have the world’s goods, and you see someone in need, and you don’t use those goods to meet those needs, how can you say you love your brother?
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 8:14 talks about the abundance in Corinth, and he says, “…at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need” [speaking there of the poverty-stricken Macedonians], “…at the present time your abundance being a supply for their need so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality.” So what God is saying to Paul, God through Paul to the Corinthians is that the reason you have wealth is you’re supposed to be a blessing to the Macedonians. Then Paul says, ‘Hey, you know what, one of these days your circumstances might be reversed; maybe it will be Macedonia that is blessed financially and Corinth will be the ones with the need,’ and in that case, God will use the wealth of the Macedonians to bless the Corinthians. But no matter what situation you’re in, the reason you have the world’s goods above and beyond what you need, is so you can be a blessing to someone else, especially in the Body of Christ.
By the way, there is a big push today for communism or Marxism, and these verses are talking of no such thing because communism or Marxism is coerced through the threat of government. That is not what Paul is talking about here when he says, ‘give without compulsion.’ He isn’t talking about giving because you’re forced to give; he is talking really about what I like to call compassionate capitalism. God believes in the private ownership of goods, and it is okay to have the world’s resources, but just remember that God put those things in your hands so that you can bless someone else. That is what James is speaking of here — the purpose of prosperity. How can you say, “be warm and be filled” when your brother or sister in Christ may be in need, but you don’t do anything in terms of practicality to help them? What good is that? In fact, that type of thing is faith without works is dead. That’s a faith that might be in existence but it’s not a faith that is at any point useful in terms of being a blessing to others. So that is what James is getting at here.
3719 His thesis statement is works must accompany useful faith. Works must accompany productive faith.
Illustration #1: if you’re in a situation where you have these world’s goods and you see your brother and sister in need, help your brother and sister in need. That’s why God put those world’s goods in your hand and in your lap.
Now what if I have these world’s goods, and I see my brother or sister in Christ in need, and I do nothing to help them practically? I just say, ‘Well, I hope things work out for you, you know, be warm and be filled go your way,’ but I don’t do anything tangible; practical to help them, well, verse 17 is an explanation of the circumstance that I’m in if I don’t understand the purpose of prosperity. Verse 17, ‘even so, faith, if it has no works, is dead being by itself.’
So, let’s go back to our chart. You’ll notice the word, ‘faith.’ He is not talking about saving faith as we have mentioned; James is talking about serving faith. You’ll notice the word, ‘works.’ He’s not talking about a condemnation of people who think they’re right with God through their good works. That’s not what James is talking about; rather he is talking about the believer’s moral deeds — same exact words, different meaning. Notice what he says in verse 17: “even so, faith, if it has no works is dead.” Now in our last lesson together, we went in depth on this word, ‘dead.’ ‘Dead’ does not mean non-existence in the Bible. ‘Dead’ means separated. In this case, the faith which exists is separated from works, and if one’s faith is separated from works, then the Christian has a saving faith only. They do not have a serving faith. Their faith, which is real, which allows them one day to enter heaven, is not being used in any useful or productive sense, because after all, you’ve got the world’s goods and you see someone in need, and you do absolutely nothing to help.
If that’s you, if that’s me, if that’s us as Christians, what is our condition? He’s not saying, ‘well, you’re not Christians.’ What he is saying is you have a saving faith but not a serving faith. “Faith without works is dead;” there is a death or a separation between your faith and works which means you haven’t graduated to serving faith. You’re still in the kindergarten class sucking your thumb with just a saving faith. So hopefully, I’m being somewhat clear so we can see exactly what James is talking about.
It’s a faith being by itself. You say, ‘well can faith be by itself?’ Yes, it can. But it is merely a saving faith; it is separated from works, but once you allow the Holy Spirit to actually take your faith, which is already inside of you, and you come under His conviction, and when you see someone in need and you have the world’s goods, and then you step out tangibly and practically to assist them, (and I’m speaking in generalities because we all know situations where people come to churches and they’re looking for a handout and you can smell the alcohol on their breath 15 feet away). We are not dealing with subsidizing people’s irresponsible behavior by giving them handouts. James is not getting into every nook and cranny of this. He’s just dealing with the situation where you see someone with a real need, and you have the goods and the wealth of the world to help them, but you don’t help them. What is going on there? That means your faith is separated or dead, separated from works, which means it’s faith by itself; it’s just a saving faith, but you haven’t matured yet to the point where it’s become a serving faith. So that is Illustration #1 — illustration of the needy brother.
Illustration #2, and we have to go through this very carefully because there is a lot of misunderstanding on illustration #2. Illustration #2 of useful faith is the demonic monotheist. So, notice if you will, verse 18, “But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
So again, look at our chart, at the word, ‘faith.’ How is James using the word, ‘faith?’ Not a saving faith but a serving faith. In fact, it would even behoove you as we walk through this passage to take a pencil or however you mark up your Bible by adding the word, ‘serving’ — just a scribble mark to the word, ‘faith’ there, just so the next time you read it, you’ll understand what James is speaking of. While you are at it, you might put a little scribble mark on the word, ‘works.’ Put up there, if you have room, depending on how wide your margins are in your Bible, ‘the believer’s moral deeds.’ So you don’t think that somehow, James is dealing with the subject of religious people that think they’re justified before God through good works. You’ll notice the word, ‘faith’ — same word, different meaning; you’ll notice the word, ‘works’ — same word different meaning. So what is James getting at here in verse 18? He is saying ‘no authentic or useful serving faith exists.’ Saving faith exists, but not serving faith. No authentic or useful serving faith exists without the believer’s moral deeds. So if you’re a Christian with no works, what does that mean? It means you have a saving faith only but not a serving faith. This is where he gets into the whole illustration of the demonic monotheist, and he deals with that illustration there in verse 19. “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
Now, I want you to understand that reformed theology has completely and totally hijacked verse 19 because reformed theology believes in the doctrines of the two faiths. Notice what reformed theologian, William Hendrickson says, ‘Not all faith is saving faith.’ They talk over and over again about the faith that saves and the faith that doesn’t save; they talk over and over again about head faith or intellectual faith versus heart faith or authentic faith. And how do you know if someone has head faith or heart faith? Intellectual faith or authentic faith? This is where they have their doctrine that faith is a gift, and they essentially believe that God looks at the elect because no human being, because of their overstatement of total depravity — no human being even when they hear the gospel; even when they come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit — despite the fact that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation; no human being because they’re dead like a rock insensate — has the ability to believe.
So why is it that some people believe and some people don’t? God gives some people the ability to believe—the gift of faith— and others He passes by. So what they teach is that there are many people in the Body of Christ that have an intellectual faith, but they don’t have the real faith. Why don’t they have the real faith? Because they’re not one of the elect and they’ve never been given the gift of faith. That’s what Hendrickson is speaking of here when he talks about ‘not all faith is saving faith.’ This is taught over and over again throughout Christendom today.
Christian media, the Christian printed page, the doctrine of the true faiths rings throughout Christianity over and over again, and the problem with it is that if you believe what I just said as I have tried to accurately represent their position, then there’s no such thing as the assurance of salvation. If not all faith is saving faith, and there is the faith that saves and the faith that doesn’t save, and I only have the faith that saves if I have been given the gift of faith, what are you going to wonder for your whole life: do I have the right one or not? Consequently, if you’re always wondering if you have the right faith or the wrong faith, you’ll never have 100% assurance that you’re a Christian.
Ideas have consequences. In our last lesson, I showed you 1 John 5:13 and other passages where God wants you to know with ironclad certainty that you have eternal life. He doesn’t want you to go through your life thinking, ‘do I have the faith that saves or the faith that doesn’t save?’ That’s why these reformed theologians, when you look at their teachings very carefully, don’t have any assurance.
A couple of quotes I shared last week: 4931
John Piper, who is a big advocate of this two-faiths doctrine, 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.” In other words, if I’m not, in an ongoing sense, being dedicated to the Lord and denying myself, then maybe I have the false faith. And maybe if I have the false faith, maybe I was never given the gift of faith, and if I was never given the gift of faith, maybe I’m not one of the elect.
John Piper, very recently, the quote I gave here earlier is an older quote, but here is one that he made in April of last year (2020 per slide) on a radio interview, where he says, “What causes me to be anxious is the possibility that I may not be a Christian— that I might be fake/that everything I have ever done might be a farce—those are horrible, horrible thoughts; right?” I agree those are horrible, horrible thoughts. The reason they are horrible, horrible thoughts is because they stem from horrible, horrible doctrine because your Bible knows no such doctrine as these two faiths.
What your Bible says is what Jesus recorded in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” There is not a hint here where Jesus says you’ve got an ongoing need to deny yourself to make sure you’ve got the right kind of faith to prove you’ve got the gift of faith to prove that you’re one of the elect. None of that is mentioned here. It is just a simple statement from God, who cannot lie, that when you hear the gospel and trust in it for your eternity, you already have eternal life. You have already passed out of death unto life.
You remember life’s most important question asked by the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30,31, “and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ [It is a question by the Philippian jailer to Paul and Silas]. “They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’ [implying that the message will get to your household and they will be saved, too]. He says, “you will be saved;” there is no doubt about authentic versus inauthentic faith; there’s no issue here about ‘well, you better make sure you keep denying yourself to the end to prove you’ve got the right kind of faith; to prove that you have the gift of faith; to prove that you’re one of the elect’ —completely foreign ideas to these verses here in Acts 16:30,31. Yet reformed theology takes James 2:19 and has completely hijacked it. James 2:19: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”
What reformed theology wants that verse to say is ‘look, there is a false faith. The demons have the false faith; the demons are not going to heaven so therefore, by way of analogy, if you have the false faith, you’re not going to heaven either.’ And I am here to tell you that this is an apples and oranges comparison. You cannot take the plight of the demons and compare it to a Christian today as maybe not having true faith. Why? I have three reasons here:
First of all, what does it say: “You believe that God is one.” Does it say there that Jesus Christ is your Savior? The gospel is not in James 2:19; the gospel is not ‘you believe that God is one, you do well. The demons believe and shudder.’
Is that how we go around and evangelize people — ‘believe that God is one’? You have to believe in monotheism, God is one to get to heaven? Obviously not. We believe that the gospel is Christ crucified and resurrected, you trust in Him and His finished work and you’re saved. So you can’t compare the plight of the demons to people today believing the gospel because the gospel is not even presented in verse 19. Follow?
Second, the plan of salvation is not open to the demons. The demons cannot be saved. Why is that? The plan of salvation is not open to them. Why is that? Because for the demons to experience the plan of salvation, Jesus would have had to become a what? A demon. Which He did not. Jesus became a
man. The plan of salvation is open to me and it is open to you because God became man. The demons have no hope of salvation. So you start to look at this and you see how crazy it is to say, ‘well maybe you don’t have the right kind of faith. Maybe your faith is just like the demons because they have the wrong faith and they’re not going to heaven.’ You are putting together two things that do not go together at all. You are making an apples and oranges comparison, because, number 1, monotheism is not the gospel and number 2, the plan of salvation is not even open to the demons, and number 3, the demons do believe; they do believe; they don’t have a false faith; they believe in Jesus. Now, they aren’t going to heaven because the plan of salvation is not open to them, but they believe. They believe in Christ; they know exactly who He is; in fact, when Jesus was on this earth, did he not encounter demons who knew exactly who He was? Matthew 8:28,29 says, “When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”
You’ll notice that they knew who Jesus was; they even have very good Christology, doctrine of Christ; they know He’s the Son of God; they also know of His power; they know that there is an appointed time of torment coming for them, and they wanted to know, ‘are you jumpstarting it now, or is it later?’ So this idea that the demons didn’t have faith or they had a false faith, I’m here to tell you that satan and every demon that’s in existence right now — those on the earth and those under the earth — they have faith; they know exactly who Christ is, and they’re terrified. So my point is when people say, ‘well maybe you don’t have the right kind of faith; maybe you have the false faith; maybe you have the intellectual faith; maybe you have the intellectual faith; maybe you have the inauthentic faith; maybe your faith is just like the demons’ as reformed theology says. ‘The demons don’t have the right kind of faith and they’re not going to heaven, and they’re not going to heaven. Maybe you don’t have the right kind of faith and you’re not going to heaven.’ That is an insane, ridiculous, absurd comparison of two things that have absolutely nothing in common with each other for these reasons:
-the gospel is not presented here
-the plan of salvation is not open to the demons
-the demons do believe in Christ to the point where they’re trembling
So, if James’ point is not ‘maybe you don’t have the right kind of faith’ what is his point here in his second illustration? Here is James’ point, and I like Dennis Rokser’s summation of this point. Dennis Rokser says, “James does not call the belief of the demons a mere ‘recognition,’…”[see, reformed theology is trying to make that case; it is a false faith amongst the demons that might have commonality with false Christians]. Rokser says “James does not call the belief of the demons a mere ‘recognition, but he states they actually ‘believe.’ Doesn’t the text say that? Doesn’t it say that the demons also believe? There is no false faith here. It says it as clearly as it could be said: “the demons also believe”…]. So Rokser says “James does not call the belief of the demons a mere recognition, but he states they actually believe. In fact, their faith does cause them to ‘tremble.’” [So what’s James’ point?] James’ point is that even the faith of demons results in some practical manifestation in their lives”, [I mean, “even they tremble;” there is some sort of practical output to their faith. James’ point is that even the faith of the demons results in some practical manifestation in their lives so by way of analogy], ‘so should not the genuine faith of these believers result in some profitable and demonstrable works toward other believers in need?”
Latin would call this an a fortiori argument; it is an argument from the lesser to the greater. James’ thesis is that you have to have works to demonstrate the usefulness of your faith. His second illustration here is the demonic monotheist, and he’s saying even the demons have that. Even the demons allow their faith to accomplish something. They tremble, and so since that happens amongst the realm of the demonic, should it not also be true to a greater sense amongst God’s people — that faith, in order to be useful, not in existence, but useful, has to translate into something practical? That happens amongst the demons moving from the lesser to the greater; that should happen amongst God’s people.
So what is James’ thesis statement? Verse 14: Faith has to be accompanied by works to be a serving faith. That is his thesis. Illustration #1: the purpose of prosperity; you have the world’s goods and you use it to bless somebody else; you’re moving now into the realm of not just saving faith but useful faith.
Illustration #2 is the demonic monotheist: the demons themselves allow their faith to produce something practical; they tremble, so why would we not expect the authentic faith in the Christian to produce something practical?
The next time we are together, we will see this illustration played out in Abraham when he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. We will see it played out in Rahab when she was willing to house the spies at risk to her own life, and we will see it played out in the lifeless corpse.
Closing prayer: Father, we are grateful for this evening; grateful for Your truth and Your Word; help us to rightfully divide Your Word in these last days concerning a controversial passage. We will be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things In Jesus’ Name, I pray. And God’s people said, Amen!