Faith that Works
Introduction: "Faith versus Works" is the everlasting theological debate. How about rephrasing the discussion by saying "Faith that Works?" Does that help? Or, is that just a different way to say that works are a key ingredient to salvation? Perhaps we need a better understanding of what "faith" means. Let's dive into the old debate by looking at what James and Paul write and see if we can learn something new from the Bible!
- Understanding Faith
- Read James 2:14. How would you answer James' question?
- Read Romans 3:28. Now, how would you answer James' question?
- Can you begin to see that the debate about faith and works has been going on for a very long time?
- Can you think of a way to reconcile James 2:14 and Romans 3:28? (Paul and James seem to be saying slightly different things. Paul says that we are justified without reference to the law ("apart from observing the law.") James' question suggests (and he gets clearer later) that someone who has faith also has deeds.)
- Read James 2:15-16. James asks "What good is it?" What is "it?" (I think he means "faith.")
- If "it" means faith, is there some good in faith alone? (Surely if we are justified "by faith apart from observing the law" ( Romans 3:28), there is some good in faith alone.)
- Read Matthew 22:37-40. What is the essence of the law? (To love God and our fellow humans.)
- What is the problem with a faith that lets a fellow Christian go without food and clothes? (It certainly violates the law. But, Paul tells us in Romans 3:28 that we are justified by faith "apart from observing the law.")
- Read Galatians 5:6. What does Paul say about faith here? (That faith "expresses" itself. That means that faith has something to say and do. One thing it does is to love.)
- Go back to James 2:16. Is this love? (No. If the expression of faith is love, then James points out that something is wrong with this kind of faith.)
- Read James 2:17. If you know someone who neither says nor does anything, is that person alive? (They could be alive, but something would be terribly wrong. James is arguing that if we have a live faith, it bears fruit. Otherwise something is terribly wrong.)
- Read Matthew 7:17-20. What does Jesus say is the relationship between what you are and what you do? (The fruit of the tree reflects the nature of the tree. I think that is James' point about faith. The results of the faith reflect the nature of the faith.)
- Demon Faith
- Read James 2:18-19. Do you think that Satan and his fallen angels believe in God? (Read Revelation 12:7-9 and Revelation 12:4. I understand this to mean that Satan recruited a third of the angels and made war in heaven. God won, and Satan and his followers were cast to earth. Clearly, this group believes in God.)
- Let's think about this a moment. Do Satan and his angels have works? (Read Revelation 12:17. Of course Satan has works. When James says that they "believe ... and shudder," that doesn't begin to describe their works.)
- If James says that faith and works must go together, then Satan has perfect faith and works. What is the problem with this logic? (The question of faith for a Christian is not whether you believe in God, the question is what, exactly, do you believe about God? Satan believes that God and His followers should be destroyed. God loves humans in a self-sacrificing way. A human who believes in that kind of God will also love others in a self-sacrificing way.)
- Abraham's Works
- Read James 2:20-21. I think James intended this to be a rhetorical question to prove his point about deeds, but I think we should answer it. What do you think? (I think the answer is "No, he was considered righteous before this event.")
- Read James 2:22. What action of Abraham proved his faith? (James says that Abraham's faith "was made complete" by his willingness to sacrifice his son.)
- What do you think James means by "complete?" Did Abraham have an "incomplete" faith before that? What Abraham's faith defective in some way?
- Read Romans 4:2-3 and James 2:23. Both James and Paul point to this statement about Abraham as proof for their position. Let's focus on the James' version for a minute. How was the statement about Abraham's faith "fulfilled" when he offered his son to God?
- Now let's focus on Romans 4:2-3. What does Paul say about Abraham's works (such as offering his son) and his righteousness? (That Abraham was not justified by his works.)
- Let's read Romans 4:9-11 to be sure we understand what Paul is writing. What action of Abraham proved his faith? (Belief. Paul goes out of his way to say that even a little work (compare circumcision to sacrificing your son) was not a part of the reason for Abraham's righteousness.)
- Read Genesis 15:6. Both James and Paul are citing this same section of Genesis. Let's add some context. Read Genesis 15:5-6. Who is most correctly citing Genesis 15:6? (I vote for Paul. The original statement in Genesis cannot possibly apply to Abraham sacrificing his son for his son was not even born at the point the Genesis statement was made.)
- This brings us to a very important point. I believe the entire Bible is inspired by God, but James not only seems to directly contradict Paul, he cites the original Genesis statement out of context. Look again at James 2:21-23. Is there any way to justify his statement?
- Let's look at the actual story to which James refers. Read Genesis 22:9-12. What does the angel speaking for God mean by "now I know that you fear [Me]?" (God says this is proof of faith. When James says ( James 2:23) "the scripture was fulfilled" he must mean that Abraham's faith was proven.)
- What is the lesson for you and me? Must we have works to be justified? (Paul unambiguously says ( Romans 4:9-10 that Jesus' righteousness is credited to us by faith BEFORE works. It does not depend upon our works. But, James tells us that true faith results in works. As we saw, Satan believes in God and he is working very hard to harm God. If we truly believe in God, it should make a difference in our life. Abraham showed that his faith had taken him to a point where he reflected God's own willingness to sacrifice Himself for us.)
- Read James 2:24. Just when we were doing so well, James makes this statement. How should this be understood? (True faith is reflected in our life. It might be nothing at first (as Paul demonstrates), but it should grow, and Abraham is our example for that.)
- The Faithful Prostitute
- Read James 2:25. For context, you should read Joshua chapter 2. What kind of a person is Rahab? (A prostitute and a liar.)
- Does this put a very different spin on James' "works" argument?
- Read Joshua 2:8-9 and Hebrews 11:31. We know about Rahab's bad works, what are her good works that James wants us to consider? (She believed that God's people would prevail, and she acted in accord with that. James can hardly be arguing for salvation by works, because Rahab had some serious works issues.)
- Read James 2:26. Why are works like our spirit? (If we really believe something, we act on it. Ideas come alive through actions.)
- Friend, can you see the big picture? James is saying something very simple. He is not arguing for righteousness by works. Rather, Abraham, Satan and Rahab have something very important in common. Their belief in the power of God animates their lives. If you truly believe in God it will be reflected in your life. Consider your life right now? What beliefs do your actions reflect?
- Next week: Taming the Tongue.