Considered Righteous

James 2:24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

Often people confuse the “dead faith” in James with “no faith,” but that isn’t the case at all. If something is dead, that means at one point it was alive. It was working. James is talking about a faith that is useless in the sense that it doesn’t save you from death and hardship (see James 5:19-20). 

You are already saved from hell because of God’s calling and your faith in Jesus’ finished work (James 1:18). 

So, even though Paul and James use the same word for justification, they are using it in different senses. This is one of the most significant misunderstandings in James. Consider the following information:

Romans 3:28James 2:24
“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”“You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”
Dikaioō-to declareDikaioō-to show
Justification before GodJustification before man
Cause of salvationResult of salvation
Root of Justification/SalvationFruit of justification/salvation
Inner saving faith from God’s perspectiveOutward serving faith from man’s perspective
God sees heartMan sees works

Max Lucado explains, “It is not that works save the Christian, but that works mark the Christian.” We don’t judge other’s eternal salvation but can encourage/disciple others if we don’t see a walk that matches the talk.

Strauss also says, “God knows whether or not I am a true believer on the basis of my faith apart from any works, but men can only know whether or not I am a true believer as they observe my life outwardly. Jesus said we can distinguish between the true and the false only by man’s fruits (Matt 7:16, 21).”

Some questions:

-How are you demonstrating your salvation? 

-How is your faith fully alive?

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Dynamic Faith Example #1: Abraham

James 2:21-23: “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? Abraham’s faith and actions were working together; his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.”

Dynamic faith is when intellect, emotion, and will are all operating together. Combining faith and works leads to growth. 

In verse 22, the word “complete” means to bring to maturity. In other words, a full-grown faith works. This includes development because faith is nourished and strengthened by actions.

James provides two examples: Abraham and Rahab. Both of them demonstrated how the right action proceeds from correct belief. The two couldn’t be more different. Abraham was Jewish, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, a significant figure in the OT; Rahab was a gentile, a prostitute, and a minor character in the OT (she is in the genealogy of Christ though… as the mother of Boaz, the husband of Ruth)

Today, we learn about Abraham.

Both Paul and James reference Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” 

“Credited” is an accounting term which means it is “reckoned as an asset in the account.” Abraham was counted as righteous before Abraham could “do” anything for God other than believe him. James references the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19), which occurred years later. He does this to demonstrate that vibrant faith, dynamic faith, involves action. He didn’t just understand who God was, but believed and obeyed. 

Some questions to consider:

-Is your faith operative? 

-If the test of your profession of faith is your action, how are you doing?

-What does it mean to be a friend of God’s (v. 23)?

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Don’t Be a Fool

James 2:20: “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”

This is a transition verse. It bridges between dead and demonic faith to dynamic faith. A dynamic faith is one that is validated by works. It is a beautiful sight to see when our head knowledge and heart feelings match what our hands and feet are doing.

Larry Pierce describes a foolish person: “destitute of spiritual wealth, of one who boasts of his faith as a transcendent possession, yet is without the fruits of faith.” A foolish person has no purpose. Don’t be a fool. A friend of mine was sitting in a jail cell when his pastor came to visit him. The pastor challenged him to read through the book of Proverbs and ask himself one question: “Am I the fool that is described here?” Through this exercise, my friend realized he was a fool, placed his trust in Christ, and is now a pastor. The Bible pierced his foolish heart! Don’t be a fool.

Faith without deeds is truly useless. It is of no beneficial use to you. It doesn’t impact your thoughts, actions, or emotions. It doesn’t impact your ethics or morality. It is also of no benefit to those around you. They don’t see a difference between you and an unbeliever. Don’t be useless.

Some questions to consider:

-Are you a fool?

-What are the fruits of faith? What are the fruits of your faith?

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Faith of Demons

James 2:18-19: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Warren Wiersbe has described the faith mentioned in these two verses as demonic faith. Are demons real? YES! Paul talks about fighting spiritual battles all the time. Check out Ephesians 6 for the spiritual armor a Christian is to adorn to fight this battle.

Belief is to “accept as true.” There is a difference between believing that God is real (v. 19) and believing in Christ for salvation. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Over and over again in Scripture, we see Jesus confronting demons, and each time they respond by admitting who Jesus is and what He had come to do, but never once do they accept it and apply it to their life.

For example, in Luke 4:34, the demons respond to Jesus’ presence: “‘Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” This shows that knowing the facts about God as revealed in the Bible is one thing, trusting in Him and depending on His son Jesus Christ for salvation is another.

Notice the demons never do anything about what they believe other than shudder. They know what is coming for them, or more importantly, who.

Good works are simple, practical outworkings of the Christian life since demons aren’t Christians, the only thing they can do is shudder.

The absence of good works in a professing Christian’s life means one of two things. First, perhaps they weren’t saved but only gave intellectual assent to God; Maybe they were even able to fake an outward emotional response, but there was no internal change. In reality, only God can judge this. If no works are accompanying a Christian’s life, the second possible explanation is they have backslidden and are living in disobedience. In this case, they need to repent or face God’s discipline.

Some questions to consider:

-In what ways are you living out your faith in Christ?

-How are you accepting and applying belief in Christ in your life?

-How can you lovingly encourage a professing Christian who isn’t displaying works to begin to live out their faith?

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Dead Faith

James 2:17: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

James stops dancing around the issue and boldly proclaims the importance of works in the life of a believer. Often people confuse the “dead faith” in James with “no faith,” but that isn’t the case at all. If something is dead, that means at one point it was alive, and it was working. Dead faith is unproductive and unprofitable. By definition, a dead faith has no life.

Similarly, a belief in the truth will produce the behavior of truth. Remember what James says in 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

When James says, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action…,” he is clearly saying that faith and works should be married. You shouldn’t have one without the other. The rest of the New Testament agrees (keep in mind our discussion on the Royal Law):

1 John 3:17-18: “17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

If someone knocks on your door at night asking for food and clothes, FEED THEM! Don’t merely say, “Let’s pray and ask God to provide” or say, “Let’s study the Bible and get spiritually nourished,” and then go back to your dinner. FEED THEM!

Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Circumcision was often symbolic of works-based righteousness. Don’t get the cart before the horse. Faith comes first, and then we work out of our faith.

Some questions to consider:

-Are you still trying to work your way into God’s good graces? Stop! Jesus did that for you.

-How are faith and works married in your life?

-How can you encourage those around you to not only have faith but demonstrate it in acts of love and charity?

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Empty Words

James 2:15-16: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

The faith and deeds discussion continues with a practical example. Here, someone is presented with basic needs: clothing and food. They have the means to meet the demand, but simply wish them well and send them on their way. Their words fall on deaf ears because the hunger is so loud, the cold is noisy. I often wonder how many people pray for the starving people in the world but do nothing.

I’m not advocating for giving yourself into poverty, although some may be called to give away everything. I’m merely talking about making sacrifices so that you can give when a need arises. I know of some very generous people that get tremendous joy from extravagant giving. I also know of people who would be considered poor that also get incredible pleasure from sacrificial giving. Specifically, one lady skips one meal a week so she can have a few bucks to put in the offering plate each week. When was the last time you skipped dinner so you could bless others? I know it has been a while for me.

Our motivation for caring for the poor should not be the good feelings we get or even to assuage our guilt. Our reason should be the Gospel. We give to the poor, underprivileged, and underserved, so they know they have a God (not us) who loves them and looks after them. This means it needs to be made known that we are blessing others because we have been blessed. Even better is when the receiver doesn’t know who the giver is.

I’d like to challenge you to examine your faith and determine if it is producing the kind of fruit James tells us it should. If so, praise God! If not, how can you take the next step to bring your life in line with the Word of God?

Some questions to consider:

-Where are you substituting words for actions?

-Where can you cut your living to increase your giving?-What is one physical need of another you can meet today?

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The Beginning of the Faith and Works Discussion

James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”

This verse starts the most controversial section of James (it runs through verse 26). The reason for the controversy is the tension between faith and works. James appears to be preaching works-based righteousness, while Paul preaches righteousness through faith alone. However, Paul and James are in complete agreement. Paul emphasized the purpose of faith: salvation. James emphasized the results of faith: a changed life. More on that tension later.

James doesn’t say this person has faith, merely that they claim faith. He also doesn’t say the person doesn’t have faith, only asks us to look at the fruit of their life. Jesus also said to look at the fruit of a person’s life. However, we are not to be self-appointed fruit inspectors. As we build relationships with people, we may be permitted to examine another’s life and offer advice and opinions. Of course, insight is to be delivered in grace and love and always with the motivation of repentance and reconciliation.

James is also saying it is ridiculous to say you have faith and then turn your back on the opportunity to demonstrate it. As the song goes, “Trust and obey…” As we work with the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) are made evident. We also live out the Great Commandment (Love God, Love Self, Love Others) and the Great Commission (Go, Make Disciples).

Salvation was a multi-faceted concept. It could mean either deliver from sin or evil. In this case, it means to save from the deadly outcome of sin. Sin destroys relationships. First and foremost, our relationship with God. If we say we have faith but don’t demonstrate it, it is disobedience, and fellowship with God is broken. As a believer in Jesus, our eternal destiny is secure, but when we sin, there are still earthly consequences. 

Some questions to consider:

-Do you claim faith? Where are your deeds?

-How can you cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in your life?

-Are you looking to your works or Christ’s work for salvation from sin?

-Are you working to stay in God’s good graces (for what you get) or working to show God’s glory?

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Are You Ready for Judgment?

James 2:12-13: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” 

“Speak and act” means we are to have total obedience to the Word of God. We are to saturate our speech and action with love, concern, comfort, and compassion. Likewise, we are to avoid harshness, criticism, bitterness, gossip, and selfishness.

Every Christian denomination contains a statement in their beliefs about judgment. We may disagree on the timing, but we all agree that you will be judged sometime. In this passage, I believe the judgment discussed isn’t the Great White Throne Judgment, but the Bema seat where a Christian’s works are going to be judged to determine rewards. While I firmly believe we are saved from our sin and hell based upon the finished work of Christ, I also believe that we are saved for good works. Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Christians will have a private evaluation, a comprehensive review of our life. Our words, works, and motives will be judged. Since we will need MERCY, James tells us to show MERCY. Mercy is an indicator of our awareness of God’s forgiveness in us. The more we realize God’s mercy in our own lives, the more readily we are to show mercy to others.

I don’t say this to scare you, but to make sure you are prepared.

Some questions to consider:

-Does your conduct reflect the reality that judgment could come at any minute?

-Are you more inclined to show mercy or seek justice?

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The Weak Link

James 2:10-11: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”

James is continuing his explanation of the Royal Law to love your neighbor. He picks two of the ten commandments, ones that directly tie into how we treat our neighbors. If we have broken even one point of law, we are guilty of breaking the whole thing. Romans 3:23 adds, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” 

I remember having to walk across a bridge once while I was out fishing with my dad. The bridge was very dilapidated, and I hate heights. Some boards were missing, most were loose, and the bridge wobbled all over the place—a scary moment for a kid. Since just one panel (in this case many) was broken, the whole bridge was broken. Another illustration is the weak link in a chain. It only takes one for the entire thing to break. It is the same with the law. Break one commandment, and you’re guilty. 

That’s where grace comes in. If salvation comes from law-keeping, then the cross becomes unnecessary. However, as James and Paul point out, it is impossible to keep the law perfectly. So, we need grace.

Also, don’t use this verse to justify more sin. Don’t tell yourself that because you can’t keep every demand, so why try. Instead, ask for forgiveness where you need it and renew your effort to pursue faith and Christian maturity.

Some questions to consider:

-Where have you stumbled at obeying God?

-Why is grace so amazing?

-Are you using your guilt in one area of life to excuse sin in another?

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Sin of Favoritism

James 2:9: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

By this time in James, we know that favoritism is a sin. Remember, favoritism is “Making a value judgment on another person based upon unbiblical criteria.” It isn’t just treating people differently, but doing so because you’ve prescribed worth to them and looked down on someone else.

What does it mean to sin? To sin is to transgress God’s commands or character. When it comes to commands, we can sin by omission-failing to do what we should. We can also sin by commission-doing something we shouldn’t. We can sin in either our thoughts, feelings, speech, or actions. Sin has devastating consequences on our life, most notably death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). A lot of Christians focus on that half of the verse. There is good news! Romans 6:23 continues, “but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” There’s a big but in the Bible! All it takes is believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and defeat of death, and you are saved!

When it comes to living the Christian life, there is a need for ongoing repentance and confession, not to maintain your salvation because Christ does that, but to grow in maturity and holiness. When it comes to the sin of favoritism, we must guard against selective obedience. It is easy to justify bias. If your rich buddies ask you for a favor, you may inconvenience yourself more than you would if a poor brother asked for help. This is wrong. The context of this verse is the “Royal Law” to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no clause for income.

Some questions to consider:

-Are you showing favoritism to anybody right now?

-Are there any hidden sins (related to favoritism or otherwise) that you need to confess?-How can confession of sin lead to maturity and holiness?

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