Ephesians 4:3-6; One Faith – Clarifying James 2, part 12.

Class Outline:

Sunday April 25,2021

God desires that we live the life that He gave us. He is not content for us to hear of it and do nothing; to consent to it and not walk in it; to herald it and not experience it. He desires for us to live free and joyful under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.


The final sub-section of 1:21-2:26 is 2:14-26.


The parallel that James draws to faith without works is giving your best wishes to someone in need but failing to fulfill their need when you can. This is a perfect example that he gives. It is termed antinomianism, which is to claim one thing and then do another. If a man is saved and possesses eternal life by faith in Christ, but then stifles that life in consistent disobedience and sin, he is as a man having plenty in the presence of a person, hungry and without sustenance, to whom he says, “Be well, I will pray for you.”


JAM 2:14-17

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him [can that faith save his life from the consequences of sin which is deathlike]? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 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 is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.


Faith “by itself” is the means of salvation. Faith by itself in the regenerated man is a man alive but living as if he is dead. Faith in the God of life should manifest life in the faithful.


James maintains the imagery of life and death for the blessed life and non-blessed life of a Christian.


It is clear in his letter that this is exactly what he is using the words life and death to mean. It is true that they can mean eternal life and eternal judgment in other passages by other writers, but that does not grant anyone the authority to interpret James’ words to mean something other than what he desired them to mean.


The key to the next section, the one that has aroused so much controversy in the church, is identifying the words of the imagined objector and distinguishing them from James’ rebuttal. The translators of some versions try to help us, like the NASB and the NKJV, but they only hinder us, for they put in quotes that James did not, and they have gotten it wrong, steering us into confusion.


The imagined objector - 2:18-19. James’ rebuttal - 2:20-26.


James does not expect his words to go unchallenged among his readers. According to James’ description of them, they do not have works. Their objection would be that there is no connection between faith and works.


The exact extent and meaning of the objector’s words have long been a problem to commentators.


JAM 2:18-19

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." 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.


James’ rebuttal starts in vs. 20 with the conjunction de.


JAM 2:20

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?


We’ve seen Paul use this same technique of diatribe.


ROM 9:19-20

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man


1CO 15:35-36

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" You fool!


The point to take is that it is clear when the objector ends his objection and Paul responds to it. We should be looking for the same thing in James. Remember, the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and God wishes to reveal His message in clarity and simplicity. He is not trying to confuse us, nor did He write His Word cryptically so that only a few could understand it.


James is cleverly using diatribe in the form of reductio ad absurdum. If we want to show something to be true, we can construct its negation and show it to be false.


It is absurd, says the objector, to see an intimate connection between faith and works. Demons believe in God and so do men. A man’s belief might lead him to works, but a demon’s never will. All the demon can do is tremble.


Or in a more expanded way, “It is absurd,” says the objector, “to see a close connection between faith and works. For the sake of argument, let’s say you have faith and I have works. Let’s start there. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and demonstrate what it is I believe.” The objector is confident that both tasks are impossible. [Zane Hodges]


Another way of putting the point of the objector: If you had faith in something but I saw you do nothing at all, you obviously couldn’t show me your faith, and if all I could do is watch your life and you never spoke to me, I would see the work you do, but I would not really know what you believe.


The impossibility of showing one’s faith from one’s works is then demonstrated by an illustration, “Men and demons both believe that there is one God, but their faith does not produce the same response. Man might do well, but demons never do well.” To the objector’s point, there are many pairs of things in the world that look the same but effect different results. For instance, the gopher snake and the diamondback rattlesnake look very much alike. The gopher snake even rattles its tail, but one is venomous and one is not.


The objector thinks he has proven that faith and works have no connection at all. “So therefore,” concludes the objector, “a man might be a very mature and faithful believer in Christ, but you could never know. So stop telling me that I’m dead or that my faith is dead. You have no way of knowing it.”


We can understand that this is precisely the kind of thing that people who claim to have very spiritual lives that are not supported by fruit. Any challenge to their orthodoxy and they reply by stating that their maturity cannot be seen, that they are being wrongly judged, and that works do not show maturity.


Remember, it is the objector saying vv. 18-19, not James. What the objector is saying may or may not be true, and James is going to show it to be false. The objector says that faith cannot be seen by works, contradicting James, but when James proves this false he proves his own statement true.  James will respond by saying that faith can certainly be seen in works, and he will use Abraham as an example for Abraham’s act is a sure result of his faith to anyone who sees it, even to those not of the same faith as Abraham.


In basic logic this is called reductio ad absurdum, which is a proof by contradiction. If the negative or opposite is false then the statement can be shown true.


If we want to show something to be true, we can construct its negation and show it to be false. James constructs an objector who says that the negation of James. If James can show him to be false then James is true.


In this case, if faith cannot be seen by works, then it is absurd to say that faith can be alive or dead by works. The objector, imagined, makes the case that faith cannot be revealed by works or no works.


The objector sees no immediate connection between faith and works. He says something like, “You can no more take your faith and show me your works than I can take my works and show you my faith. Men and demons may even believe the same truth (that there is one God), but their faith has no correlation to what they do. That conviction may move a man to “do well, or right” but it never moves the demons to “do well.” All the demons can do is tremble.


Plenty of people then, as now, have been accused of a lack of faith because their orthodoxy doesn’t seem to produce any good works. They could make this argument: nothing about faith can be determined by work or no work. So watch it James. Don’t bad mouth the quality of my faith because I don’t give to the poor, I don’t set myself apart from the sins of the world, and I don’t control what I say to others.


James replies, “This argument is foolish and I will show you why.”


JAM 2:20-23

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [matured]; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God.


In vs. 24 “you see” is plural. So there James is returning back to his readers. “But are you” in vs. 20 is singular. 20-23 is his rebuttal to the imagined objector.


The difference between Abraham in Gen 15 when he believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and the Abraham in Gen 22 when he is willing to offer to God the death of the son he loved more than anything, is as striking as Peter denying the Lord and then later on becoming the rock that he was. James is drawing attention to maturity, which is manifested, or justified, by works. And those works performed, themselves increased the faith of the patriarch and the apostle.


It should be said that not all deeds reveal faith. That’s why an unbelieving false teacher can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A person can be nice, help people with things, give money, and many other things and not be a believer in Christ. A false teacher claims to be a believer, and Christ said that we would know them by their fruits. We would reason that a false teacher or an unbeliever professing to be a believer can fool other believers for a period of time. But when Abraham offered up Isaac by God’s command, it was unmistakable that he had a mature faith in God. The same is true of the apostles. That doesn’t mean we should set out to do particular things that will reveal our faith. We don’t have to actually be concerned about it. Our love of Christ and our obedience to Him will eventually show our faith, and our true nature, to the world.


God working through us will accomplish this. Neither Abraham nor Rahab initiated the works that revealed their mature faith, and one work was enough to show it.


EPH 2:10

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.


There were many acts of faith in the life of Abraham as well as failures in unbelief throughout his life before the moment came when God tested Abraham and commanded him to take his son and offer him as a burnt offering (the entire animal was consumed in this offering).



GEN 22:1-5

Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 And He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you."


A study of the word “to test” (Hebrew nasa) demonstrates that when God tests His people, He is determining the quality of their faithfulness. And, when people put God to the test, they are acting in out of weakened faith or lack of faith. We learn from this passage that God may examine the faith of His people by calling them to obey Him in ways that seem inexplicable.


The true test was for Abraham to sacrifice himself, that is, his will and his desire as regards his son Isaac. The angel of the Lord (likely the theophany and not an angel) stayed Abraham’s descending and obedient hand and pointed out the ram caught in the thicket. This would be a picture of all the Levitical offerings to come, which were to be of the idea of substitution rather than appeasing God with gifts.


However, Abraham’s offering is not teaching the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in a way that other passages would. It is portraying an obedient servant worshipping God at great cost, upon which determined obedience, God provided the sacrifice.


The mature, faithful worshipper of God will hold nothing back from the will of his Lord, obediently giving to God whatever He asks, and trusting that the Lord will provide (Yavah Yireh).