Ephesians 4:3-6; One Faith – Clarifying James 2, part 13.

Class Outline:

Tuesday April 27, 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 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 - 2:20-24.


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.


James’ objector starts with, “Let’s just say that you have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without the works.”


That’s impossible. The Greek word (deiknumi) means to show or exhibit. Faith is a thought, and unless evidence of it is manifested then it cannot be seen. Then the objector says, “I will show you my faith by my works.” This is not so impossible as showing faith without works, but it is also not infallible. First, the objector said that he has works, but he didn’t say he had faith. Remember that this is an objector to James’ premise who is imagined by James. His imagined objector would not agree with James. Therefore, the second part must mean that he will show works and then challenge James to guess his faith. That interpretation is backed up by his example.


Whatever work that he does may manifest any number of different faiths. And then he gives us an example - “Men and demons have faith in the same oneness of God, but the manifestation of either one can be vastly different. The man may do well, but the demon can only shudder.” They both believe the same thing and manifest different results.


It is absurd, says the objector, to see an intimate connection between faith and works, therefore, your condemning letter has no basis.


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.


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 would say. 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.


James is going to show the objection 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. This argument is called reductio ad absurdum, which is proof by contradiction. If the negative (there is no connection between faith and works) is false then the statement (faith without works is dead) is true.


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.


A proud adherer to orthodoxy and doctrine who does not practice the Christian faith would often give the same argument when he is convicted in his soul of not loving others or failing to show compassion or forgiveness or mercy when love is kind and endures all things. He may not give graciously. He may play favorites, when love does not seek its own way. He may be arrogant when love is not arrogant or boastful. James’ letter may convict him. Many other passages in the Bible may convict him, or even another believer in some righteous way. We can imagine that this argument, that faith and works have no intimate connection, might be his rebuttal.


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 a striking contrast.


Looking at the immature Abraham:


GEN 15:1-3

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,


"Do not fear, Abram,

I am a shield to you;

Your reward shall be very great."


2 And Abram said, "O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."


His response to God is that God will not be able to do what He promised because he, Abraham, doesn’t have a son.


God then promises Abraham that one will come from his own loins (literally: bowels) and Abraham believes God.


GEN 15:4-6

Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." 5 And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.


But his faith would waiver later on. He would listen to Sarah and have a child with Hagar. And even after the birth of Ishmael, when God appeared to Abraham again after many years and promised him that “I will multiply you exceedingly,” and changed his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (a father of a multitude) upon promising him, “You shall be a father of a multitude of nations.”


GEN 17:15-19

Then God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name (the only woman in the Bible to have her name changed: both mean princess, literally from “my princess” to “the princess” and Aramaic to Hebrew). 16 And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!" 19 But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.


Though Abraham’s faith in Gen 15 would seem to weaken, he never lost the status of “credited as righteous.” One may argue that he maintained his status as righteous before God by maturing and offering Isaac, but we are clearly told by Paul that Abraham was righteous by faith and not by works.


James is drawing attention to maturity, which is manifested, or justified, by works before men. 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.


If we’re created for that purpose, what would describe our lives if we don’t follow that purpose?


James describes it as dead; Paul as fleshly, foolish, and worldly. John describes it as loving the world.


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).


Abraham offering Isaac (Rembrandt)


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).


The believer’s mature faith and its resultant obedience is a picture of Jesus Christ, as is everything we are called to be and do. Paul alluded to this passage exactly this way by using a verb from the same root as the one used in the Septuagint (pheidomai). Taking an example Abraham’s not sparing his beloved son, Paul reasoned about the generosity of God:


ROM 8:32

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?