Faith, Active and Completed – James 2:14-26

JamesThis sermon is based on James 2:14-16. Click here to read the text.

In the first half of James 2, James focuses on the sin of partiality, warning his readers that their human-based judgments of one another would put them in danger of being judged guilty according to the law of liberty. Thanks be to God, mercy triumphs over judgment through the Gospel of Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone. The question James seeks to answer in 2:14-26 is, what is the nature of such saving faith? James says that saving faith is living and active. It is visible in the life of a true believer by his works. In other words, it is seen in his fruit. The believer’s works do not save him, but they do exhibit the saving faith that has given
him life.

James gives four examples to help make his point. First, he proposes a hypothetical, yet very possible, scenario where a poor brother or sister in Christ is in need before a fellow believer. The poor in question has neither adequate clothing, nor food. In James’ scenario the poor brother or sister is sent away with a “word of blessing” to be at peace, and to be warm and filled. Of what benefit is such a blessing if it is not also accompanied with the lovingkindness of food and clothing? What peace has the well-off brother really given? More to James’ point, what kind of faith is he exhibiting if he is failing at even the most basic level to love his neighbor as himself (2:8, see also 1 John 3:16-18)?

Second, James points out the fact that the demons believe that God is the One and Only God, and that they tremble before Him (see Mark 5:1-20). By implication, he contends that the “faith” of the demons is lifeless and does not afford them salvation because it is unaccompanied by works. They know God exists and that He is one, but they work against Him. What then of the “faith” of a person who affirms orthodox statements about Jesus Christ, yet lives his life for his own glory rather than God’s and puts his own desires above the needs of another? Is he any
more saved than the demon who has the same “faith”?

Third, James turns to a positive example. In Genesis, God called Abraham to follow Him, and to trust that He would give Abraham both a son and a land, making him the father of a nation, indeed of many nations. Abraham believed God and his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3). In the church, we speak of this as justification, or the imputation of righteousness. James says that Abraham’s saving faith in God was active together with his works and was completed in his works. James points out Abraham’s act of offering Isaac as a sacrifice at God’s command. In that display of faith through a work, the Scripture that says Abraham was counted righteous by his faith was fulfilled. In other words, his faith enabled him to carry out that command and his obedience exhibited his faith. The act itself did not save Abraham, but it showed him to have saving faith.Finally, James gives Rahab the prostitute as an example of faith and works actively

Finally, James gives Rahab the prostitute as an example of faith and works actively engaged with one another. Rahab was not a Jew. She was not by birth a child of God, an heir of Abraham’s promise. By God’s grace she was given saving faith. How do we know? Chiefly by her works. She took in the Israelite spies in Jericho and helped them to escape capture, thus uniting herself with God and His people. She was justified, or vindicated, by these acts. Her actions did not make her righteous before God, rather they exhibited the grace of God at work in her, and vindicated any statement of belief she would make in the Lord.

Discuss and Pray – James 2:14-26

  1. Do you have saving faith in Christ? Has this passage helped to assure you of your faith or has it raised some questions in your own heart? Discuss any questions or doubts that may have arisen.
  2. What are some examples of how you actively live out your faith through self-sacrificing works?
  3. How can this passage help to enliven your faith in Christ and grow in you works of righteousness for His glory?
  4. How can this passage encourage you to develop an evangelistic heart for the family, friends,
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