20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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. ~ James 2:20-23
We continue our study, today, in James 2 where James is making the argument that biblical faith is proven to be biblical by the biblical choices we make. Without clearly saying it, James is differentiating between justification faith and sanctification faith, although they both have the God of the Bible as their object.
In James 2, James is highlighting the illusion of just hearing truth and not being defined by it. Faith, without transformation, is not substantive, and is rightly judged fake by others. James understood that like electricity, faith is hard to see, but when we tap into it, its effects are obvious.
Now, our faith in the God of the Bible is not known to be real to others until it is evident through our actions. James uses the word, faith, as if, it is equal to spiritual life. When he wrote, "Faith without works is dead," he meant: "Spiritual life without works is dead." His argument is: there is no real life unless it can be verified through righteous works, and these righteous works are really the fruit of God in our lives. The fruit is the evidence that God is at work in and through our lives.
In v.20 of today's text we read, "You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?"
Self-deception is the worst of all deceptions. In Jeremiah 17:9 we read, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" True faith is revealed by the object of that faith. This is why trials are used of God in our lives to refine our faith in Him. It is what or whom we depend upon that determines the quality of our faith. In fact, there is a faith that goes far and there is one that falls by the wayside. The one that falls is not to the saving of the soul. And, the faith that goes far is to the saving of the soul.
In v.21 of today's text we read, "Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?"
Abraham is the father of those who believe in the existence of God, and who, to some degree, seek a personal relationship with Him. In Romans 3 we are told by the Apostle Paul that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Abraham's right standing before God was not earned, it was a gift from God because of Abraham's faith. And, Paul, further in Romans 3, establishes the fact that Abraham was not made right before God by his goods works; he was justified by faith, alone.
It seems that what James is saying in today's text something contradictory. Clearly, James is saying here that Abraham was justified by his good works. Once we put our faith in God in Christ, God granted us the gift of right standing before Him. That is justification, that is, our faith working to justify us for eternity. When we trusted in the finished work of Christ on the cross, God deposited the righteousness of Christ into our account. We had been spiritually bankrupt, but now, in Christ, we have arrived to acceptability before God through Christ. So, Abraham, then, is the father of all who believe, because it was his believing that brought about righteousness.
In v.22-23 of today's text we read, "22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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."
Abraham was justified by works before men, but what is man's opinion compared to that of God. Works are the only way anyone's faith can be seen and verified as real saving faith, that is, before the eyes of people. The basis of our rightness with God is the death and resurrection of Christ. And, the authority of our rightness before God is His promise in His Word that if we believe, we will be saved. In this chapter, James has in mind our justification before men. In Romans and Galatians, the Apostle Paul emphasizes our justification before God.
When God led Abraham up the Mount Moriah with his son Isaac and then challenged him to sacrifice him, it was nearly 50 years after Abraham first believed in God. Abraham had been walking in God's gift of justification all those previous years. On that day God led Abraham up that mountain and commanded him to slay his son, everything Abraham knew about the character of God was near to being violated in his mind. And, even though Abraham struggled at understanding it all, he was an inch away from sacrificing his son when God provided a ram in the thicket. Abraham's faith was evidenced by his works that day. There was nothing that Abraham would withhold from God, but he didn't arrive there over night. Our sanctification is a long process.
Abraham believed, unalterably, in the character of God. He believed that the God of the Bible was a covenant-keeping God who under no circumstance would ever violate His promises. Abraham was justified in the sight of God by his faith, and he was sanctified in the eyes of man by his works. And, as a result, Abraham was called God's friend. Through the process of sanctification, Abraham's soul was changed and he was granted an intimacy with God that few have ever had. His intimacy with God came as the result of his obedience which made the process of sanctification effective for it enabled him to give his heart to God.