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Faith and Deeds August 29, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on James 2:14-26.

Summary: James begins by describing a man who boasts about his faith to others – yet no fruit of holiness comes from it; he asks – rhetorically – if that man’s faith:

  • furthers the purpose of religion
  • saves him.

To drive home this point, he describes another Christian who is badly clothed and does not have enough to sustain life for a day. If his readers solemnly greet that Christian, telling them to be clothed and have food to sustain their hunger – yet do not do their duty, then that Christian will not thank them. Indeed, those who profess their faith – yet exhibit none of its fruits – show that they are void of the life of Christ.

James then asserts that a true believer would tell a boasting hypocrite that they:

  • are merely professing their faith
  • lack the truest demonstration of faith

while they:

  • produce deeds that are a real commendation
  • will demonstrate their faith to the world.

He concedes that those who assent to the fundamental truth in religion are doing a good thing – yet even demons assent to that truth with extreme fear and horror of spirit.

Now James asks boasting hypocrites – who are empty men – if they want to listen to what can be said against their faith, since they do not perform gracious deeds that would demonstrate their faith. First, he cites the example of their ancestor, Abraham, who was declared to be righteous because of his offering Isaac in purpose and vow. It is clear that Abraham’s faith had influence on his actions – and so his faith was bettered and improved. At that time, it might again have been said – as in Genesis 15:6 – that Abraham was approved and accepted by God, and so he was God’s friend. This example shows that people are found just and righteous by the parts and offices of their holy lives – not by merely professing their faith.

Second, James cites the example of Rahab, a woman of disrepute, who was shown to be sincere and honored by God before all the congregation for her actions as recorded in Joshua 2. James concludes by stating that just as the body without its soul cannot perform the functions of life, an external profession of faith without works is useless to all the ends and purposes of faith.

Thoughts: In verse 18, James presents a hypothetical argument between a genuine believer and a hypocrite. Manton offers some insights on this point:

So the dispute does not lie so much between faith and deeds as between faith pretended and faith revealed by deeds…That is, show me a warrant for your faith, and I will soon prove my own…That is, some true believer may come and argue like this with a boasting hypocrite.

I always found the “But” at the beginning of verse 18 to be rather confusing. It seems that verses 14-17 have clearly established the hypocrisy of someone who claims to have faith – yet does not meet the physical needs of a poor believer. Thus, one would assume that “But” indicates a new argument by the hypocrite to support their claim to a genuine faith. Manton’s commentary, though, implies that “But” introduces another argument by the genuine believer against the hypocrite. In an attempt to resolve this issue, I checked the NASB and ESV translations of this verse; they actually concur with the NIV translation in placing “But” at the beginning of this verse. Therefore, I suppose that Manton’s commentary offers an adequate explanation of this verse; perhaps I should ask James – in the next life – why he used “But” in this verse.

In this passage, James asserts that genuine faith differs from a mere profession of faith in its outward effects. Manton offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

The main work in the discussion of this verse is to reconcile James with Paul…The orthodox, though they differ somewhat in words and phrases, still agree in the same sense in reconciling James and Paul. Thus, some say Paul is arguing about the cause of justification and so excludes works, and James is arguing about the effects of justification and so enforces their presence. Others say Paul is arguing about how we are justified and James about how we shall give evidence that we are justified.

I actually recall studying this letter on two different occasions at my previous church; those lessons were rather helpful in terms of reconciling the seemingly disparate viewpoints of Paul and James on the topic of justification. Thus, the tricky issue for me involves continually demonstrating that I have a genuine faith. Paul and James would probably agree that genuine faith should grow with time, allowing those who possess it to place more of their trust in God and take larger risks for His glory. Unfortunately, since I am a human being with a sinful nature, I often fall into the trap of assuming that I have achieved a “reasonable level of faith,” causing me to lose my desire to grow in that regard; moreover, placing more of my trust in God is always a frightening task. Thus, I need to come before Him on a daily basis and continually desire wisdom and strength from Him to trust Him more – as opposed to resting on my prior work for His glory. I hope to be able to share some encouraging testimonies on this topic in the years to come.

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