Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Faith without works is dead and with works is alive

James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

Faith with works is of great benefit, faith without works is worthless
The underlined word in the above opening text of today's blog is a word which in the original Greek conveys the thought of "profit, use, benefit".  The word translated "use" can also refer to that quality which gives an "edge, an advantage, a benefit".  Two scriptures below illustrate how this word is used in contexts where the uselessness of pursuits contrary to the Gospel and Jesus Christ are highlighted:

-Mark 8:36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" Think of the combined wealth of the nation's economies, measured in the untold trillions of dollars.  We would count the acquiring of such wealth to give such advantage and profit.  Yet in light of eternity, no amount of money is worth losing your soul.  If anything, trusting in God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ by the leading of the Holy Spirit is far more profitable, since that alone gives you a benefit that will last for eternity. 

-1 Corinthians 15:32 "If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE."  This statement made by Paul is to illustrate a philosophy that was popular in his day and that is still popular in our own: namely that all that matters is material and physical things.1  Such a way of thinking is of no profit eternally nor for this life.  When you subscribe to such teaching, you are left empty on the inside. 

In short, true saving faith will be of profit, benefit and use to the one who possesses it and those around that person.  James 2:14-21 communicates to us the following important teaching: faith with works is alive, faith without works is dead. 

Jesus teaching about true faith vs false faith 
Jesus' comments in Matthew 7:17-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20“So then, you will know them by their fruits." 21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."  Seven times He mentions fruit.  Fruit is the by-product of a tree or plant.  In order to have fruit, there has to be a living support system composed of roots, a trunk or stem, branches and leaves.  In this instance we would say "faith" is the root" with "obedience" being the fruit.

In John 15:1-5 we see reference to Jesus' speaking about Himself as a grapevine and those who follow Him as being "branches".  In those verses the emphasis is on your manner of association with Christ (i.e "in Christ", "abiding in the vine").  There are those who profess Christ but are not associated with Him in their hearts.  They might be church members or Christians by name.  I've heard the distinction made sometimes between "make-believers" and "true believers".  Those who are not associated with Christ by faith are cut off and thrown away.  Why? True saving faith abides in the Vine - Jesus Christ.  In ancient Israel, grape vines grew along the ground, and often the vinedresser would place the crawling branches upon rocks to allow for continued growth.  If a branch was not bearing fruit, the vine dresser could only conclude that there was no life in that branch. 

Jesus and James teaching on the relationship between faith and works
Just as Jesus used the language of vine and fruit to explain true saving faith versus false faith, James uses the language of cause and effect.  Jesus no doubt taught that saving faith comes from God, is received by man and is by itself necessary and sufficient to begin one's saving relationship with God. (John 1:12-13, 3:16, 3:36; 5:24-25; 6:37,44)  James echoes Jesus, noting that as you plant a seed in the ground by itself, so is faith implanted by God the Father through His word into the soil of a receptive human heart. (Matthew 13:18-23; James 1:18) 

However in the Spirit's quickening work of salvation, once saving faith has occurred, God declares me alive as a born-again new creature, forgiven in justification, a son in adoption and . (Romans 4; 8:16-17; Galatians 4:1-7; John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23)  Following saving faith, the fruit of saving faith will come forth progressively and in stages in a work we call sanctification. (Romans 6:12ff; Galatians 5:16-22)  Works follow true saving faith like little children following their mother.  James and Jesus both emphasized the work of sanctification following immediately from the saving work of salvation. (Matthew 7:13-20; James 2:14-21)

Faith without works is dead, faith with works is alive - the key thought of James 2:14-21
Overtime genuine salvation should prove to be benefitial and profitable to both the believer and those around them. In the above three statements, James notes:

1. Practically it can be illustrated that faith without works is dead. James 2:14-17

2. Biblically it can be illustrated that faith without works is dead, as seen in the lives of Abraham (2:18-24) and Rahab (2:25). James 2:18-25

3. Physically it can be illustrated that faith without works is dead. James 2:26

What James is teaching us here is how we identify true saving faith versus counterfeit faith.  In his remarks in James 2:14-21, James says in James 2:17 "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." In James 2:20 he takes this statement and rephrases it in the form of a question: "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?"  Then he closes out the section with a restatement of his main point in James 2:26 "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

End Notes____________
1. This philosophy is known as "materialism" or "physicalism".  Perhaps one of the most famous modern proponents of this was the late Astronomer Carl Sagan, who in his massively popular series 'The Cosmos" opened it with these words: "The universe was, is and is all that ever will be".  For the materialist, all that matters is pleasure for the physical body and no accountability to a Creator, since for them no invisible realm exists, nor Creator.