Martin Luther called James the “Apostle of straw” for his apparent preaching of works in
this Epistle in addition to faith in Christ alone for salvation. The million dollar question is this: What are the “deeds” that James is referring to here that indicate salvation in a person? Is James really stating that salvation is “not by faith alone”? Does he have a different definition of faith? Or is there a different perspective of faith that James is bringing out? (Photo may be copyrighted).
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Who are you Lord?
I AM the Author and perfector of your faith. I AM the God of salvation. I AM the God who saves you and not you yourselves. When you were my enemies, I made you my children. When you were dead, I gave you life. When you were far away, I brought you near. All who call on my name will be saved. All who believe, I will call my children. I will give you my righteousness and take away your sinfulness. This is not something you can do for yourself. I even place in you the desire to come to me in the first place.
Just as I originally wanted Adam to choose life instead of knowledge and independence, I want you to choose me. If you call on me, I will save. If you draw near to me I will draw near to you. If you trust, I will show myself strong to you. If you repent, I will forgive. If you let me, I will make you whole again. If you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness I will fill you up. If you are weary and heavy laden I will give you rest for your souls. If you look upon my son and trust that he died for you, I will make you a new creature. If you believe, I will make you sons of the living God. If you choose my Son Jesus, I will make you part of his bride the church. In other words, the only aspect of the work of salvation on your part is to rely on, appropriate, receive from, utilize, apply, accept as a gift, depend upon or ALLOW my son to do for you what you cannot do for yourself – that is SAVE YOU. Only then will I place my Holy Spirit in you and quicken you from the dead. Just like I told the children of Israel to LOOK AT the serpent on the pole by faith indicating their dependence upon my healing them, so too, I tell you to by faith LOOK AT the Son of God hanging on the cross for you and acknowledge your need in trust. Looking to my Son for forgiveness is the “deeds of faith” unto salvation that I will accept both in the Old and New Testaments.
Relying on any other means, depending on any good work as an act of obedience is the same thing as Adam’s sewing together fig leaves – external appearance. The only work of true salvation can be done in your heart where I see your motives, attitudes and intents. I killed the animal – not Adam. I spilled its blood, I took the skins, and I placed them on Adam. He let me. So too, I killed my Son, I spilled Jesus’ blood for you. I will remove your filthy rags, and I will put on you My righteous robes if you will just let me.
compare oranges with oranges
Since James is looking at Old Testament illustrations, we need to look at what deeds of salvation were in the Old Testament examples he is using and then analyze them in light of the NT to see if there are any actual differences. We would not want to be accused of inferring that God has multiple means of salvation. So then why does it appear that James is promoting works? let’s compare:
In the OT it says the soul that sins will die. In the NT it says “the wages of sin is death.” In other words, both in the OT and NT good works is not the payment for the price of sin, it is our death. However, Paul also says in Rom 11:32 “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Right from the beginning of the world God promised humanity hope of a solution found in the deliverer – the “seed of woman”. So, both in the OT and NT there is hope.
God’s provision of a solution
From the shedding of the first blood by God in the garden to the last sacrifice in the Temple prior to Christ’s death on the cross, God provided a way for man to avoid punishment in hell provided he come to God in God’s way by realizing that 1. God’s holy justice has all rights to send men to hell. 2. They should have been the ones whose blood was shed, not that animal’s. 3. They had to come to God in the way that God provided through the sacrificial system by his mercy and grace in order for God to withhold his punishment from them. The OT says “blessed is the man whose sins the Lord does not count against him…” The NT says “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God sent that promised deliverer, the perfect God/man Jesus who fulfilled the perfect law of God, and became the perfect innocent sacrifice for all of mankind’s sins. So the solution is the same in the OT and NT- coming to God with an acceptable sacrifice to take your place.
Faith – there are three aspects required for genuine faith: Knowledge, Agreement, and Appropriation or Application. All the saints of the OT needed knowledge of what God told them to do, and in agreement with God’s evaluation of their need, they came in accordance to God’s instructions, which was with a blood sacrifice in their stead. They allowed God’s substitution to take their place unlike how Cain insisted on trying to do it his own way. Thus even though Cain had heard God’s requirements like Abel did, his head knowledge was not enough. For that matter even agreeing with God about our sin situation is not enough. Here is the crux of the matter in both the OT and NT. Only when coupled with coming with the required sacrifice was God pleased.
So, did anything change in the NT in this regard? No. We still need to know that God is totally holy and unapproachable because of our sinful condition and that God provided THE perfect sacrifice in Christ’s death for us. We need to agree with him that we deserve eternal separation from him in hell and cannot help ourselves. So our responsibility in faith is that we come to God with the sacrifice of his son in our stead! In other words we allow, accept, or receive the payment God made for us through Jesus. In the OT they had to do this yearly but today we receive what God perfectly accomplished for us two thousand years ago.
Abraham’s and Rahab’s deeds
Let’s look at the case studies that James presents and determine the kind of “deeds that James is talking about” and how that applies to us. Both Abraham and Rahab simply depended upon God to do for them what they could not do for themselves; rescue them out of their situations by coming to him as He prescribed. We already know that Abraham was counted righteous by his faith before he was circumcised according to Paul. And Rahab had faith prior to letting the spies escape, that is why she did it.
Had they not followed through with their knowledge of what God required of them, Abraham would have lost his son and Rahab would be buried in the rubble of the wall of Jericho. So too in our case, we would die in our sin unless we act on the knowledge of what the Word of God requires of us in regard to salvation today – namely, (Jn 1:12 NIV) “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The only acceptable deed is to allow Christ to die in your stead and thank him for it. You need to believe that He took the bullet for you, that He pushed you out of the way of the proverbial oncoming truck. That He took your place on the cross. For those who have not done so yet, just let him, stand back in awe and thank him. Only then will He place his Spirit in you and give you eternal life. Let go of the reigns to your life and acknowledge Jesus as your Savior.
The question is what is the purpose of deeds?
There are many who say that they “have faith” throughout the ranks of Christendom but what is their faith actually in? If it is in their good deeds and church attendance, then Paul says that they are still lost. But if it is just for the sake of appearance or pleasing men in society, then James says that they don’t have the kind of faith that will save them. Just knowing that Jesus died for you (head knowledge) and not living dependent upon his doing so is just worthless academics very common in religion (This was my story during my childhood). But knowing that he died for you and responding to him by acceptance and trust, or reliance on his saving work is the saving factor and true Christianity. Then James says that it will be evident to men by the way we let God live through us.
There are two ditches to fall into; salvation by works on the one side, or head knowledge and empty confession on the other. The only road that reaches heaven is that one which God saves us by our dependence on the finished work of Christ. And our confession of that fact being backed by what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives daily to the benefit of those around us.
Choose to say yes to Christ. Let him save you this day.
More to come,