By Scott Brown
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Waverly
Martin Luther said, “It is as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate burning and shining from fire.” Works and faith are inseparable, not because works can ever bring faith but because faith always brings works.
James writes to combat the antinomianism (the belief that grace releases a person from moral obligation) so prevalent in the early church (and arguably as prevalent in the modern church) which entirely disregarded any law of God and rejected any demand of sanctification or personal holiness in the life of the believer. Grace became an excuse for many to live for themselves, free of guilt, as they indulged in their godless passions.
James writes against this misunderstanding to show, as Calvin later said, “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith which justifies is never alone.”
True faith brings salvation and it subsequently brings godly works. I fear that many in our churches actively reject antinomianism in word but embrace it in practice. We argue to display the Ten Commandments in public places but we don’t display them in our private lives.
We use our faith as an excuse to continue in our pet sins. We say, “I’m saved. God will forgive me. It’s ok.”
While that may be true, such a flippant excuse to continue in our sin is not the attitude of the Jesus follower. The follower of Jesus, having been saved by grace through faith, now becomes the temple of God in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as He produces His fruit in the life that is yielded to Him.
While we are neither saved by works nor sealed by them they are the obvious natural result of our salvation. Works cannot bring us salvation but salvation brings good works.
Paul shows this in Ephesians 2:8-10 as he tells us we are saved by grace through faith apart from any works but that we are nevertheless created in Christ Jesus for those good works. James states his argument that his faith is shown by his works.
The simple truth is that being born again is nothing short of an entirely life changing experience and a life changing experience changes your entire life!
This is not a return to the letter of the law but an understanding that a relationship with God not only changes our eternal destiny but our internal desires. We who live in Jesus live for Jesus and long to please Him.
James brings some examples that his readers, with their Jewish background would clearly understand. First, the demons believe in God and have a reverence for Him that is uncommon even amongst Christians.
They rightly know who God is but, nevertheless, rebel against Him. Abraham was justified by offering Isaac to God on the altar. Those works did not bring faith but his faith brought those works. Abraham was justified not by a passive faith but an active one. Rahab is his final example. She had the right knowledge of God and a reverence of Him but what saved her and her family from the fate of Jericho was what she did about what she knew. She acted in faith and God saved her family.
Likewise, we are not saved by what we know of God but what we do with what we know of God, namely repenting of our sins and submitting ourselves to this gracious God, loving Lord, and faithful Father. B&R