This is the second of our Saturday series on the Book of James. This is all previously published material just combined here into one post. Consider this your official long post warning! Only read if you really, really want to dig into James!
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
God Is Not Partial, Why Are We?
In the eyes of God, what things do we all have in common? Two things are common to us all. First, God loves us all. Second, all are sinners.
What things divide us into categories in the eyes of God? Well, in the eyes of God, there are only two kinds of people: Those who are unforgiven sinners and those who are forgiven sinners.
How does God not divide us? Let’s look at some ways:
God does not divide us based on appearance.
God does not divide us based on ancestry.
God does not divide us based on age.
God does not divide us based on achievement.
God does not divide us based on affluence.
If God does not divide us by any of these things, then why do we divide ourselves based on any of them? What even gives us the right to establish divisions among people based on criteria the Creator of the Universe does not use Himself?
Eww..Look at THAT Guy
For the remainder of his epistle, James is going to deliver some good, hard doses of practical Christian living. In each case, James is going to use examples of real life situations in the lives of the believers he is writing to and offer them guidance.
We covered previously that God is not partial; He is no respecter of persons. Now James is going to move directly into a situation that was occurring somewhere; in fact, this very situation is probably occurring in some church almost as we speak.
Let’s take a look at this situation on more modern terms and see what might be going on; it may be shocking to us; we are going to take some liberties with the written words briefly.
If the local bank president walks in your church, followed by the rough guy down the road with the tattoos, how do you react? Does every one make sure to greet the bank president heartily(probably seeing dollar signs for the church offering), and not say a word to the tattooed guy? Do we escort the bank president to sit by us and say a little prayer that the tattooed fellow will stay in the back? If we do, then we are guilty of trying to take God’s place and be the judge of people.
We don’t know what God’s plans for any person are; God has one for all of us and He is not selecting people for his works based on the same criteria we would use. For all we know, his plan for the bank president might be to mow the church lawn, and for the guy with tattoos to be called to preach God’s Word. We simply don’t know, and it not our place to try to decide.
One last question. What actually shows God’s power and glory more? Somebody who seems perfectly capable doing great things because they are able, or somebody we would never think was able doing great things because of the power of God in his or her life?
Jesus Was Not Partial; Neither Should We Be
We often throw the word, “Christlike,” around fairly casually. Well, here is an instance of a situation where we have an opportunity to behave exactly as our Lord did when he was here on this Earth.
It may be important to cover just a little background here before moving on. It was common to the Jewish culture of the day to covet the recognition of one’s peers, and to even vie and compete for it. It seems likely that James was addressing this concern and instructing the scattered believers he was writing to, to not become guilty of this offense.
So, the question arises; on what basis was James coming to the conclusion that partiality was wrong? Well, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jame is simply teaching us to act like Christ!
Jesus certainly did not respect persons. A simple look at the disciples would reveal that to us. We have simple fishermen, men with no credentials whatsoever: Peter, John, James and Andrew. Of course we have the hot headed, impulsive Peter himself. We certainly cannot forget Matthew the tax collector. The other Simon, Simon the Zealot was possibly a revolutionary. Jesus certainly did not choose those who would take His church into the world based any criteria we would use.
Jesus Himself was despised and rejected. He had no home or place to lay his head. He grew up in the despised town of Nazareth, from which it was said nothing good could come. He ultimately died the death that only the worst of criminals died. His outward appearance and background caused Him to be rejected by the powers of His day, yet He was actually God in the flesh!
In addition to all of this, we know that Jesus was repeatedly rebuked for the kind of company He kept. The Pharisees despised Him for associating with publicans and sinners. He offered forgiveness to the woman caught in the act of adultery. He willingly talked with the woman at the well even though she was three times rejectable; she was a sinner, a woman and a samaritan!
Do we make any real claim on being Christlike? If we do, then we simply cannot show partiality to others based on any criteria of our own, but only that used by our Lord Jesus Christ. That criteria was that there WAS no criteria.
God Loves the Poor as Much as the Rich
James has a bit to say about rich people and poor people. As we pointed out earlier, the scattered believers James was writing to were most likely all suffering poverty. Many would have been poor to start with, and many more would have been made poor as a result of their conversion to Christianity. In many cases they would have been driven from jobs and homes, and then likely unable to find work in the places they finally settled.
First of all, let’s clear up any thoughts that James was condemning the simple fact of possessing wealth. James is not doing that, and neither was God. We need only to look at such examples as Job or Abraham to see that God often actually blesses His followers with great wealth.
Nor was James saying the poor people are automatically righteous and rich people automatically unrighteous. James was not saying the poor people have some special merit with God, or are loved more by Him than rich people.
On the other hand, The Father in heaven and Jesus Himself while here on this earth clearly have a special place in their hearts for the poor and the oppressed. And it certainly seems true that the poor and downtrodden have far greater willingness to give their lives to God than those who are wealthy and powerful.
Isn’t this really about attitude? James is not condemning the fact of wealth, but the attitude of wealth. Remember the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27? It was not his riches which kept him from Jesus, but his attitude towards his money. Remember 1 Timothy 6:10? It is not money per se, but the love of it which causes evil.
Another issue is that those who have nothing but poverty in this life can more easily respond to the promise of riches in the life after, while those with great riches on earth may struggle to see that something could actually be better than what they have here.
Remember, we have choices. We can be poor in this life and rich in the next. We can be rich in this one and poor in the next. We can be both poor in this one and poor in the next. We might even be rich both now and in eternity. It’s all about choices, and it’s all about what choice we make about what we will do with Jesus Christ.
Did You See Who’s Treating You So Badly?
James gets into some serious irony in this section. Remember, he had just discussed the wrongness of their preferential treatment of rich men who would enter their assembly. Now he points out that not only is that treatment wrong, but it’s really quite absurd. If we can take some literary liberties with the passage, what James was really saying might go something like this: “Hey, the very people you are falling all over in church are the same people making your lives miserable outside in the real world..what gives?“
There was nothing new in the mistreatment of poor Jews by rich Jews in Israel; it was common even back in the days of the Prophets. Good examples can be read in Micah 2:2 and Zechariah 7:10. Paul teaches us that this oppression of the poor by the rich continues right into the New Testament in Hebrews 10:32-34.
So, the scattered believers were still being oppressed by the wealthy, just as had been true for centuries already. Not only were they being oppressed, but the rich were taking advantage of the legal system to harass and oppress them further! These men were using legal means to steal even more or their resources. Finally, these men were blaspeming the Holy name of Jesus Himself. They may have been literally committing blaspemy, or they may have been simply committing it by the things they were saying and doing against His followers; it’s the same thing after all, isn’t it?
Here is a parting thought for this section of this Chapter. There is the possibility that James in this particular passage may have been speaking to middle class type believers rather than the poor ones. Later in his epistle he gives some warnings to rich men themselves. He may have been speaking to people who not only had suffered oppression at the hands of those with more resources than them, but who also had sufficient resources to do the same to those below them in the stations of life. They may have been guilty of oppressing the poor while they were simultaneously being oppressed by the rich.
In our world today, most of us would fit this category. Few of us are rich, but few of us are also truly poverty stricken; most of us are in that middle area where some have more than us, and we have more than some. How do we act?
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Yes, Faith Saves Us
How many times do we see people walk an aisle during an invitation time at church, make a “profession of faith,” then are never or rarely seen or heard from again? How many people do we see do that and never follow The Lord in Baptism, or show any other outward results of their salvation? How many do we see do that, and we know that outside the church walls they are living like the devil? Well that is exactly what James is talking about here.
Though a man “say” he have faith. That really represents the person who merely makes a “profession of faith.” Then James asks the question, “Can faith save him?” Let’s clarify quickly, before anybody gets concerned. Of course, faith saves us; we are saved by Grace through faith, period. That verse in some translations can be misleading. What is really meant is something to the effect of, “Can that faith save him,” or “can such a faith as that save him.”
James is not, by any stretch of interpretation, teaching that works contribute in even the smallest way towards our salvation. So, then, what is James trying to teach us?
It’s quite simple. A simply verbal “profession” of faith does not represent a genuine conversion. A mere intellectual assent to the facts of Jesus Christ does not represent a genuine conversion. James’ point during the entirety of his book is that true, saving faith will produce works, or fruit, in the life of a believer. James will repeat several times over the course of his letter that faith without works is dead.
Not only is there the chance that faith not accompanied by works is not true saving faith, but our works are the only way believers have to illustrate to a non believing world that our faith is a real faith. Here is a quote I found in The Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible that seems to express the thought perfectly.
The proof of the pudding is still in the tasting. The only test of a man’s salvation is through his works. A silent believer may be indeed considered a saint before God, but he remains a sinner before man until he walks the walk and talks the talk of Christian service
Dead Faith is Useless Faith
Faith without works is dead; it is alone. That is a strong statement, for sure. Previously we discussed the idea of a verbal only type of faith. This, again, would be a verbal and/or mental profession of faith. James continues on with his point that this faith likely is not a true saving faith. Only this time, James uses a very practical example to illustrate his point.
At some point in the next few devotionals we may take a look at some of the possible things James means in his references to dead faith, or faith being dead; for now however, we are just looking at this very specific scenario.
Suffice it to say that simple verbal faith can only not save; it cannot serve. But, let’s jump right into what has actually happened in our passage.
This one is easy. A needful brother has shown up at a believer’s doorstep, quite obviously in need; naked and destitute is needy for sure. But, rather than providing some actual assistance for the need, the believer has sent them away with good tidings and a promise of prayer.
As many would say in today’s vernacular…..really? Did we actually do any good whatsoever for that brother or sister in need? Well, of course not. When we sent them away promising prayer the question should be asked: What if they showed up at our doorstep as the answer to somebody’s prayer who could not help the needful brother or sister?
Why would such a thing happen? Why would anybody send a needy brother or sister away and not offer actual help, but simply empty words? Well, John the Apostle also had something to say about this in 1 John 3:17 “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
What did John just say, and what did James basically repeat? If we claim that God dwells in us(salvation), and we do not act accordingly(works) , then our claim that God dwells in us might be simply false.
True Faith Serves
Well, here James goes again. Because he is belaboring this point, we are as well. As well we should, because it is a very important point. The issue of dead, intellectual faith versus real, saving, active faith simply cannot be overstated.
Let’s review again; our works do not save us, period. Since we have spent so much time on works and will continue to, we will likely hit that point over and over again. Again, let’s look at the supposed difference of opinion between James and Paul. No one would disagree that Paul taught salvation by grace alone; he clearly taught our works do not save us.
Of course, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write the most notable teaching on faith versus works in Ephesians 2:8,9 ” For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Most of us could quote that verse by memory. Sometimes, however, we overlook the continuing thought of that teaching, where we see that Paul certainly was inspired to tell us that works are important. Not only are they important, but they are the natural outflow, and purpose of our salvation. Ephesians 2:10, ” For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Paul also addresses the place of works in other places as well. Galatians 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, and John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit…..” both show us Paul’s thoughts on works clearly.
Finally, James closes with a statement that might sound shocking; if all we have is an intellectual, verbal faith then we actually have the same kind of understanding and belief in God that is possessed even by Satan and his fallen angels! Wow. Demons believe in God; they even believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God; they even possess good knowledge of doctrine. They do not, however, have a saving faith.
What is our belief in Jesus Christ really like? Do we understand Him in our head? Do we understand the doctrine of salvation intellectually? Those are great, but we all need to answer the question that counts: Have we actually submitted to God and trusted Him for our Salvation? If not our faith is dead, being alone; if we have, then our faith is a living, saving faith.
Even The Devil Believes in God
Earlier, we discussed the rather shocking statement that James made in this letter; that statement was that even devils believe, and tremble. Now we are going to explore that some more to illustrate the fact that belief, even if based on truth, may not be saving belief.
Devils believe there is one true God; they even believe in the correct God. In Acts 16, beginning in verse 16, we can see the story of the demon possessed woman following Paul and his fellow evangelists, likely Silas, Timothy and Luke. What is key here is the fact that the demon recognized that the God in question was “the most high God.”
Demons even recognized the deity and sonship of Jesus Christ when they encountered him at different times. In the story of the Garasene demoniac in Mark 5:1-10 and Luke 8:26-33, we can clearly see that this demon understood that Jesus was the Son of God.
Not only do demons know God is God, and that Jesus was his son; they also have a clear understanding of Bible doctrines. They even know how scripture says the story will end for them. The demons Jesus cast into the herd of pigs in Matthew Chapter 8 asked Jesus if he had come to “torment us before the time.” They understood, obviously, the Biblical teaching concerning the eventual disposition of Satan and his demon angels.
We can see that devils believe in God, they understand who Jesus Christ is, and even understand Scripture as well as many Christians; we also know that Satan and his demons are certainly not saved(nor can they be, but that is another devotional all together.) What then, can we learn here?
This is merely a reinforcement of the same thing we have learned from James in the last several devotionals. An intellectual knowledge of who God is and even in the correct and only God is not enough. A mental assent to the reality and identity of Jesus Christ is not enough. Even a thorough and complete knowledge of the Word of God and Bible doctrine is not enough.
True faith, that being faith that saves, will always produce a change of heart and a change of character. There will be evidence on display of the transformation that has taken place within us if a transformation actually occurred.
Rahab Heard, and Believed
Consider this your official rabbit trail warning! We have, of course, been working our way through the Book of James. I hope it has been useful in some way to you all. We are still in James, but we are taking a small detour along the way here. There will be relevance to our actual topic, but along the way we are going to make a very wide turn. So, let the beatings begin I suppose!
Most of us are familiar with the story of Rahab the harlot. If readers want a refresher, read the story beginning Here. Jericho, where Rahab lived, was right in the path the Israelites were to take after crossing the Jordan River as they began their march into and conquest of the promised land. Joshua had sent two men into Jericho to spy and gather intelligence about the city prior to the arrival of the Israelite army. Rahab, a local prostitute, hid the spies from the authorities, protected them, and aided them in accomplishing their mission and escaping.
As we all know, Jericho was ultimately destroyed by the advancing Israelites, while Rahab and her family were spared. So, this is a good time to cover what, to some, is an offensive episode in the Bible. In fact, it is among the episodes described in Scripture often cited to justify non belief in God. After all, what kind of god could do such a thing? So, let’s take an honest look at what happened. In a nutshell, the city was completely destroyed by the Israelite armies, and every living person in it was killed.(With a few exceptions, as we will see.) This cannot really be sugarcoated, as those are the facts as presented in the Bible.
Was God just and fair? Of course He was, as God is always just and His ways are always fair. The truth is, Jericho was a hotbed of pagan idols worship, in particular the goddess Ashtaroth who was the moon Goddess. This was a pagan, evil city which had rejected God and was deserving of His judgment.
So, of course, the question arises: How is it fair to destroy all of those people who had never even had the chance to come to know God? After all, no missionary or preacher had ever come to them and told them, right? Let’s take a look at Rahab, then.
Rahab lived in the city also. Obviously the march of the Isralites was well known, as Rahab mentioned the citizens knowing of them since the crossing of the Red Sea 40 years previously. So, Rahab as well as everyone else knew all about them. Jericho was a thoroughly pagan city, coming to a different belief system than that was no doubt extremely difficult. Finally, Rahab had no first hand information from a believer concerning the One True God. Yet, she said the following to the spies in Joshua 2:11 “And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”
Notice something very important there; everyone was scared, but not all honestly sought and came to belief. Rahab didn’t know much, and she certainly had no proof. What she did have was a choice, and she made the choice to act by faith. Guess what? Her faith saved her, literally and spiritually.
Who all heard the news in that city? Everyone. Who chose to act in faith and believe? Rahab and her family. Here is another thought. God knew there was a woman and family in that town honestly seeking after Him. Remember how Jericho was destroyed? It just fell down. Those spies were not needed! Here is some food for thought: maybe those spies weren’t sent to spy, but to be witnesses to Rahab of the true God. She honestly sought Him, and He sent somebody to her.
God still does that today. I know of a missionary who answered a call from God to go to Mongolia and preach the gospel. Why Mongolia of all places? Maybe there was a Rahab there, maybe there was some single person who was honestly seeking the knowledge of God. Now guess what? There is a man there ready to tell that person all about Jesus.
Meanwhile, back to the Book of James. I terms of what we have learned so far during our study, what made Rahab notable; what made her worthy of mention here in James, as well as the “believers hall of fame” in the Book of Hebrews? It’s the same thing that separates the devils who believe and tremble from true believers. The people in the city of Jericho were much like those devils. They believed in what was about to happen to them; they may have even believed the God of Israel was real. Rahab, however, sprang into action. Rahab was not saved because she sprang into action. Rahab was able to spring into action because she had believed with a faith that was true.
Justified? By Works?
Well, here James gets right into something that might seem quite controversial. Is he really saying that we are justified by works? Well, yes and no. To really understand what is going on here, we just have to understand what the word translated justified means.
Translating one language into another is simply not an exact business sometimes. Often a word in one language doesn’t correlated precisely into an exact match in another. So, let’s just briefly look at what is going on here; understand also not that this is not intended to be a lesson in Greek grammar. I am not, and most of you are not, Greek scholars. Thus, we will keep this very simple.
Justified in the English can have two meanings. The first is the one most of us think about. In this meaning, justification is what happens to us at the moment our our salvation, by God’s grace through our faith. We are justified in the eyes of God by the payment Jesus made for our sins. We are declared to be righteous in God’s eyes. There is, however another use for word translated justified. That one translates “shown to be righteous.”
So, we are declared to be righteous, or justified in God’s eyes. Alternately, we are show to be righteous in whose eyes? Well, the eyes of others, of course. In fact, some translations translate it that way, saying Abraham and Rahab were considered to be righteous by their actions, and not just their faith.
Note above the order of events in the life of Abraham described by James. Verse 23 refers to Genesis 15:6, and clearly shows us that Abraham had faith and believed God, and at that point righteousness was imputed to him by God. It was by the offering of his son Isaac, much later than the first event, that was the illustration of Abraham’s faith to the world.
Rahab the harlot was likewise saved by her faith and belief and subsequently put her faith in to action as she saved the Israelite spies. Read her story here.
We can summarize the thought by saying their faith made them righteous before God, and their works made them righteous before men. A person may say that they have faith, but only if they can show that they have works can the rest of the world see that claim is valid. Faith without works is dead.
What is Dead Faith?
We have just completed our study of James Chapter 2. I hope it has been as useful in the reading as it has been in the writing. Several of the commentators I have read have pointed out the James 2:14-26 is one of the harder passages in Scripture to interpret properly. I would have to agree with that assessment.
But there are some things we can easily take away from the study of James Chapter 2 that certainly do not take a degree in theology to learn.
Salvation is by grace, through faith. James never contradicts this clear teaching of other scripture.
On the other hand, genuine faith produces some sort of product. James does teach that faith without some product might not be genuine faith.
But, beyond that, we are left somewhat in the dark about where certain lines might need to be drawn. We need to always remember that God is the judge of man..not man. We do not know the state of any other persons heart. We may be able to state as fact the evidence, or fruit of a person’s spiritual life, but we can never state as fact the actual existence or non existence of their salvation.
So, what does this mean to us practically? Well, we should always share the Gospel and the path to salvation; we should talk about it and of it even among Christian company. If we are all believers, it will be edifying to the Body of Christ; if one among us is not truly a believer, they will hear truth. We should teach and disciple people. Even though salvation is likely to produce works, there may be those with no clue whatsoever how they should live. The truth is, the knowledge of God’s Word and law it takes to come to salvation is not extensive. The knowledge it takes to live a successful and fruitful Christian life is extensive. We need to teach, train and develop our brothers and sisters in Christ.