Why are the Illustrations Used by James Significant to His Argument?
This series of articles has been focused on articulating James primary purpose for writing James 2:14-26. James wants us to understand that genuine conversion produces godly living; therefore he articulates the Biblical principle that a fruitless profession of faith has no value and has not saved the individual who claims to be a believer. We will now examine the significance of the two illustrations that he uses in this section.
First, we will think about the life of Abraham. In James 2:21-23, James writes: “was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Do you not see how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect…and the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Does the Bible tell us when God justified Abraham? The answer is yes. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Just to make sure that we are not confused about when God declared Abraham righteous and why God declared him righteous, notice what Paul says about Abraham’s conversion in Romans 4:2-8 “if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that works is the reward not accounted of grace, but of debt, but to him that does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. Even as David also described the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed arethey whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” It is very clear from Moses statement about Abraham’s conversion in Genesis 15 and Paul’s application of that event in his argument in Romans 4, that James in not referring to Abraham’s justification in the same way. Paul is focused on when God declared Him righteous legally, and on what basis He declared Abraham righteous, which was his faith. Even more interesting to consider, is the event James references in James 2. James does not talk about Abraham’s conversion, but rather his willingness to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God dozens of years after his conversion. James is not using justify in the sense that Paul is using it Romans 2-5, meaning how a man is made right with God and declared righteous in the eyes of God, but rather He is using it in a different sense. He is using justify to describe how men recognize the genuineness of a profession of faith. Moses said that God justified Abraham by faith alone in Genesis 15, but James says that seeing the unprecedented obedience of a mature believer in Genesis 22, vindicated or demonstrated the truthfulness of Moses’ record of Abraham’s conversion. Abraham’s obedience or righteous living proved beyond all doubt that what Moses said was true. In Genesis 22, God’s statement to Abraham after his willingness to offer Isaac proves this point. God said “Now, I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” This is James point as well. Works demonstrate or authenticate the genuineness of our profession of faith.
The second illustration James mentions is Rahab. In James 2:25 he says, “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” Once again, this is saying nothing about how she was made right with God, but rather how the spies recognized that she had faith in Jehovah. Notice what she said in Joshua 2:9-12 “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan…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. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have showed you kindness, that you will also show kindness unto my father’s house.” How did the spies know that Rahab truly believed in the LORD? The answer is in the way she treated them when her life was on the line. Rahab hid them and sent them out another way. As you can see from the two illustrations, James’ point is not to address how a man is made right with God, but rather it is to demonstrate how a man’s profession of faith is vindicated before others.