Can we walk an isle or pray a prayer and be just as lost the moment we finish that prayer as the moment before we prayed it? Are we a child of God if works play a part in the object of our faith? Listen to the answer to this very important question from Romans 10.
Category Archives: Studies in James
Why Do Churches Drift? James 3:1-5
We have seen first hand, the devastating impact of false teachers in the church, but how do men who should have never been permitted to teach in the church get into positions where they are able to spread heresies that devastate local churches and even major associations that were once very orthodox and gospel center? Though the circumstances surrounding the drift in every local church and association is a little different, the same basic problem occurs. Local churches over varying periods of time lower the expectations for men who handle the word of God. To put it another way, they fail to heed James’ warning in James 3:1-5, that warns the church not to carelessly multiply teachers.
We have learned from our previous studies in James, that James is contrasting two ways of life, in order to demonstrate that genuine conversion both produces and demands righteous living. In James 3:1-5, he continues this theme by calling believers to resist the natural desire for prominence in the church that pushes them quickly into teaching positions. James’ teaches that God wants us to be slow to pursue teaching positions in the local church. He also wants the church to be slow to encourage people into teaching position in the church. His point is not that churches should resist having a plurality of teachers. A plurality or team of Biblically qualified pastor, elders seems to be the most Biblical church polity, however, James warns the church and those aspiring to such positions of their sacred responsibility to guard the purity of the teaching of the church.
Perhaps you are wondering, whether this is a serious concern in churches today. I want to remind you of two important tendencies in all of us. First, we tend to elevate men who carry themselves well and are natural leaders into prominent positions even without accountability. This is very common in our culture here in Ghana. Church and crusade invitations will always have the name and pictures of the pastor and honored hosts. The Ghanaian culture elevates pastors and their wives to unusually high status. Fundamental churches in the United States often do the same thing. If you open the phone book, or a Fundamental Christian publication, whose picture will be at the front of the advertisement? It will likely be one man. Why do we do this? Is it possible that in our minds, being a teacher in the church is a high profile position? Do we do this with missionaries and evangelists as well?
A second consideration is the lust for power. The lust for power, recognition, and accomplishment is in all of us, and this is often the catalyst behind young people growing up in a Christianized culture, wanting to be pastors, or pastor’s wives. While I believe every one of us, should be diligent and passionate about the things of God, it is often pride and not a love for the Lord that presses us into aspiring to greatness in Christian ministry. I can say this in honest reflection upon my own life. We should be cautions about pushing people into the ministry of the word. In 1 Timothy 1:6-7 Paul warns Timothy that some in the church of Ephesus had, “strayed and turned aside to idle talk, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they were saying or the matters about which they made confident assertions.” This same issue is being repeated in churches today. The church should never put untested, unqualified people into teaching positions. The rest of our study will reflect on four warnings given by James to aspiring teachers and congregations. May God give us the grace to hear James’ warnings and to respond with humility!
Applying James 2:14-26
I hope that our study of James 2 has been a help in some small way. This passage is commonly brought up as an objection to a “faith alone” “Christ alone” gospel in the evangelism we do here in Ghana. Now that we have seen, that James point is not, that a man is made right with God by the merits of his works, but rather that a genuine conversion is evidence by the fruits of righteousness in every believer, we will move to a few applications. First, saying that you are a Christian does not make you a Christian. I meet people every day, who call themselves Christians, go to church regularly, have prayed a sinners prayer as a child, yet they have not grasped the significance of the gospel. Our faith does not save, unless it is rooted in the correct object. They are not converted, no matter what they may say or thinking about their condition before God. Second, genuine conversion will produce righteous living. Notice what I said, genuine conversion will “produce” righteous living. Righteous living is not the “condition” that makes us acceptable to God, rather righteous living is the “fruit” that only God can produce in the lives of all genuine believers. He works to sanctify His children. Third, the same gospel that calls the unconverted to humbly repent of their self-righteousness and dead works to depend upon the righteousness of Christ, also calls the believer to recon himself dead to sin as he submits to the indwelling Spirit who produces the righteousness of God in his life. This righteousness or Christ-likeness is not something that gives us merit before God; rather this righteousness is something that vindicates our profession of faith before men. Our last two points are questions. First, have I truly understood the gospel and placed my faith in the righteousness of Christ alone? I am very concerned that many people today know about the facts of the gospel, and have prayed a sinner’s prayer as a child, maybe even many times, only to be ignorant of the significance of the gospel. Some, of these people, rebel against their “Christian culture” when they become adults. Others experience frustration in the “Christian life,” or become “cultural Christians” who go through the motions of genuine Christianity because they enjoy its traditions or desire not to be looked down on as irreligious. These actions do not make them Christians. Have you placed your faith in Christ alone and His righteousness? Second, is there evidence of the fruits of righteousness produced by the Spirit in my life? James point is simple: You can say anything you want about your standing before God, but a fruitless profession of faith is worthless, and it cannot save. Genuine conversion produces righteous living. May God grant us the grace to be honest with these important Bible truths concerning Biblical conversion!
How is a man made right with God, in light of James 2?
Yesterday, I was teaching in the prison, and this passage was brought up as an objection to my presentation of the gospel from Romans 4-5. After going through James in its context, and explaining the significance of James’ illustrations, especially from Abraham’s life, I came back to the content of this next section of our study. What do I need to do in order to be made right with God? I asked the same question in the school yesterday, where the students voted unanimously that a person needed to do the following things if they would receive eternal life: Stop committing sin, the known and the unknown, keep all of the commandments, get baptized, and love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. That is an impressive list, and we should do all the things mentioned in this list, but if God made this the requirement for entering the Kingdom, there would be no human in the Kingdom. Let us consider the clear teaching of scripture regarding how a man in made right with God. First, the law cannot save us. Secondly, we must be saved freely as a gift. And thirdly, salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone:
First notice that the law cannot save us. In Romans 3:20, Paul writes that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” My point in the previous paragraph is simply Paul’s point in Romans 3, restated. Paul has spent chapters 1-3 laboring to show us that all men, without exception are guilty of breaking God’s laws. All men are equally under God’s wrath. All men are without excuse. All men are without hope apart from God’s grace demonstrated and received through the gospel message. The law does not help us get to God. It reveals how guilty we are, and how much we need his grace in the gospel. The law does not make us righteous; rather it reveals our spiritual bankruptcy. We have no righteousness that is acceptable to God, and the law proves that to us as it declares our guilt, demanding the price of eternal wrath.
Secondly, scripture teaches that we can only be saved freely as a gift. That is why, in Romans 3:24, Paul says that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” There could be no salvation any other way. Romans 6:23, says that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says that “we are saved by grace and this is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, and not of works,” and Titus 3:7 teaches that we are “justified by his grace.” Scripture teaches that our salvation is not a reward for our labors, but rather it is a gift purchased by Christ’s death on the cross, and received freely when we respond properly to the gospel message. That leads us to our last point, what is the correct Biblical response to the gospel?
Scripture teaches that salvation comes only through faith alone in Christ alone. Romans 3:26 says that God is “the justifier of him which believes in Jesus.” Paul concludes his argument in Romans 3:28 by saying, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” He continues his argument in Romans 4:2-5, “if Abraham were justified by works, he has 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 reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that does not work, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” In Romans 5:1 he says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” In Galatians 2:16-17 Paul writes, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. Again in Galatians 3:11 he writes, “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.” And lastly, in Galatians 3:24 he writes that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
So how do Paul’s explanation and James’ explanations of justification harmonize? Stated simply, a man is justified before God by faith alone, however this faith if it is genuine will not be alone. Genuine conversion produces righteous living. A man is justified by faith alone in Christ alone legally before God, on the basis of the righteousness of Christ his substitute, but the profession of his faith is vindicated before men when the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit is evidence in the fruits of righteousness produced in an otherwise morally bankrupt individual.
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.
How Does James Use the Term Justify in James 2:14-26?
What does the word “right” mean? Is it a direction or does it mean correct? There is no way to know, unless you read the word “right” in a context. Other Biblical terms are the same way. The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament does not always mean a body of called out believers. In Acts it was used to describe the mob that wanted to kill Paul in the temple. The Greek term for “lust” is not always a negative term. It can also be used to describe the positive consuming desire of a God called man to the office of elder. The word “justify” is no different than any other term used in the New Testament. We tend to think of the term referring to how a man is declared righteous before God, like in Romans 3:20 when Paul writes that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” This passage describes how God declares a sinner to be righteous not based upon the sinners work or righteousness, but based upon the righteousness of God imputed through faith alone in Christ alone. Though this is the most common way to think about the term “to justify,” this is not the only way it can be used.
Psalm 51:4, is an example of one way the Greek term for “justify” is used in the LXX is used. David wrote:“Against you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight: that you might be justified when you speak, and be clear when you judge.” David is saying that God’s just actions declare His righteous character or demonstrate that He is indeed righteous before men. In Luke 10:29, we see another example of someone being justified in a sense that is quite different than the example in Romans 3. This man, “willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” The man was trying to demonstrate his own righteousness before Christ, by excusing his hidden prejudice toward Samaritans. A third example is found in Luke 7:29 “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.” When the publicans heard the gospel of the Kingdom, and willingly identified with John’s message though baptism, they were declaring God to be righteous and themselves to be unrighteous. As you can see, all four passages are examples of a person being declared righteous, but the contexts are all very different.
I will seek to clarify this use of “justify” with the following illustration. You have a friend named Mr. Smith, an excellent teacher, who handles his job in a local high school as well as any teacher in the school. One day, Mr. Smith is forced to deal with a very difficult situation in the classroom. The way he handled the situation was flawless, yet, after the incident, the student who provoked the incident filed a formal complaint against Mr. Smith. Though Mr. Smith has an outstanding reputation, his actions were going to be reviewed by his superiors. When Mr. Smith enters his superior’s office, his superiors, will read the accusations against Mr. Smith, then the following statement will be made. Mr. Smith you declare that you are innocent. Please present the facts that justify your statement of innocence. The word “justify” in this context simply means to present the facts that vindicate your claim of innocence. After Mr. Smith presents the facts, and presents a host of witnesses to the truthfulness of his story, he will sit down and wait for the verdict. Mr. Smith’s superiors will leave the room to discuss what they have heard and then gather in the office to present their judgment of the case under review. After hearing all the evidence, and comparing the facts to Mr. Smith’s claim of innocence, Mr. Smith’s superiors would make the following legal declaration. Mr. Smith based upon the facts laid before us, and your statements declaring your innocence, we declare that your actions and your statement of innocence have been vindicated. Your actions and statements were justifiable. In other words, we have judged your statement to be good, righteous, or correct. This analogy is similar to what James is saying in James 2:14-26. Mr. Smith’s declaration of innocence was being examined by his superiors, and his superiors determined his statement of innocence was correct. In the same way, James is saying that if a man claims that he is converted or has faith, he is only justified, or declared righteous by his peers when his life reflects what he says is true about himself. Simply put: “I will show you, my faith by my works.” James is not explaining how a man is declared righteous before God in the courtroom of heaven. He is not talking about how a man’s sins can be forgiven. James is explaining how a man’s claims to be a Christian are vindicated before men. If genuine conversion produces righteous living, and it does, then we can be confident that genuine conversion will be evidenced before others.
In What Way is James Applying James 2:14-26 to His Audience?
In Ephesians 1:13 Paul wrote that the church was made up of people, who when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation, believed in him, and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Clearly this passage is referring to how the church was converted. In 2 Thessalonians 1:10 he says something very similar. He talks about the day when Christ will return to earth “to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because his testimony among them was believed) in that day.” Again, he is referring to the way the church was converted and the resulting blessings that flow from their faith in Christ. In James 1:18, we see the same thing. James says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” This passage again is clearly indicating the way the church was converted, and the result of that conversion. In all three instances, Paul and James refer to God’s work when a man humbly depends on the gospel message, and the results that follow. James 2:14-26 is quite different. James is not writing to explain how they were converted. He is not writing to establish a pattern for evangelism, or warning them that if they fail to continue in good works they will loose their salvation. James purpose is simple. He is saying that a man can say anything that wants to say about his supposed faith in Christ, but a fruitless profession of faith is worthless, and it cannot save him. His fruitless profession reveals that what he claims to be true about himself is really not true. James concern is not how someone is made right with God, but with what happens to a man’s life if he actually has been made right with God. His concern is the justification of a man’s supposed profession of faith. Our next section will examine the way that James uses the term to justify.