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How Faith Works

James 2:1-26

Jim Davis

To the Jewish mind wisdom was the practical application of truth. The book of James gives us a down to earth practical application of God's truth. James seeks to give us wisdom as he seeks to motivate us to translate our thinking into practical everyday living. James teaches us the end result of receiving God's grace. It is simply manifesting the gracious acts of God to others through our actions. There is no greater proclamation of our faith than how we live each day. James sees a life striving to obey God as the only means of truly declaring our faith in God's saving grace.

Personal faith often focuses us on what God has done for us, while refusing to see what God is calling us to do today. James doesn't focus on what God has done for us or what God will do for us in the future, rather he focuses us on how to live today.

The demons tremble in fear as they reflect on what God has done and what he is going to do in judgment. (2:19) But nothing can move them to obedience today. Tragically many today know what God has done and what he is going to do in judgment, but they make no attempt to live right today. They do not even tremble as the demons do.

I see the words "No fear!" written all over the place today. I see these words on bumper stickers, on tee shirts, as graffiti on walls and even tattooed on human flesh. However, in the words "No Fear", I see an inherent fear in the statement itself. The statement suggests we are afraid to be afraid. We are afraid to face our deepest fears. Our greatest fear is fear itself.

Dealing With Our Fears

Fear was a real part of Abraham's life.Abraham's fear is manifested as he flees to Egypt in panic in famine. Fear is seen as he lies about Sarah being his sister to save his own skin. Fear is seen in Abraham's life as he tries to have the child of promise through Hagar. Doubt and fear are seen in Abraham's life as he laughs at God's promise to give him a son in his old age.

Abraham's faith eventually moved him through his fears into a full realization of God's presence. In his struggle to live for God daily Abraham developed a courageous faith in God. When Abraham approached that mountain to offer Isaac on the altar it was his knowledge of what God had done for him in the past that motivated each step he took. Isaac asks his father "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." Abraham developed his faith in God as he experienced God bailing him out each time he failed through weakness in the past. When he wavered, God was always there, picking up the pieces of his life as he blessed him in spite of his failures.

Ultimately Abraham's faith in God moved him to offer Isaac on the altar. As Abraham was about to kill his son, God moved in and said, "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." (Genesis 22:12-14 NIV) Through the weakness of faith Abraham eventually moved into a full awareness that God would provide.

Abraham was justified through his faith in God. When Abraham was following through with God's command, God in essence said, "Now I know you believe me." It wasn't the quantity of Abraham's faith that saved him; it was the quality of his faith, which brought justification. The years of struggling with his wavering doubt eventually brought him to the pinnacle of faith as he attempted to sacrifice Isaac.

James 2:23-25
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. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 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? (NIV)

God Is Impartial in His Justification

God's acceptance and justification is without impartiality. Both Abraham and Rahab were accepted through their faith in God. James says " . . . Even Rahab the prostitute [was] considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?" (2:25) Justification is given to saint and sinner alike. Abraham lived a life of faith and Rahab was a prostitute. Both were justified as they responded to God through faith.

The path of faith, which leads us into God's presence, is a path that wavers in fear for each of us. However, it is a road, which will lead to justification. Both Abraham and Rahab trod the road of fear into the presence of God.

Joshua 2:8-13
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 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 to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death." (NIV)

How we deal with our fears determines life's outcome. It is no accident that Rahab's name is mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew as the genealogy of Jesus Christ is traced to Abraham. God was impartial to each as he used both in a powerful way to fulfill his purpose for each of us.

God Accepts Everyone on the Same Basis

The impartiality of God's justification should displace our fears about God's acceptance. Have you ever been afraid of not being accepted for a job, or by a certain group, or even by God? Often we are afraid of being accepted by God because the world leaves us feeling that we will never measure up. There are people in the church, which are bent on convincing us that we will never measure up. God is not asking us to measure up. He is asking us to come to him in obedient faith. It is nice to know God's acceptance is not based upon the quantity or quality of our obedience but the quality of our desire to surrender our lives to him.

The story of Rahab the prostitute and Abraham the father of the faithful is about God's willingness to accept us impartially regardless of our present or our past. Impartiality is what the second chapter of James is about. If God is impartial in his judgment, how can we be otherwise? When Peter was in the household of the first Gentile convert he said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34-35 NIV)

James 2:1-4
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (NIV)

God seeks to make each one of us acceptable in Christ. God's acceptance of us is different from the world's acceptance. It is often different from a church's acceptance of us. It is comforting to know a relationship with God has nothing to do with bank accounts, gold rings, or fine clothes. It has everything to do with God's impartial willingness to accept each of us as we embrace him in obedience.

How Faith In God Works

The way we behave toward people indicates what we really believe about God! It may seem as though James jumps from the subject of favoritism to the subject of faith in the second chapter of James. There may seem to be no connection, but there is a connection to the subjects of favoritism and faith. Faith manifests itself when we refuse to show favoritism. Faith works when we accept everyone in the body of Christ because of their faith in God through Christ. James writes, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. (James 2:8 NIV) James says the royal law is to love one's neighbor as one's self. Cannot separate human relationships from divine fellowship. We may never do what Abraham did, but we manifest the same faith in God when we treat people like God wants them to be treated. If you have difficulty seeing how God wants others to be treated, you only need to think about how you would like to be treated.

Jewish people to whom James wrote coveted recognition and honor, and vied with one another for praise. (Luke 14:7-14) We have this problem today. Pyramid climbers are among us in the political arena, in industry, in society at large and in the church. Churches have their cliques and often, new Christians find it difficult to get in. Some church members use their position to enhance their own images of importance. Many of the Christians to whom James wrote were trying to seize spiritual offices, and James had to warn them.

Jesus did not respect persons. Matthew writes, "Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?' But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, 'You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, 'Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?' 'Caesar's,' they replied. Then he said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.' When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away." (Matthew 22:15-22 NIV) Jesus instructed them to render to each what was due.

It is little wonder that they were amazed. It wasn't a question of loyalty to God or Caesar. God's sovereignty had placed Caesar on his throne. It was a matter of biased hearts. Jesus did not look at the outward appearance; he looked at the heart. Riches and social status meant nothing to him. He told the story of the poor widow who gave her mite in contrast to the Pharisee who gave much and boasted about his giving. Jesus saw potential in lives of sinners. He contrasted a Pharisee who prayed about how good he was to the sinner who simply asks, "God be merciful to me a sinner." In Simon he saw a rock. In Matthew, the publican, he saw a faithful disciple. Disciples were amazed at Jesus talking to sinful woman at Sycar. (John 4:ff)

Our inability to accept others as God has accepted each of us speaks volumes about the sincerity of our faith. Nothing manifests the deadness of our faith more than our inability to sustain proper relationships with our brothers in Christ. Showing favoritism reflects the absence of the spirit of God among his people. The body of Christ without his spirit is dead. James wrote, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26 NIV) There are a lot of dead churches today.

Motivation for Change

James 2:8-13
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (NIV)

If we refuse to walk by faith, the law will judge us. Faith is really about striving to do what is right. James says, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right." When we refuse to walk by faith striving to do what is right in our relationships with others we fall under the condemnation of the law. Just as God is impartial as he accepts us through our faith, so is his judgment impartial against those who willfully break the law. If we stumble in one point we have broken the whole law. The penalty for breaking one point of the law is the same as breaking all the law.

God knows the difference between a fearful wavering faith and a disobedient heart. The person struggling to grasp God through an obedient faith is accepted regardless of position or failure. The person bent on disobedience in just one point will be judged as harshly as one who has broken every law.

Today we don't like law. We think the law smacks at legalism. We seem to think of God's laws in a negative sense. We believe that law can only condemn. However, James speaks of the law as bringing liberty. In the first chapter he calls it the "perfect law that gives freedom." Doing what is right truly brings freedom. It is the law, which brings us to faith in Christ.

In reality God's law brings both condemnation and freedom. The choice is ours. We can choose to be judged by the law or to receive God's grace. If we refuse to strive to bring our lives to God through what he commands, the law will condemn us. If we choose to bring our lives to God through striving to live up to what he asks of us, we will discover the liberty of God's justification. But the moment we began thinking that our obedience gives us a superior position in Christ we will come under the condemnation of the law.

The law has no respect for a person's position. We should live as though we are going to be judged by the law so that we might discover our liberty in Christ. If we willfully break the law, then we become enslaved to the law. For we are subject to the condemnation and punishment the law demands. The law judges without mercy, but without exception, God is merciful to those who are merciful. When we obey God’s law through faith in Christ we are not saved by the law, but by blood of Christ, which is given through grace.

When we use the law as a standard of judgment for others the law becomes our judge. It is then that we become accountable to every precept of the law. The law in and of itself is unmerciful in its judgment. Remember the law required Jesus Christ to die for our sins in order for us to be justified. If we refuse Christ justification through disobedience the law will judge us without mercy.

We must remember that mercy triumphs over judgment. The fear of falling under the judgment of the law without God’s grace should motivate us to seek justification through faithful obedience. A life of obedient faith is the only means of seeking justification in God's eyes. It is definitely a motivation to treat others without favoritism.

Favoritism Reveals Deep Seated Fears

Our greatest fears revolve around not knowing what good or ill tomorrow holds. As a result most of our lives are spent preparing for tomorrow. Certainly it is not all bad to make preparation for tomorrow. However the greatest preparation for tomorrow is to live a life of faith today. Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34 NIV)

Paul wrote, "We walk by faith and not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7) Paul's statement simply means we cannot see into the next moment. Therefore, we must walk by faith into the next moment in obedience to God. God seeks to move us through our fears through an obedient faith, which keeps us in the safe refuge of his grace. A realistic faith moves us from fear to obedience.

Showing favoritism reveals a fear of God's inability to take care of us. Favoritism is one way we place our faith in one another. Showing favor to others usually seeks reciprocation of the favor. We treat others with favors to regain the favors. It is a means of placing our trust in someone other than God. It may reveal a lack of faith in God's grace. It reveals a tendency to look out for tomorrow ourselves.

1 Samuel 2:7-8
The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor (NIV)

Showing favoritism to others reflects a desire to seek favoritism for one’s self. Why else do we show favoritism? We recognize the position of another in hope of being lifted to a higher position through their influence or clout.

Showing favoritism reveals a fear that we want receive proper recognition. In reality it reflects a lack of faith in God's ability to allow us to live exalted lives in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." (NIV)

1 Peter 5:5b-7
All of you, clothe ourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)


James is asking us to walk through our fears in faithful obedience to God. After all, if God is for us who can be against us.

James sees the obedience of faith as the only means of remaining in God's grace. Grace is never earned for grace cannot be earned.

Ephesians 1:4-8
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (NIV)

Ephesians 2:8-13
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)--remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (NIV)

No one can legitimately profess faith in Jesus Christ while refusing to accept everyone Christ accepts on an equal basis.


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