Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sunday Scripture - James 2:20-26

James 2:20-26 

2:20-26 – In this section, James gives some concrete examples of the kind of works that real faith will produce. James consistently uses “faith” in a slightly different way than Paul does. James uses it to refer to the act of believing doctrine, much as it was used in the Jewish milieu of James’ day (and often is still used that way today, despite the way the rest of the NT treats the term). Paul, however, speaks of “faith” as a full-orbed, whole-self commitment of loyalty and trust to Christ, which will necessarily bear the fruit of good works as part of its own nature. But it is not the works that save us, it is the grace of God poured out with regard to our transformational trust in Christ’s faithfulness. So although James and Paul use the term “faith” differently, they’re actually making the same point: real faith includes concrete actions, not just intellectual knowledge or an internal spiritual act. The evidence James gives of this is twofold. First, he uses the example of Abraham, citing two different passages. The first one he quotes, that of Abraham being willing to obey God and sacrifice Isaac, uses the terminology of “faith and actions working together” and of “faith made complete” by actions. Again, this underscores James’ sense that a merely intellectual, internalized faith is clearly lacking something. True faith will be manifest in obedience to God. If we really believed that God is who he says he is—the sovereign of the whole universe, who loves us and has given us commands in order that we may grow to be what we were truly meant to be—then we will necessarily want to obey his commands, out of holy duty and love. But if the desire to obey his commands is not present in your life, then you don’t actually believe in a God that is sovereign and loving; your faith is a fantasy, ungrounded in the reality of God. James also cites the story of Abraham’s act of faith in response to God's promise of descendants: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”—the same passage that Paul also uses to prove his own point about faith and works. By including both passages--about Abraham's belief and his act of obedience--James wants to ensure that this part of Abraham’s story is not misunderstood. God’s justification of Abraham, counting him as righteous, was not simply the result of Abraham’s intellectual act; the rest of Abraham’s story shows that that intellectual act was part of a whole-life commitment to God. He notes that this kind of true faith is described as being “a friend of God”: faith is not just assenting to a doctrine, it is a life-altering relationship of love and trust with the God of the universe, a relationship that will necessarily be evidenced by the way we live. The second Old Testament story that James uses is that of Rahab, who offered shelter to two Israelite spies in Jericho, and then helped them escape. In that story, Rahab acknowledges her belief in the God if Israel. But imagine if she stopped there, and made no attempt to help the followers of Israel's God, instead supposing that her mere act of belief would be enough to save her from the destruction that was coming to Jericho. The way the story progresses in Joshua makes it very clear that, had she done things that way, she would have died along with everyone else in the city. It is her act of assisting the Israelites that demonstrates her real faith in the God of Israel. It is that whole-orbed faith, of belief and works together, that leads to her salvation—an act of grace whereby her house is spared, since it is marked with a telltale red rope (a foreshadowing of the saving effects of the blood of Christ). Finally, James gives us one more analogy: in the same way that we, as persons, are only whole because we have both body and spirit, so too faith is only truly itself when belief is partnered with actions. Otherwise, your “faith” is nothing but a corpse.