Study Notes

James 2:14-26


Last week, James began chapter two with the exhortation not to judge people at their face value. He demonstrated that when we treat someone better or worse because of the way they appear, we are in sin. Instead, we are to act as people who will be ultimately judged by a standard of love.

But some may object - "Hey, I'm saved by grace. It doesn't matter what I do, because all my sins are forgiven. I can behave the way I want - I'm not going to be judged for my actions." But James is about to show us how that is a wrong understanding of grace.

2:14 Faith And Works

We have heard time and again,

Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

This message of grace is taught all through the New Testament. The wages of sin is death - and since we're all sinners, we all incurred an eternal death sentence. But God loves us and doesn't want us to die apart from Him. So He gave Jesus to pay the price of our death sentence - He took it upon Himself at the cross. If we believe that, our sins are erased.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Rom. 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus {as} Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;

Salvation is entirely God's work, and none of ours. Nothing we do can save us, it is only by God's grace. So why does James bring up the subject of works? His message is simple: you weren't saved by works, you were saved by faith. But if you have faith that saves, it will result in works.

If you believe in Christ, if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then that will naturally affect who you are and how you live. This is the subject James has brought up for our consideration.

2:15-18 Not Giving What Is Necessary

Becoming a Christian affects your heart. The Bible says,

2Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, {he is} a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

When you come to truly believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, you become a different person. You can no longer turn away from those in need, because the Spirit of God lives in you. And He cares deeply for them. He has passionate love for them. If you truly have faith in Christ, He is prompting you to be His hands, His mouth, His conduit of love for others.

Has that change occurred in your life? In my late teens and early 20's, I was a man full of hatred for human beings. The drummer in my band and I used to look for fights, torment people, scream obscenities at anyone we didn't like. We would insult minorities and make fun of the homeless. But when I was saved one October, and he was saved the following April, God gave us new hearts. Major changes were happening in our lives. I remember Matt seeing a homeless guy sitting on the side of the road, and instead of yelling at him, he pulled over and gave him the lunch he had packed for himself, and a blanket he had in his car. It wasn't very long before we became a part of Red Wagon Ministries, feeding and clothing the homeless in Orange County.

What do you think James would say if we had responded to the gospel, prayed to receive Jesus Christ, and then continued to torment, insult, and pick fights with people? What if we continued to have no heart for the homeless? He would say, "You don't have true faith, because there is no evidence in your life to show that it is real." Faith without works is dead.

2:19-20 The Demons Believe

When a person is not living a righteous life, they try to fall back on the idea, "Well, I believe in God. I'm not as bad as the majority of people in the world." But it's not enough to just believe in God. If that were enough, all the demons would go to heaven also. Because, as you know, they believe in God.

When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum,

Luke 4:33-34 ...there was a man in the synagogue possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, "Ha! What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God!"

Notice that Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are you, Mr. Demon, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven. Great is your reward in heaven!" If today you say, "I believe in God, and that's enough to get me into heaven," you should remember this guy.

No, we must believe that Jesus Christ died to pay the price of our sin. That he purchased us with His own blood. That we are no longer our own, but His. That it is no longer us who live, but Christ living in us. That we are new creatures who have been given a commission to affect the world around us for good.

And if we truly believe these things, they will be evident and obvious in our lives. If it is not obvious and evident, we've got to wonder if we truly have a saving faith in Christ.

2:21-24 Abraham's Faith And Works

James gives us two examples of great people in the Bible who demonstrated what they believed by what they did. His first example is Abraham's offering of Isaac.

This is told to us in Genesis 22. God tested Abraham by saying to him, "Take your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Mt. Moriah. I want you to sacrifice him there." Abraham did as he was told. He arose early in the morning, saddled up his donkey, took his son Isaac and two other guys, and left. It took three days to get to Moriah.

Gen. 22:4-14 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you." And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" And Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And he said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind {him} a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided."

The writer of Hebrews tells us,

Hebr. 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise {men} even from the dead...

God had promised to give grandchildren to Abraham through Isaac. But Isaac hadn't borne any children yet. So Abraham had complete faith in God's Word to trust Him. He knew for a fact that one of two things was going to happen: either God would stop him, or Isaac would be raised from the dead.

There is certainly a huge gap between simply believing in God and having faith to obey God when He makes such a difficult demand. But Abraham had incredible faith. Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness - in other words, he proved his faith by his actions.

2:25-26 Rahab's Faith And Works

James' second example is found in the account of Rahab. In the book of Joshua, we read that God was leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. The first city on the agenda to conquer was Jericho.

Joshua sent two men in as spies to scope out the place. They found the house of a woman named Rahab. Rahab was a prostitute who, like so many of the women in her profession in her day, also ran a boarding house.

The king of Jericho found out that these two spies had come to the city and ordered that they be arrested. But Rahab hid them, telling the king's men, "They came here, but I didn't know where they were from. And besides, they left the city before the gates were shut."

But in reality, Rahab had hidden the men up on the roof. After the king's men left, she told them, "I have heard all that the Lord has done for you Israelites. God has wiped out your enemies at every turn."

Josh. 2:12-14 "Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father's household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death." So the men said to her, "Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you."

They instructed her to tie a scarlet thread in the window of her house. When the Israelites invaded, they would know not to touch anyone inside. She did just that.

Rahab not only believed that the Lord existed, but that He was going to conquer Jericho. And she wanted to make sure that she was on the right team.

This morning, are you on the right team? Jesus said,

Matt. 12:30 "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters."

Have you believed in Jesus Christ for salvation? Have you prayed and told the Lord that you believe He paid the price of your sins on the cross?

If you have done that, has your life changed? Can you tell the difference between the old life you lived and the new one you have now? Are your works demonstrating the faith you have?

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