Faith without Works Is Dead, Part 2
I have heard reports that upwards to 95% of Americans believe in God. This is supposed to be proof of the religiousness of Americans. As for the genuineness of such “faith,” James has hard words, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Such “belief” is not deserving of the word. A mere sentiment that some god exists, some higher power, the man upstairs, and other empty and frankly insulting phrases describing the Almighty, have nothing in common with the saving faith James and the other apostles taught—the faith that expresses itself in love and obedience. No, 95% of Americans do not believe in the true God. If it were so, America would be an entirely different nation.
James then enlists the support of two ancient characters to prove his point: Abraham and Rahab. James asserts that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar in obedience to God’s command. Now it is indeed the case that Paul argues in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by faith and not works, but there we have a different context: Paul was arguing against those who taught that people are saved by keeping the law—something no one can do—as James eagerly declares in 2:8-11. We are indeed saved by grace through faith. And as people who live by the law of liberty, James adds that faith is “active along with works” and even “completed by works.” The faith which Abraham expressed when he believed God’s promise and was counted righteous was tested when years later works proved the integrity of that faith. Faith conquered through obedience which in Scripture is expressed through deed and action—faith working through love (Galatians 5:6). And as such work completes faith, it may also be said to justify—not of itself—but as the completion of faith, the aim and purpose of faith, which is love of God.
Rahab offers another proof of faith completed through works. The author of Hebrews tells us that this prostitute turned believer-in-the-true-God acted by faith when she saved the Israelite spies (11:31). James concurs. And this faith was completed by her loving act of protecting them whereby she was rewarded with a place in our Lord’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5).
James sums up: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” No more fitting conclusion can be drawn. If only 95% of Americans had this kind of faith! Examine yourself and be certain your faith is a living and saving kind working through love.