“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.’ And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.”
The two mountains in verses 18-24 are Sinai (where Moses received the Law) representing the principle of works, legalism — salvation by works, spirituality by works, reversionism by works — and Zion (representing God’s spiritual kingdom) representing the principle of grace, the road to spiritual maturity.
While these reversionistic believers were not saved by keeping the Mosaic Law they had reverted to the Law in an attempt to appease God. This is the background from which they came, and having been saved and having rejected doctrine it was inevitable that they would go back to their heritage under the Mosaic Law. If you reject Bible doctrine after salvation you revert to something that is familiar to you, something in your human frame of reference. These Jews went back to the Mosaic Law; this was their human frame of reference. These Jewish believers began in grace but reverted to legalism and the two mountains are the analogy to challenge their decision.
This passage is connected with the giving of the Law to Moses. And it represents legalism of any kind. This verse refers to the giving of the Ten Commandments and the entire Mosaic Law. The writer is saying to the Jews of AD 67 that they did not go to the Mosaic Law (the Ten Commandments) for salvation, they went to Christ. But they had now reverted to the Law. All the things spoken of in this passage occurred on Mount Sinai. And all of these things are analogous to reversionism. (Exodus 19-20)
The law can teach that I am a sinner but the law can’t save me, as a sinner. In other words, during Old Testament times people were saved by believing in Christ (Jehovah) and their sins were “passed over” until those sins could be judged at the Cross. The standards of God are perfect. They reflect His divine essence. The Ten Commandments represent a perfect standard of divine establishment. They demand freedom, privacy, the right to own property, free enterprise, respect for the property and rights of others, and they demand it in a perfect way. The Ten Commandments were more than the Exodus generation could bear because of their reversionistic state.
By the time the tenth commandment had been given, the Jews were so totally addicted to sin that they were totally discouraged. Therefore they could not bear to hear any more about the Law at that time. In the second sentence we have a further reason for avoiding Mount Sinai. Animals represented money or wealth in an agricultural economy in the ancient world. If any animal or any type of cattle came near the mountain they died by stoning. So terrible was the condemnation by the Law that the Jews could not bear it and they were constantly afraid that their animals would be killed. They were afraid of losing their wealth that they had brought out of Egypt. The interesting thing is that their descendants living in AD 67 were trying to keep their wealth by “living on Mount Sinai” (keeping the Law). In effect, one generation tried to save its wealth by getting away from the mountain and then this generation tried to save its wealth by “getting on the mountain.”
Mount Sinai condemns; Mount Zion delivers from that condemnation. They have just gone to the wrong mountain. Mount Sinai perfectly emphasizes the fear produced by condemnation. The Jews of AD 67 had rejected grace. They were saved, they came to the Cross for salvation, they had rejected grace blessing; now they are climbing Mount Sinai, so to speak. The reversionistic Jewish believers in Jerusalem had gone up the wrong mountain. They were in the mountain of religion and legalism, in a state of reversionism.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in Heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
Mount Zion was the mountain representing grace. After salvation we are left to “climb Mount Zion,” which is a metaphor for the execution of the Christian Way of Life. The same contrast of these two mountains – grace verses works - is found in Galatians 4:19-31.
Mount Zion depicts all of God’s grace planning and blessing for us. That is why the writer says you have already come to Mount Zion. Mount Zion represents grace. They were saved by grace and should have been under living grace. Instead, they were climbing Mount Sinai by means of law-keeping. While those originally addressed in this epistle were Jews, this is actually addressed to the entire family of God. It is addressed to us.
We have seven advantages outlined in this passage. 1) It is to our advantage to have a heavenly home (Jerusalem). We all have a permanent home in Heaven 2) Myriads of angels will be our servants 3) The third advantage is being part of the Royal Family of God (the Church of the firstborn) 4) God the Father is also an advantage because of our relationship to Him as the Judge of all. There is no condemnation for us as believers 5) And we will be joined with the spirits of the justified ones for all eternity 6) And we have a Mediator, Jesus Christ as our Advocate before God the Father 7) and we are recipients of eternal life by means of the sacrificial work of Christ on the Cross represented by the term to the sprinkled blood. And this sacrifice by Christ was better than the sacrifice Abel made which was a type of the real thing.
So, what we have is a comparison between grace (faith, doctrine, divine production, etc.) and works (service, ritual, human works, etc.). People have a tendency to put the “cart before the horse” when it comes to Christianity, they want to put service before doctrine or what they consider production before the Word of God. The Word of God is more important than any service you will ever do. In fact, works have been overestimated because of legalism and lack of doctrine. The book of James looks at a believer’s life from the unbeliever’s point of view. The unbeliever cannot see spiritual things. (I Corinthians 2:14) The unbeliever cannot see, for example, the believer’s faith which resides in his soul. The unbeliever can see only what is visible, what is produced. However, the production of faith is something that he can see. He cannot be impressed with spiritual assets, such as Bible doctrine because he is totally ignorant of these things and therefore unimpressed. Therefore an unbeliever could only be impressed with what faith produces; what he can personally observe. This verse is expressing to believers what the viewpoint of the unbeliever is regarding those who say they are believers in Christ. “What is the benefit, profit, or advantage to a believer if he does not have something to demonstrate his faith to an unbeliever?” is the question that is posed in James 2:14.
If you are an advancing believer applying doctrine consistently, the outer production of your inner faith will impress an unbeliever. Your inner faith may be strong but an unbeliever cannot see your inner faith, he can’t see your edification complex, he can’t see Bible doctrine circulating in your soul, he can’t see the indwelling Holy Spirit, and he can’t see anything that may indicate God’s grace and God’s power except for your overt divine production.
You have to remember that in your periphery there are going to be a lot of unbelievers observing you. For some people you are the best Christian they know. Though you do not have to totally separate yourself from all unbelievers, there are spiritual laws regarding our relationships with them. For example, you are never to marry an unbeliever, you never get involved with an unbeliever to the point that they are influencing you in some negative way that is detrimental to the Bible doctrine in your soul or distracting you from the execution of the Christian Way of Life. But you are to be a spiritual example to them.
The thing that confuses people in James 2 is the word “save” — “can that faith save him.” The answer is yes if you’re talking about faith for salvation, but James is not talking about salvation. The Greek word for save is “sozo,” which means to be delivered. So we ask, “Delivered from what?” James’ entire epistle was written to believers encouraging them to be doers (appliers) of the Word of God (Bible doctrine) and not merely hearers. It is by the application of Bible doctrine by believers that unbelievers see the outward demonstration of the inward faith of believers. Therefore the deliverance that James speaks of in this verse is from being hearers only. Faith without application (divine good works) does not demonstrate to an unbeliever the faith of a believer. So the correct answer to the question that James poses is “no,” faith alone cannot deliver a believer from being a hearer only. Faith plus application (works) delivers (saves) a believer from merely being a hearer. This is how we demonstrate our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by no other means.
James 2:17 says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” “Even so,” refers to the illustration of James 2:16 in which one person gives words instead of the necessities of life. Therefore we have a picture of a believer functioning under operational death. Remember that operational death is a state of reversionism. In reversionism we have scar tissue on the soul, emotional revolt of the soul (the emotion runs the soul), and we have the destruction of the edification complex of the soul. Therefore, there is no longer doctrine in the frame of reference, in the vocabulary and categories, in the norms and standards, and no doctrine in the viewpoint that is usable. Bible doctrine is suppressed.
In the Christian life the object of faith is to be the Word of God. Bible doctrine comes into the soul as academic knowledge. The ministry of the Holy Spirit converts academic knowledge to spiritual knowledge. If you are going to be a doer, you must have doctrine in the soul. The only possible way to get doctrine into the soul is by faith, and faith is positive volition expressed in a non-meritorious way.
The Gospel is the power of God to salvation; the Gospel is about Jesus Christ. But in the Christian life it is Bible doctrine that is important, which is all about Jesus Christ. Your faith must have a working object, and Bible doctrine is the working object of faith which means that you are not doing the work, the object is doing “the working.” When Bible doctrine is the working object then we have impact on the Angelic Conflict. Every day of your life the only way that God’s provision can function in your life is to make Bible doctrine the working object for your faith. It is doctrine that does the work. And there is no place for any human glory. It is strictly about Who God is and what He is doing for us. He found a way for His power to function in the devil’s world. The thing that the devil can’t stand is not someone standing on the corner passing out Gospel tracts, but the believer who gets Bible doctrine in the soul and ready to be applied. This world is Satan’s kingdom and he can’t stand Bible doctrine. He knows its power, its dynamics and its effectiveness. And that’s why Jesus used it against him when He was being tempted.
Faith is not something we do but the channel by which we appropriate what God has done for us. Faith, therefore, is non-meritorious perception. Christianity is on the inside and the Christian life is the function of divine production under the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Believers who are functioning under operational death still have faith, but their faith does not have the correct object because they are in a state of reversionism. In reversionism, emotional revolt of the soul, scare tissue of the soul, and the destruction of the edification complex result in operational death (you are not executing the Christian Way of Life).
If it has no works in James 2:17 is referring to the production of divine good. It is Bible doctrine that produces the proper motivation and the proper mental attitude for the Christian life. If you eliminate Bible doctrine, you can produce only human good. The missing link between faith and divine production is the object of faith which does all the work motivating believers to be doers of the Word of God and not hearers only. Without divine good works accompanying faith a believer will be in operational death (no execution of the Christian life). There are a lot of words for death in Scripture and the Greek word for dead in this verse is “nekros,” which means a corpse. “So faith results in no production, which keeps on being a corpse,” would be a better translation. A corpse cannot produce anything, which is a perfect analogy for a believer in reversionism (no divine production).
Faith must have as its object something that works for it. Faith is non-meritorious so it has to depend upon something to do its work. Therefore faith must be exercised in something that works. For example, in salvation the object of faith is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ does the work, the saving, on the Cross. In the book of James the working object of faith is Bible doctrine. Bible doctrine does the work of providing divine viewpoint, proper mental attitude, grace and doctrinal orientation, etc. So Bible doctrine is the grace provider for the Christian life. “Being by itself” in James 2:17 means that without the proper object, faith is totally non-productive. Faith without a proper working object (Bible doctrine) is useless (dead) and produces nothing. This is what we are calling operational death. Bible doctrine must be the working object of faith and all function in the Christian life depends upon the application of the Word of God which must be resident and circulating in your soul. Where the believers in Jerusalem in 67 A.D. failed was abandoning Bible doctrine and applying their faith to the Mosaic Law.