“But someone may say, “You have faith, and I have works, show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.”
We have a hypothetical conversation used to amplify the principle of the previous verse. The conjunction “but” introduces a hypothetical conversation for setting up a debater’s technique: “You contend that you have faith, and I contend that I have works.” “Show me” means to exhibit, to demonstrate, to make known, or to teach. The debater says to demonstrate your faith without works, which is impossible. The overt demonstration of faith with the working object of Bible doctrine is producing divine good, but faith without application of doctrine is dead or non-productive. What is it that produces divine works (production)? — Bible doctrine. The working object must do the producing (grace).
“You believe God is one, you do well; the demons also believe and shudder.”
James demonstrates that the religion of Judaism does not have the correct working object for their faith because they do not believe in Jesus Christ; they have rejected Him. There is only one Person who has done anything by which mankind can be saved; and faith must have Him as a working object. The religious Jews believed in God, but rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior.
While belief in the existence of God is a step in the right direction it does not provide salvation. No one has ever been saved by believing in the existence of God. One must have the correct working object for their faith for salvation. That working object is One Person: “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” — Jesus Christ. (Acts 4:8-12) Therefore Judaism has faith in God without salvation.
According to this verse demons have faith also. The object of the demons’ faith in this verse is God, but not Jesus Christ (perhaps they rejected Him in eternity past when given an opportunity to believe in Him for salvation – no definitive Scripture to support this however). The faith of demons, having as their object God, is expressed in shuddering with terror because their judgment is certain. (Matthew 25:41) The question is whether one benefits by believing in the existence of God only. The answer is no, definitely not. To benefit, faith must have as its working object the Lord Jesus Christ.
Demons have rejected God and have passed the point of no return. Once man’s history began, eternity began for the angels. Human history began with the creation of Adam and at that point eternity had already begun for the angels. Therefore demon faith cannot express itself in any way except in terror and fear. Their judgment is certain; the Lake of Fire is a reality to them. Once a human being dies before believing in Christ there is no longer an opportunity for salvation. As long as mankind is alive he has the opportunity for salvation. But once death occurs for unbelievers there is nothing waiting them but judgment. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
“But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”
“But are you” refers to believers under operational death. Both religious Jews and demons fall into the category of the unsaved and have as the object of their faith God, not Jesus Christ. Therefore they are not saved. The believer in operational death has something other than Bible doctrine as his working object and is therefore in reversionism.
Foolish is the Greek word “kenos,” whichmeans empty, fruitless, void of effect, without content, without truth — empty of doctrine, non-productive or fruitless, void of effect, no impact, without the content of doctrine/truth. This refers to a believer who is minus Bible doctrine as the working object of his faith. It could be a believer who never grew spiritually or it might be a reversionistic believer, the two kinds of believers who do not have doctrine and therefore become vain or empty. So this is an ignorant (of doctrine), carnal believer, one who never got started, or a reversionistic believer who lost his edification complex. Both are minus doctrine, therefore faith does not have a correct working object.
For the word dead we do not have the Greek word “nekros” as we had in verse 17. “Nekros” is a corpse, something you can physically see. Instead we have the Greek word “argos” for the word dead meaning “not working.” “Not working” means to be unemployed, therefore to be idle, and therefore to be barren. “Argos”emphasizes the production; “nekros”emphasizes the source. A dead man can’t produce, therefore this is in operational death. “Faith without production is unemployed, idle or barren” — faith without Bible doctrine as the working object is operational death. Operational death is the failure of divine production in the life of the believer.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?”
James gives us illustrations of justification by works. And if a person is not already convinced, these illustrations should clear up any notion that eternal salvation includes human works. One of the lessons we will learn is that worship not only includes the intake of the Word of God, worship also includes the application of the Word of God using the Faith-Rest Technique. (Genesis 22:1-5; Hebrews 11:17)
Abraham, the founder of the Jewish race is the first illustration. Abraham is called by James (who was a Jew) “our father.” This means that the Jewish race originated with Abraham. For part of his life Abraham was a Gentile. Then he became a Jew when God made him the head of a new nation. James is writing to the Jerusalem church which was scattered according to Acts 8:1. This group from Jerusalem was composed of mostly Jewish believers, therefore a perfect illustration for the pattern of justification for them.
Abraham had two kinds of justification. The first kind was when he believed in Jesus Christ. Remember that justification means vindication. There was a point when Abraham had as the working object of his faith Jesus Christ, called “the Lord,” in Genesis 15:6 (quoted in Romans chapter 4). In the first part of Romans chapter four we have the salvation of Abraham mentioned again. Abraham was vindicated (salvation justification) at the point when he believed in Jesus Christ. As it says in Genesis 15:6 literally, “Abraham had believed in the Lord and it was credited to his account for righteousness.” That is justification by faith which is salvation.
After his salvation there came a time, many years afterward, Abraham did something where a maximum amount of doctrine was used and this was the second justification mentioned regarding Abraham. He did something over a period of three days at the end of which he used more doctrine in a few moments than most people use in all of their lifetime. As a result he was justified by works or vindicated by what he did before men by the use of the Bible doctrine in his soul. Interestingly enough in Genesis 22 this is called “worship.” The application of doctrine is always worship. Worship always revolves around Bible doctrine. Worship isn’t a posture one assumes, such as kneeling or raising one’s hands. Worship is always related to doctrine. Other things, such as communion, are the application of doctrine. The intake of doctrine is the basic concept of worship, the output (application) of doctrine is justification by works.
Before God Abraham was justified when he believed in Christ — Romans 4:1-16; before man Abraham was justified when he offered up Isaac. Remember, justification by works is the use of Bible doctrine, the application of Bible doctrine to experience. The Greek word for justified is “dikaioo,” which means to vindicate, to treat as just, to pronounce righteous, to stand approved or accepted. In other words, looking back on Abraham he reached a spiritual pinnacle in his life when he put his son Isaac on the altar and at that point he was vindicated by what he was doing (a maximum application of Bible doctrine). He did something — works, he was justified by works, but remember Abraham’s faith had a working object — doctrine. It took him some time to get to spiritual maturity (as it does all of us) and because doctrine was the working object of his faith there was divine production under extreme pressure. So he was vindicated by what he did. In other words, when you get doctrine in your soul it can do a lot of work! Men talked about his actions that day and for years afterward, but God recorded it forever.
The high point in your life is that time when you will use the most doctrine. Learning doctrine is not the end; learning doctrine merely makes doctrine the working object of your faith. When doctrine becomes the working object of your faith, works are produced and the works count, and these are the works that are preserved forever because they are divine production. The Word of God is preserved forever and the Word of God in your soul is preserved through the divine works that you do — gold, silver, and precious stones — and you will have them always. Throughout all eternity these works will be a monument to the fact that the Word of God was alive and powerful in your life.
Abraham departed with Isaac and two witnesses. On day three they arrived at Moriah (later called Golgotha). The climbing of Moriah, the building of an altar and the placing of his son as a sacrifice upon the altar occurred on the third day. These were three of the greatest days in the life of Abraham because he applied a maximum amount of doctrine to God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar.
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.” “You see a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”
The Scripture here refers to Genesis 15:6, II Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8. Abraham had believed in the Lord and it was credited to him for righteousness. Abraham had at the point of his salvation a working object for his faith — Jesus Christ [Jehovah]. Jesus Christ hadn’t gone to the Cross yet, but He would in the future and Abraham understood this.
Abraham had believed in Christ and Genesis 15:6 says that since he had already believed in Christ his faith must have another working object for his spiritual life. Faith must have a working object after salvation for spiritual growth. Therefore Bible doctrine was needed and Abraham had plenty.
Perfected means to be completed which means the completion of faith is application of Bible doctrine. God expects every believer to complete his or her faith after salvation by learning and applying Bible doctrine. Being called “the friend of God” in Abraham’s case was used for the fact that Abraham was positive toward God and His Word and was applying it to the circumstances of life.
“And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
In the same way puts Rahab in the same bracket with Abraham, the father of the Jewish race and the first hero of the Jews (quite an honor). Abraham became the friend of God; therefore so did Rahab. Before the messengers came to Jericho, Rahab was a believer in Christ. The word for “harlot” means to sell your body, which was Rahab’s former lifestyle. Rahab became a believer by hearing the story of the Exodus, and long before the spies came to Jericho she had trusted in Jesus Christ as her Savior. She had taken in doctrine in whatever manner was available. With all this doctrine in her soul she just needed the opportunity to express (apply) the doctrine and God provided it. (Joshua 2; Hebrews 11:31)
And in a similar manner as Abraham, Rahab was justified before people by a series of actions that began with the hiding of a patrol (messengers) and ended with a rope out of the window for their escape, and she also was delivered. Rahab received her justification by means of the application of the Bible doctrine in her soul.
The illustration of physical death means that as the body without the life (spirit is the Greek word “pneuma” meaning life) is dead, so faith without production keeps on being a corpse. A corpse produces nothing. A believer without Bible doctrine as the working object of their faith is useless as far as the Christian life is concerned and does not glorify God after salvation.