Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James gives living illustrations of living faith.
- The first is Abraham
A revered patriarch and father of the Hebrew people.
justified by works
This doesn’t contradict Paul’s teaching that Abraham was justified by grace through faith. James cannot mean that Abraham was made righteous before God because of his own good works:
First, James already stressed that salvation is the gift of grace (1:17–18); Also, in verse 23, James quotes Genesis 15:6, which states that God credited righteousness to Abraham on the basis of his faith; Finally, the work that James said justified Abraham was his offering up of Isaac, this occurred many years after he first exercised faith and was declared righteous before God.
Instead, Abraham’s offering of Isaac demonstrates the genuineness of his faith and the reality of his justification before God. James is emphasizing the display before others of a man’s claim to salvation.
By works was faith made perfect
This refers to bringing something to its end, or to its fullness. “Just as a fruit tree has not arrived at its goal until it bears fruit, faith has not reached its end until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life.” James asks, “Seest thou?” Do you see my point?
- The second is Rahab
A Gentile prostitute is James’ 2nd illustration of living faith
Rahab the harlot
The OT records her faith, which was the basis of her justification before God. She demonstrated the reality of her faith when she protected the messengers of God at personal risk. James did not intend, however, for those words to be a commendation of her occupation or her lying.
Justified by works
The Greek verb dikaioo (justified) has two general meanings. The first pertains to acquittal, declaring and treating a person as righteous; The second meaning pertains to vindication or proof of righteousness; It is this 2nd meaning that is in view in this passage.
Rahab was justified by works, or her faith was vindicated. She had to have faith to hang the cord out the window before anything ever happened. She had to have faith to believe the men & hide them.
The 3rd illustration of living faith is a human body
While a dead body is by appearances the person we knew, once the soul is gone that person is not there. The body is dead. James says so it is with faith. When unaccompanied by works, it is dead. Living faith will be proved or vindicated by works.
Pastor Chance Strickland
Harpeth Baptist Church
Kingston Springs, TN