Monday, October 1, 2007

Faith and Works

These notes are taken from Pastor Tony Butler's sermon on James 2 preached at Fountain of Grace on Sunday night September 23, 2007. I've added to them a little (specifically all the things that occurred in Abraham's life between the 1st and 2nd pronouncement of righteousness).

James begins this passage by asking a question:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

Next he backs up his argument that both are needed with an illustration to show that faith is useless if there is nothing connected with it.

15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

There must be an integration of works with genuine faith (Rom 4, Gal 3:6-14, James 2)

Romans 4:11 He received the seal of righteousness he had by faith

Gal 3:6-14 The law represents you doing works, we receive salvation through faith not works

You might ask, Does a person have to ask Jesus into their life and only after a certain amount of good works over time are saved? Or is a person saved immediately?

The answer is that faith gives us salvation the moment we believe. Works are proof to others that we are saved. Works are not something that save us.

The passage continues with an illustration of Abraham.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

We must look in Gen 15:5-6 to see where Abraham was first counted righteous. In this passage, God appeared to him and promised him that he would have a son. Then we read in Gen 15:6 that "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." Abraham was about 75 and this time, and because he believed that God could make his descendants like the stars, God counted him as righteousness.

Fast forward in time until Abraham was around 113. Abraham has gone through many things in this time period. He had Ishmael through Sarai's maidservant Hagar (at age 86), he received circumcision (at age 99) and had his name changed by God to Abraham, he spoke to the angles about Sodom and Gomorrah, he tried to trick the Abimelech king into thinking that his wife was only his sister, his promised son Isaac has been born (at age 100), and he was now being tested by God.

God told Abraham to take his "only son, Isaac, whom you love. . . Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering (Gen 22:2)". Abraham did what God said and actually tied up his son, laid him on the alter and took out a knife. The Lord appeared to him just before it was too late and told him to stop. He said (Gen 22:12), "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Then he says (Gen 22:16-18) "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

This willingness to kill his only descendant linked by context his faith with an action. Hebrews 11:17-19 shows us that Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. His believe did not manifest until the trial of offering up Isaac This was the seal of his faith. It couldn't be shown unless the faith was genuine. Abraham found out through the trial what he really believed.

Gen 22:16. Because Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac, God said he would make his descendants like the stars. God promised him that same thing before in Gen 15. God knew what Abraham would do, so that's how he could say it in the past and in Gen 22:16 that is was because of his obedience (in time/space history). The reality and power of it are visible at that point of belief.

We also know that Rahab believed because we see what she did.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

In other passages, Paul is arguing from a point in time showing the process of salvation. We are saved at the moment we believed. Those who try to use this passage in James to show that works are required for salvation should think about whether that means that only 1 work is required every 35 years (as it was with Abraham)?

James is talking about practical salvation. Righteousness that accompanies genuine faith is seen through good works.


Maria said...

I think you would like this blog:

He found a new wife but he is a pastor who lost his wife in an auto accident 3-4 years ago and 5 days later lost his son who was injured in the accident...due only to Rx error while in the hospital.

He didn't sue.

Anyways, based on his back story (I am impressed with the way he forgave, the way he followed God) I think you might like his blog.


Miriam said...

Maria, Thanks for recommending the blog. I just read a few of his posts and he does sound interesting. I just might add him to my google reader!