Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Faith Without Works Doesn't Work (James 2.14-26)

Scripture: James 2.14-26
Translation: 14What is the benefit/what good does it do, my brothers, if someone would say he had faith, but wouldn’t have actions? That kind of faith can’t save him, can it? 15If a brother or sister really were naked and in need of their daily food, 16but anyone of you would say to them, “Go peace, warm yourselves up and feed yourselves until you’re full,” but you all wouldn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 17So too the faith, if he wouldn’t have actions, is dead by definition.

18But someone will say you have faith, and I have actions. Prove to me your faith without actions, and I will prove to you the faith from my actions! 19You believe that God is One, good job, even the demons believe [that] and so they shake in fear! 20But do you want to know, o empty man, that the faith without actions is useless/inactive/doesn’t work! 21Wasn’t Abraham our father proved righteous by actions by offering up Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that the faith acts together with his actions and by the actions the faith was made complete. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness and he was called God’s friend. 24See that by actions a man proved righteous and by faith alone! 25But also in the same way wasn’t Rahab the prostitute by actions proved righteous by welcoming the messenger as guests and sending them out on another road? 26For just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too the faith without actions is dead!

The Point I’m Stressing: A faith that doesn’t work doesn’t work. Real faith takes actions that prove their faith in God, fake faith thinks that someone can believe in God, but not live for God!

1.      Structure
a.       Hypothetical statements/Statement of the Thesis
                                                              i.      Thesis: It doesn't do any good to believe the right stuff if it doesn’t lead to you doing the right stuff
                                                            ii.      Analogy (perhaps related to how James wants their faith to work itself out): It doesn’t do any good if someone is starving and cold, and you just say eat something and feel better but don’t actually give them some clothes or food; concern for others results in actions, if it doesn’t it is not real concern
                                                          iii.      Thesis Reasserted: Faith without Actions is dead by definition!
b.      Answering Objections by Appealing to Scripture
                                                              i.      Answering the first objection:
1.      Objection: I just need to believe the right things
2.      Answer: There’s no proof of your faith without actions, even demons know what the truth is and respond in fear, but that doesn’t count as saving faith
                                                            ii.      Answering the second objection
1.      Objection: I do I know that faith without is useless
2.      Answer: 1) When Abraham sacrificed his son on the altar, he was proven righteous, which was a fulfillment of when he was considered righteous by faith; 2) Rahab was proven righteous when she offered hospitality to the spies and sent them away safely; 3) faith and works is like a body and a soul, if you don’t have a soul, you’re body is dead.
                                                          iii.      Thesis Reasserted: Thus, faith without actions is dead
2.      Themes
a.       Faith [πιστις] (vv.14[2x], 17, 18[3x], 19[2x πιστευειν], 20, 22[2x], 23[πιστευειν], 24, 26)
                                                              i.      This is part 1 of the main theme of the passage. In all but 2 of the instances (v.14 and v.23), faith is collocated in the same clause or sentence with actions.
                                                            ii.      The author is really stressing that you can’t have faith without actions coming with it, it always results in a person doing something because of what they believe. However, the author is not saying that faith in unimportant or unnecessary. No, he sees it as absolutely vital, and that is why he is so concerned that it results in actions, because that is how one knows if the faith is real or not
b.      Actions [εργα] (vv.14, 17, 18[3x], 19[ποιεις], 20, 21, 22[2x], 24, 25, 26)
                                                              i.      This is part 2 of the main theme of the passage. In all but 2 of the instances (v.21 and v.25), it is used with faith being mentioned in the same clause or sentence.
                                                            ii.      The author is really focusing on the need of a person to act out their faith in their actions. Actions are vital to real faith, if they are missing then the faith is likely not genuine
c.       Dead/Inactive
                                                              i.      Dead (νεκρος) occurs 3 times at key junctures (vv.17, 26[2x]), which is used in the formula: something – something is dead
                                                            ii.      Inactive/not-working occurs only once, but in the middle of the passage and in the same collocation used for dead (v.20), thus, it explains the key feature of death that is important to understand, namely that faith without works like a body without a soul doesn’t do anything, its inactive, and as a concept doesn’t work,
                                                          iii.      but the point of dead is that in the same way that a dead body does not any longer constitute a person, so too faith without works does not constitute faith
                                                          iv.      one needs to remember that the common New Testament understanding is that faith is integrally connected to having eternal life, so saying that the faith that doesn’t do anything is dead is saying that it is not the faith that the New Testament is talking about, it is the kind of faith that will not result in the life of the person who has it, but the eternal death of that person, which is what the open verse suggests “can that kind of faith save him?” NO, is the implied answer, and so the sense in which faith is dead is that it is not real faith that leads to real life, rather it is a faith that doesn’t work and doesn’t count as real faith, and so it results in the death of the person who has that, which is why James is so concerned
d.      Saying
                                                              i.      Much of the passage is structured or moves via dialogue or speaking, which foreshadows where the author will go in the verses following after the present passage
                                                            ii.      It appears in v.14, 16, and 18
e.       Examples/Analogies
                                                              i.      The author uses examples and analogies to argue his case
                                                            ii.      Analogy to Christian who sees another Christian in need and does nothing as an analogy of a faith that lacks the needed actions, and as an analogous example of a something that does not result in the kind of actions that it should, such that however much that something may be claimed by someone, it clearly doesn’t mean anything or count as anything:
                                                          iii.      Analogy/example of a group that believes the right stuff, but clearly are opposed to God and won’t be saved, even though they may have some appropriate fear of God (which may be implicitly saying that James’ readers don’t even have that much, i.e. they are not as good as demons in their actions in response to what they believe)
                                                          iv.      Example of Abraham who trusted God and proved that trust and the righteousness that comes with it by what he did
                                                            v.      Example of Rahab who trusted God and proved that trust and the righteousness that comes with it by what she did
                                                          vi.      Analogy to a body without a soul as an example of something that is dead without a critical component, which is analogy to faith that doesn’t have its critical component, actions.
f.       Argument with Hypothetical Dissenter
                                                              i.      This is part of the structuring of the passage
                                                            ii.      Two times this occurs is in v.18ff and v.20ff, such that James seeks to answer the objections, however, it should be noted that it is very difficult to see where the quote of the objector in v.18 ends, it could run all the way through v.19, or it could only include the “you have faith and I have works” line, or it could end at the end of v.18, but I have decided after a lot of praying and thinking that James is answering the objection from his own perspective, so that the “you have faith” actually is what the dissenter is saying, so that from his perspective the statement is “I have faith, and you have works”
g.      Proof
                                                              i.      This is the underlying theme of the passage, because the examples and analogies relate to whether there is really proof of something being in someone’s life, so in the example of a Christian who doesn’t care for other hungry and naked Christians, there is no proof that the Christian really cares about his fellow Christians, and Abraham and Rahab both relate to people who proved their faith/righteousness-by-faith by means of their actions
                                                            ii.      However, James also uses the word for proving twice in v.18, where he challenges the person who thinks they can have faith without actions to prove their faith without actions (which he rightly understands they will try to do by saying what they believe, but he rightly counters that such knowledge or conviction won’t save demons), but says that he will use actions to prove it, such that actions are almost more telling that right doctrine, but that does not mean believing the right things is not important, but that it is not enough proof on its own
h.      Righteousness
                                                              i.      The section of vv.20-26 interweaves the concepts of righteousness and faith, such that the author actually assumes an understanding of justification by faith alone, so that faith in God = the status of righteousness, but that that status and the faith that is tied to it is proven by what the person does
                                                            ii.      So tight is this assumption that James does not mention the faith of Rahab, but says she was proven to be in that state of righteousness that comes from faith
                                                          iii.      Hence the same faith that results in a righteous status before God, results also in right actions before God and mankind.
3.      Key Doctrines
a.       Justification by Faith Alone
b.      Proof/Assurance of Justification by faith/true Faith by Actions
c.       True Faith Results in Actions
d.      Unity of God: There is One God/God is One
4.      Notes
a.       In v.20, note how James defines the kind of faith that is without actions as useless/inaction/not doing anything: η πιστις χωρις των εργων αργη εστιν. Useless actually is a contraction of α + εργος = not active, but the word clearly means more than just that it doesn’t work, but that it doesn’t work, as in the idea doesn’t work, it’s logic is flawed, it may sound good on paper but it doesn’t work in practice

1.      We need to check ourselves: does our faith have actions that go with it? This does not mean that we live it out perfectly, per se, but that we do actually live out our faith consistently and even when it could cost us a lot
2.      Faith is not just about knowing or believing the right things, but being impacted by those things to such a degree that it changes our live. The question we need to ask is, “has our faith in Jesus changed us?” has it made us look like Jesus?
3.      However, sometimes we are tempted to say, well then I will just work like crazy and that will make me a Christian, but that is not what James wants us to do. He wants us to trust in God to save us, but to have that faith in God change us!
4.      A faith that changes us implies that it more than just mere knowledge, just like you may know a lot about another person, most of the things you know are good, they are not ugly or rude or selfish generally speaking, but you can know all those things and just be friends, but it is different if you know all those things they make you start to crush on that person, which makes you act a certain way around them and even when you’re not around them; or maybe it’s like when someone has a crush on you, you can know that and care or know that an not care, if you care you’ll either be happy because you have a crush on them or unhappy because you don’t want them to like you, but if you don’t care, then that knowledge doesn’t mean anything. in the same way, what you know and believe about God will either just be something that you know or believe, but doesn’t change how you feel and act, or it will, and if doesn’t effect how you feel or act, you should be concerned, because that kind of faith is not really saving faith.
5.      But let’s say that we all really do believe in Jesus to save us and give us eternal life, but we look at how much impact that has on what we do, and while we see it having some impact it doesn’t have very much impact, which makes us a little bit nervous about whether our faith is living or dead, or if it is dying, then we should start living out our faith more passionately. Instead of staying the way we are, if we have real faith then it will start taking actions! We need to start living out our faith more!

6.      Ok, but how do we really live out our faith more, what do we do, where do we start? That’s a good question, and perhaps next week we will answer that in greater detail, but for today, I can say read the whole book of James this week and you will find out, because James really is writing about a lot of different ways that our faith in Jesus can work itself out in different actions. But for a little bit of direction we can look at the part of chapter 2 that comes right before this, where James tells them to treat other people the way you would treat yourself. More specifically, he says not to treat rich Christians or rich people better than poor people, which also means don’t treat one social group better than another social group, which means that you shouldn’t treat one ethnic group like their better than everyone else, like you should treat white people like they are better than people from Japan, or like Hispanic people are worse than people from India, or like Koreans are better than black people—or vice versa for all those groups. 

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