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Living Faith

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
August 25, 2021 4:00 am

Living Faith

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Don't be under the illusion that because you hear truth and your mind affirms truth, that that is enough. What is enough is when you begin to produce truth in your living.

Those are the works that he has in mind here in chapter 2. After a stroke or a head injury, some people have developed cases of Anton's Syndrome. These patients completely lose their sight, and yet they don't realize it. Even with clear evidence to the contrary, they will claim that their vision is perfectly fine.

You know, there are many people who suffer from a similar handicap. They think they understand what their spiritual condition is, but actually they don't see the true picture. Their faith is dead, and they don't realize it. They are spiritually blind. So what does it take to receive spiritual sight, to have living faith in Christ?

And how can you know that you have it? Find out now on Grace to You. Here is John MacArthur to continue his study titled, Show Me Your Faith. I would invite you to open your Bible to James chapter 2 as we come to verses 21 through 26.

James chapter 2 verses 21 through 26. Now one of the most important and at the same time one of the most frightening truths in all of the Scripture, I believe, is that there is a faith in God. There is a faith in Christ. There is a belief of Scripture. There is a belief of the Gospel that does not save from hell.

Let me say that again. There is a faith in God. There is a faith in Christ. There is a belief of Scripture and a belief of the Gospel that does not save one from hell.

It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life. That is what James would call dead faith. Now James is very exercised in his spirit that no one under his care would escape the understanding of this great truth as any faithful pastor would want to warn his people about the reality of non-saving faith. So James has that desire as well.

He has already brought it up back in chapter 1. Do you remember verse 22? Be doers of the word. That means that whatever has happened in your life produces obedience to Scripture and not just hearers deceiving your own selves. In other words, don't be under the illusion that because you hear truth and your mind affirms truth that that is enough. What is enough is when you begin to produce truth in your living.

Those are the works that he has in mind here in chapter 2. Faith, says James, without a corresponding change of life, without a transformation, without a product has no evidence and therefore is not real. The point then that he's making is very clear. Non-saving dead lifeless faith is known by the absence of righteous deeds.

Now let me take it a step further. Faith is invisible. You can tell me you have faith but I can't see that faith unless you show me that faith and you can't show me that faith unless you show it to me in a transformed life. It is not enough to say you have faith.

That proves nothing. That's merely an affirmation which may or may not be true. Faith is not known to be real until it is evident in action, deeds, in doing as chapter 1 verse 22 put it or in works as we see here in chapter 2. Faith, in James' mind, you must understand this, is a statement equal or a word equal to spiritual life. When he says faith without works is dead, what he really means to say, if we can clarify it that way, is spiritual life without works is dead.

There's no real life there at all. Unless you show me a transformed life, there is no way that your faith can be verified, to me or in fact to you. Now James is setting forth a crucial teaching regarding true salvation. Christ and all the New Testament writers are very concerned about people who may be self-deceived as to their faith. In Ephesians chapter 2 it says, for by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. And there the indication of scripture is you're saved by grace through faith, not of works. But then he says in verse 10, God has created you unto good works which God has before ordained that you should walk in them.

Saved by grace through faith unto good works. The absence of good works is an indicator of the absence of real saving faith. In Matthew, we remember very well chapter 7 where Jesus in verses 21 to 27 deals with those people who have a false faith. Many shall say unto me, Lord, Lord, have we not done this, done this, done the other?

He says, depart from me, I have never known you, you workers of iniquity. In other words, it isn't what you say, it's what you produce and what you produce is iniquity therefore what you say is meaningless. It is the life pattern that validates or invalidates the claim to salvation. Now that's exactly what James is after in this text. The first thing he does in verse 14 to 20 is describe dead faith.

He says it has three characteristics. Number one, an empty confession, verse 14. What does it profit my brothers though a man say he has faith and has not works? Can that kind of faith save him?

What's the answer? No, and that's implied in the question. That kind of faith can't save him, can it?

Is the Greek design of the original text. First of all, dead faith is an empty confession. It is a faith without a product. It is a man who simply says and never does. The second thing James says is that false faith is indicated by a false compassion.

In verses 15 and 16 he talks about a brother or sister being destitute, naked, cold and hungry without food. Somebody coming along and saying to them, be warmed and filled. If it's in a middle voice he's saying warm yourself and fill yourself. Don't bother me with your problems. If it's a passive voice he's saying, I hope you can be warmed and I hope you can be filled by somebody else.

Certainly not me. And he goes on his way. What does that profit, he asks at the end of verse 16. What good is that kind of faith that knows no compassion? Then in verse 17 and 18, even so faith if it has not works is dead being alone. If a man says you have faith and I have works, show me your faith without your works and I'll show you my faith by my works. He says, if a man just walks up and says, I'll show you my faith without my works. James as if debating with some imaginary antagonist who would say that, there must have been some in the assembly to which he writes, says you say you have faith, do you? Show me your faith without your works and the man stands there unable to do it. You can't do it.

It's impossible. Faith is invisible. So you say you have faith, do you? And you don't need works? Then you show me your faith.

Impossible. So the third element of non-saving false dead faith is a shallow conviction. It's brought out in verse 19. The man says, well I believe in orthodox truth. James says, you believe in God, do you?

You do well. The demons also believe in shudder. In other words, at best your faith is demon faith. Don't pat yourself on the back because you believe orthodox truth. Demons are orthodox. And what he's saying is at best, just being orthodox is no better than demon faith and demon faith is damning faith. So verse 20, he repeats, will you know then, oh empty-headed man, that faith without works is dead. Second Corinthians 5 17 says, if any man be in Christ, he's what? New creation. Old things have passed away.

Behold, all things have become new. In dead faith, there's no spiritual triumph and trouble. There's no living faith that evidences itself with endurance, with joy and difficulty. There's no eager readiness to respond to the Word. There's no hunger and longing for purity. There's no close self-examination to see sin. There's no continual driving internal desire to be exposed to the cleansing of the Word. There's no control of the tongue to be used for the glory of God and the edification of others. There's no true compassion, love and generosity to those in serious distress and there's no broken, humble, meek spirit.

It's a lack of real transformation. That's dead faith. In verses 21 to 26, we have the contrast of living faith and I want you to see this.

This is so marvelous and so powerful a text because the illustrations are so very graphic. James has shown us what dead faith is. Now he wants to show us by contrast what living faith is. Now to make his point of what really constitutes living faith, he uses three illustrations. As he had three elements or characteristics of dead faith, he has three illustrations of living faith.

Number one is Abraham. And this goes from verse 21 to 24. Let's begin at verse 21. Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Now that verse has really caused paroxysms for many people. Let's take it carefully and I want you to understand what James is saying. Was not Abraham, our father? Now there is a sense in which Abraham is the father of all Jews and since James, a Jew, is writing to scattered Jews as chapter 1 verse 1 says, he could be saying Abraham, our father, in a Jewish sense.

Our father in a racial sense. In fact, in Romans 4, 1, Paul says Abraham, our father, pertaining to the flesh. In John 8, 37, Jesus said to the Jews, he says, I know that you are Abraham's seed. So there's a sense in which James can be saying Abraham, our father, in a physical, natural, racial sense. The great patriarch was certainly the symbol of all that was Jewish and all that was to be honored among Jews since he was their honored progenitor. He was also the standard of righteousness for all of the Jews.

But James has in mind more than that. And when he says our father Abraham, he has in mind that Abraham is the father, not only of the Jews racially, but of all people who believe in God unto salvation whether they are Jew or Gentile. He is in a sense the father of all the faithful, of all those who believe.

This is a very important emphasis that the Apostle Paul wants us to understand in writing the epistle to the Galatians and so in chapter 3 in verse 7 Paul says, know ye therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham. So then verse 9 says, they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. There is a spiritual sense in which all who believe are somehow connected to Abraham. He is the model of faith and we sort of follow that model.

He is the classic illustration of saving faith. In that sense he is the father of the faithful. So James identifies then Abraham as the father not only of the Jews but of those who believe. So remember now he is writing to an assembly of believers. So it would not be out of character for him to say to them our father not only in the Jewish sense but also in the sense of faith.

Was not Abraham then our father? Now here's the key word, justified by works. Stop at that point. Now immediately everything in us that's evangelical goes, hold it right there. Justified by works? What does it mean to be justified? It means to be considered right with God. You mean to say Abraham was considered to be right with God by works?

Everyone blows the whistle and says foul. This cannot be possible and invariably where they take us is to Romans 4. So let's go there. Romans chapter 4.

Now I want you to follow very carefully as I just hit some key highlights here. In Romans chapter 4 the discussion is about Abraham. Paul starts out like this. What shall we say then that Abraham our father uses the same phrase as pertaining to the flesh has found? If Abraham were justified by works he had something of which to glory but not before God.

Now wait a minute. James says Abraham was justified by works. Paul says if Abraham were justified by works he would have something to glory of but not before God. What does the Scripture say?

Verse 3, Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace but of debt. In other words if he earned it, it wouldn't be grace.

It would be something God owed him. To him that works not but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. So what Paul says is Abraham wasn't justified by works before God. He was justified by faith. He was justified by grace.

Justified by faith not works. And he goes on to talk about that in verse 6. He says that David also describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness apart from works. Saying blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin or puts into his account. So in verses 1 to 8 Paul says Abraham was justified by faith not works. Then starting in verse 9 he says he was justified by grace not law. And all the way down through verse 17 he makes the point that Abraham was justified by grace, by grace. Comes to verse 16, it is of faith that it might be by grace, by faith and grace.

That's his whole emphasis. First justified by faith, then the emphasis turns to grace. And in the third section, well it's about verse 18 and following, he says that he was justified by divine power not human efforts.

Really saying the same thing over and over again. It was God's power. It was God's work in his behalf.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, verse 24. The whole argument of Romans 4, I wish we had more time to spend in it. The whole argument is Abraham was saved by faith. Abraham was saved by grace. Abraham was saved by divine power not human effort.

That is a very strong statement on salvation without works. It is parallel to what we just read in Galatians chapter 3 where it very clearly says that Abraham believed God. He is the father of the faithful, that is those who believe.

It says in verse 6 of Galatians 3, Abraham believed God. It was counted to him for righteousness. Verse 11, no man is justified by the law.

The just shall live by what? By faith. So you have very clear teaching in Galatians 3 and Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by faith, grace. Grace is God's unmerited favor in graciously giving a man salvation because he believes. And even the faith of that man is a gift of God according to Ephesians chapter 2. So on the one hand Paul seems to be saying and rightly is saying, salvation, justification by grace.

Here comes James. James says the same man, same illustration, Abraham was justified by works. How do we understand that? Alright, notice Romans 4, 2 and let me give you a distinction. It says in Romans 4, 2 that Abraham, if Abraham were justified by works, he would have something to glory about.

In other words, he could pat himself on the back if he made it in by his own works. But, mark this little part of the verse, not before God. Now get this, you cannot be justified by works before God.

Mark that. You cannot be justified by works before God. Only by faith and righteousness is then imputed to you.

Verse 6, verse 11, verse 22, verse 23. You can only be justified by faith and when you put your faith in God and Christ, God grants you an imputed righteousness. He puts righteousness to your account. The idea is that man is bankrupt, spiritually bankrupt, morally bankrupt.

He puts his faith in Christ and God deposits in his bankrupt account all necessary righteousness to make him suitable to dwell in the presence of God. Now this happened to Abraham in Genesis 15 and verse 3 and following to verse 6. Paul quotes that in the third verse of Romans 4. What does the scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. In Genesis chapter 15, listen now carefully, Genesis 15, 3 to 6, it says that Abraham believed God and righteousness was put to his account. God deposited righteousness. In the words of Isaiah 61, 10, God clothed him with the robe of righteousness. God gave him his righteousness as a gift.

Now mark that. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, righteousness is imputed to you. That is it is deposited to you.

You don't have it. You don't earn it. You receive it as a gift from God. That's the marvel of salvation by grace through faith. Like all of us who are bankrupt, we stand before God with nothing in our spiritual account. God through our faith acting in response to his sovereign grace deposits in our account the very righteousness which he possesses and we stand right with him. Abraham experienced that.

This is the sole condition of salvation. It is said in Genesis 15, 6, he believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. So Abraham then is the father of all who believed because it was his believing that brought about righteousness. When he believed, God gave him righteousness.

That's just the way it's always been. Old Testament salvation, New Testament salvation, very same thing. Whether it's Abraham or you, it doesn't matter. It's all the same.

Whether it's on that side of the cross or this side of the cross. You believe God. What do you have to believe about God?

As much as God has revealed about himself. At whatever point in the unfolding revelation of God a person lived, they were to believe God to the point of that revelation. Abraham obviously didn't have the New Testament. He didn't even have the Old Testament. The fullness of God's revelation was not yet closed. He didn't enjoy all that we enjoy but he believed what God had revealed and that's the essence of saving faith. There's no salvation by works. Back in Romans chapter 3, it says in verse 20, by the deeds of the law will no flesh be justified in his sight. On the other hand, it says in verse 24, justified freely by his grace.

So, now mark this. We are made right with God by his grace. He dispenses that grace to us. We respond in believing faith to that sovereign grace and we're saved.

No works involved. You say, well, does James believe that? Sure, he believes that. In fact, in James 2, look at verse 23. In James 2, 23, he quotes the very same scripture.

Now, follow me on this. The scripture was fulfilled which says Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness and he was called the friend of God. So, James understands that passage in Genesis 15, 6 and he understands exactly what it means. He is quoting the very same text Paul quotes in Romans 4.

Now, listen to what I say to you. Abraham was justified before God, that's the key idea, before God through faith. You say, well, how could God justify Abraham? How could he just cover his sins and forgive him?

Because Christ would in the future die for the sins of Abraham just as Christ in the past has died for the sins of every believing person. He believed in the Lord. But when was that in his life? That takes us all the way back to the beginning when God called him in Ur of the Chaldees and said, get out of this land, leave your people and go to a land that I'll show you back in Genesis chapter 12. He was probably about 75 years old at the time of his calling and he believed God, he picked up everything, left the pagan land, followed his faith in the true God.

I don't know how much revelation he had, probably a very little bit. But God had sovereignly worked on his heart, there was a response of faith, he started the walk of faith, the life of faith and at that particular point he was granted righteousness. You say, well, then what does James mean when it says here in James, was not Abraham our father justified by works? Listen to this, Abraham was justified by faith before God, but he was justified by works before men.

You see the difference? That's the whole point James is making. Works are the only way his faith can be seen and verified as real saving faith by himself or any other man. The only way I can know I'm genuinely redeemed is to see the pattern of my godliness, the evidence.

The only way you can know it is to see my life. And it is this justification before men that James has in mind. Paul was emphasizing justification before God, James was emphasizing the vindication of a man's claim to salvation before others. So it was at Ur of the Chaldees and in the walk of faith that Abraham exhibited that God saw his faith and imputed to him righteousness. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.

Thanks for tuning in today. John has been our featured speaker and the pastor of Grace Community Church for over five decades. He's titled our current series, Show Me Your Faith. John, today you gave some examples of what dead faith looks like, and one of them was this. You said it's when a person has no continual driving internal desire to be exposed to the cleansing of God's Word. And with that in mind, if there's a professing Christian listening right now, and he may be thinking, I don't always have that intense driving desire that John was talking about, should that person be concerned about the veracity of his faith?

Yes, absolutely. That's what Paul says, examine yourselves whether you be in the faith. If there's not that continual driving desire to be exposed to the Word of God, there's every reason to think that your faith is not the real thing. You know, I mean, I've watched this half a century as a pastor.

I know why people come so faithfully to Grace Community Church. We don't have a dog and pony show. We don't have smoke and mirrors and light shows. It's just the continual teaching of the Word of God. And I watch people come for a little while and disappear, and people will say to me, Well, why do you think they left?

And the answer is always the same. You don't want to be exposed to the intense power of the Word of God in your life if you're unwilling to submit to that. On the other hand, you have people who have been coming for decades and decades and decades. They're there every week, every week, Sunday morning, Sunday night. They're in a Bible study. They're in a home Bible study. They're in a fellowship group.

They never, ever have a fight with the Word of God. So that's the simplicity of the church. I mean, if the church was a restaurant, the people who would come were the ones that like the food that's being offered there.

The people that don't come are the ones that didn't want that food, right? And it's that simple in the church. The people that are there—and it's amazing. You see it, Phil, when you preach. They sit there with their Bibles, and you can talk to them for hours on a Sunday morning. They'll listen for a couple of hours to the Word of God, and they love it.

They cherish it. And they come back again next week and probably during the midweek, and they're reading books on the Word of God. So yeah, if you don't have that kind of intense interest in the Word of God, if you're not longing for the Word, there may be every reason to think your faith isn't the real thing.

That's right. And friend, we don't want you to be uncertain of where you stand with the Lord. So we created a booklet titled, Examine Yourself, that can help you know whether the faith you profess is the real thing. We'll send you a free copy of Examine Yourself.

Just ask for it when you contact us today. Call our toll-free number, 855-GRACE, or go to This booklet is an easy read that covers critical truth to help you evaluate the genuineness of your faith.

So get in touch today and ask for your free copy of Examine Yourself. Our number again, 855-GRACE, and our website, And friend, if you're struggling to love God's Word as John talked about, if Scripture is challenging for you to understand, the MacArthur Study Bible can help with that. It has over 25,000 footnotes that explain virtually every passage. It can help you not only get more out of your devotional reading, but it will also help you become a skilled student of God's Word. To order the MacArthur Study Bible or to request a free copy of the booklet titled, Examine Yourself, call us at 800-55-GRACE or go to Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace To You staff, I'm Phil Johnson reminding you to watch Grace To You television this Sunday, check your local listings for Channel and Times, and be here tomorrow for another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-13 10:52:05 / 2023-09-13 11:02:22 / 10

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