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Faith and Works

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
March 14, 2021 7:00 pm

Faith and Works

The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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March 14, 2021 7:00 pm

Listen as Pastor Eugene Oldham preaches a message called -Faith and Works- from James 2-14-26. For more information about Grace Church, please visit

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Was to remain standing for the reading of God's word this morning. If you would please turn with me to James chapter 2 verses 14 through 26 will continue our trek through the book of James today as we consider the relationship between faith and works in the Christian life. This can be a thorny issue that has certainly caused its share of divisions within the church over the centuries and so spent some time this morning. Wrestling through these verses and hopefully arriving at greater gospel clarity. James chapter 2 beginning at verse 14. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works can that faith save him. If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food. When you says to them go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that so also faith by itself does not have works, is dead. But someone will say you have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well, even the demons believe and shutter.

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person that faith apart from works is useless. Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. You see that faith was active, along with his works and faith was completed by his works, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. He was called a friend of God.

You see the person is justified by works and not by faith alone and in the same way, was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way for as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. Spray board would you open our eyes now to behold. Wonderful things from your word prayed in Jesus name, amen.

You can be seated in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the road that leads to health and destruction as if it were German Audubon with no speed limit. While the road that leads to eternal salvation is lack of a small, obscure, backwoods dirt road.

It's easy to miss one path is wide and easy and attractive. The other is narrow and hard and confining. And yet one will destroy you for other forever, and the other one will reward you forever. The narrowness of the Christian life becomes more and more evident. The closer you get to its central foundational doctrines it comes to doctrines like the person of Christ or the atonement or the inerrancy of Scripture that the nature of of the triune God to get it slightly wrong is to get it damnably wrong. Why, because narrow is the gate that leads to life, and few there be that find now the good news is that when it comes to these crucially important doctrines doctrines that we dare not misunderstand Scripture is abundantly clear in matters in which eternity is concerned, Scripture bends over backwards with clarity and precision.

That's why it's so important in our study and understanding and affirmation of the Christian faith that we be as precise as Scripture is where Scripture affirms. We should affirm where Scripture denies we should deny where Scripture is ambiguous and there are places where Scripture is ambiguous, we should be ambiguous where Scripture is clear and precise. We should be just as clear and precise and no more.

Our text this morning bumps into one of these doctrines of the Christian faith that is so central that to get it slightly wrong is to get it hermetically wrong and yet we find the Bible be crystal clear in its precision in handling the subject. The Bible tells us without a doubt where the ditches are on the side of his narrow pathway subject James is dealing with is a relationship between faith and works. More specifically, James is dealing with just one of the two ditches that people are prone to fall into when it comes to their understanding of the relationship between faith and works. The thing is when you talk about one doctrinal ditch of error of people in their in their zeal to avoid that ditch often swerved to the other side of the road and fall into another another ditch we want to avoid both errors, which is to say we want to be as precise and as narrow as Scripture is, but no more now because we are navigating an exceptionally narrow stretch of the Christian road this morning when you have to spend a good amount of time afraid addressing what James is not saying in other words, pointing out the ditches, but I hope that doesn't cause us to miss what James is saying is only just state very clearly at the outset what James's main point is as clear as clearly as I can.

James is telling us in these verses that when it comes to saving faith, obedience, matters when it comes to saving faith faith that really does say obedience matters obedience to God in the Christian life is an essential companion to true saving faith. That's the point of the text. James has already warned us in his letter against the danger of hearing without doing being being hearers of the word only, and not doers of the word will now he's the one about the danger of speaking without doing of professing the faith without living out the faith.

It's a misunderstanding of the relationship between faith and works is one of the dangers we face on the narrow road to life. So need to listen and learn, and heed the warning this morning. James begins, first by describing a false faith that cannot save a false faith but cannot say verse 14 says what good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works can that faith save him in the Greek language has a a fun little feature that English doesn't have an Greek, you can ask a rhetorical question and phrase it in such a way that it has to be answered in the negative that the answer is embedded in the way you asked the question James uses that feature here. He asked the question. Verse 14 that can only be answered with a definitive no faith without works cannot save a person, so right out of the gate.

James throws down the gauntlet he he rejects the notion that mere faith in God without obedience to God is true saving faith at all. Once faith. He says if it is real must be accompanied by works of obedience to God. Now we are Protestants we are reformed Protestants. That means we protest the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by works.

We affirm the five solos of the first of the Protestant Reformation, one of which is Sola feeding justification by faith alone.

You've heard that time and time again if you been to Grace Church really good time.

All says it over and over in his writings. Romans 328 Paul says we hold that one is justified by faith apart on the works of the law. Ephesians 289 for by grace you have been saved through faith, not a result of works, lest any man should boast. Romans 452, the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. But we have a problem, it would seem because not only do we affirm justification by faith alone. We also affirm Sola Scripture that Scripture alone is authoritative, insufficient and free from any error or contradiction.

So how then can Paul say faith alone. And James says faith plus works and yet our doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture be kept intact. The key to dealing with this apparent contradiction between Paul and James lies in understanding that they are using the same words but with different meanings and realizing that they're each addressing two entirely different ditches to entirely different errors. Paul is addressing a misunderstanding of how a person gets saved.

James is addressing a misunderstanding of how a person demonstrates that there say I will look at that someone a moment but first I want to point out that Paul and James are using the word faith in two very distinct ways.

When Paul says that a person is justified by faith alone.

Paul is referring to genuine, true saving faith. When James uses the word here in this passage before us today he's using the same Greek word that Paul uses, but with a very important qualification and we see that qualification in the word that their in verse 14. James is asking if faith alone can save a person, of course, it can true saving faith will always save know what James is asking is can that faith save him and what sort of faith is that the kind that claims to be genuine, but lacks the distinguishing mark of genuine faith. In other words, it's a false faith. James is referring to. And so the obvious answer to the question. Can this false faith save anyone is no, it cannot. James is not saying that faith does not say he saying that the faith this person claims to have a faith that has no works. Cannot say is not contradicting Paul at all to see in a moment the Paul and James also use the word justification in very distinct ways. But first, notice James as illustration of how useless this false faith is verse 15 if a brother or sister is poorly closed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that if you run into a friend who just found out he lost his job is up his car was repossessed and his only winter coat is still inside the house that the bank just foreclosed on snow is coming. He hasn't eaten in three days and you were to say to your friend wow. Good luck with that. Your well wishes are useless their pointless there even hurtful.

They those words won't close or feed the man. They won't keep him warm and protected from the elements. There are useless words, just like the false faith that bears no fruit. It's useless, it cannot save because it is not real for 17. So also faith by itself does not have works of the words this false sort of faith. This work lists faith is dead. So how does a person even come to this point where they're relying on a faith it isn't real. How does one come to think their faith can save when it can. James addresses that next in verses 18 and 19 tells us that there can be a misunderstanding of the nature of saving faith, a misunderstanding of the nature of saving faith and he tells us that this misunderstanding leads to a dead faith. This misunderstanding has to do with an incorrect separating or divorcing of faith from obedience. Whenever we try to separate two things are inseparable going to end up with a distortion, a caricature of perversion that this way out of balance and that sort of thing happens when we treat faith and works as if they are incompatible as if they're at odds with each other with me in verse 18 someone will say you have faith and I have works so embedded in that objection is a misunderstanding and incorrect separation of faith and works. The hypothetical objection is raised it that faith and works are really just a matter of a personal gifting or of of temperament God gives some people the gift of faith in other people the gift of words and to each his own.

James point is that since faith and works are inseparable because remember, there is no saving faith apart from works of obedience. Then both faith and good works must be true of every Christian is in a matter of gifting it is in a matter of your personal personality profile. No genuine saving faith will always be accompanied by genuine works of obedience in every Christian. Otherwise that person's faith is just a pretense, you know, this misunderstanding of the nature of saving faith. This this separating of faith and works.

Connect can occur in one of two directions. You can overemphasize the importance of faith to the neglect of works or you can overemphasize the importance of works to the neglect of faith. Now don't want us to fall off the narrow path in either direction, so let's think about both of these errors. For just a moment and I think we can summarize each of these errors by associating them with the couple of commonly held commonly quoted Proverbs. The first proverb is let go and let God. Let go and let God you will know that isn't in the Bible right.

We've all heard it. Perhaps many of us have even spoken it as words of advice to people just let go and let God quit trying so hard worrying about what you're doing or not doing and let God take care of it now would love that life philosophy. If it weren't for the fact that James is wanting is here not to live by that philosophy of fatalistic faith that sees no need for hard-working obedience is as helpful as telling a homeless person. Good luck. It's an overemphasis on faith, to the neglect of good works is another way of saying show me your faith apart from your works, and that misunderstanding is indicative of a faith. That's dead and cannot say the other imbalance can be represented by a different proverb one that's again often quoted. It also isn't in the Bible.

And it's this God helps those who help themselves, not in the Bible.

If the first ever let go and let God is an emphasis on faith in the neglect of works, then this error. This imbalance is an overemphasis on works to the neglect of faith. It says doesn't do anything for you unless you put forth a little effort. He's he's gonna at least see you trying before he'll give you the time of day again is not of the Bible. It's not true.

It's an emphasis on works that denies grace. Notice that Paul in Romans and Galatians and Ephesians is addressing the second imbalance which is too much works. Emphasis not enough faith emphasis Paul is addressing legalism. But James is addressing the first imbalance too much faith not enough obedience. Emphasis James is addressing antinomianism, lawlessness, one theologian said whenever people rely on the religious activities for salvation. Paul's powerful plea for a radical commitment of the whole person to Christ must be vigorously proclaimed. But when faith has been turned into nothing more than a verbal commitment to certain doctrines. James's understanding of faith as an active, vigorous obedience must be forcefully reasserted folks the path that leads to life is a narrow one and we dare not stray off that path either to the left or to the right will since James is dealing with only one of these two potential errors. He gives an example of the absurdity the uselessness of faith without works in verse 19 verse 19 says you believe that God is one. You do well, but even the demons believe and shutter. This is a reference to the Shema of a foundational confession of the Jews in the Old Testament and this confession is is echoed in the creeds and confessions of the New Testament church. It's an acknowledgment that God is real, he exists and that there is only one God, the triune God who is revealed to us in holy Scripture.

If you don't believe that there is a God and that there is only one God, the God of Scripture, and you're certainly not a Christian. You can even remotely be called a person of faith without this most basic creedal affirmation but then we see James's point when he says, but even the demons believe that they believe in the God of the Bible. Demons have an Orthodox view of God, and they even shutter over it. The recognition of God's person in nature so poignant and real to them that they quaked in fear. To think of it, but demons are saved you so you can have an Orthodox faith, you can memorize and confess the apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed and the Westminster shorter catechism. You can memorize the larger catechism, if you want to and still not be 1 inch closer to heaven or to being right with God. Why because of faith. It is a mere profession of truth is not a faith that saves orthodoxy without ortho proxy is useless.

In other words, right doctrine, without right practice is a right waste of time.

It's useless. If we are correct in our evangelism to point out the genuine saving faith is not a matter of merely accepting the facts about Jesus and James 219 is our go to verse for correcting this misperception. Perhaps the typical evangelical says something like this unless said this before.

It's not enough to just know about Jesus. You have to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Perhaps we say it's not enough just to believe that Jesus rose died and rose again for your sin, you must trust and rest in the fact that he died for you and all of that is true, but I noticed something in my study last week that I had not noticed before. James here says it quite differently than we typically do and are evangelizing. James is saying it's not enough to just know about Jesus and accept the facts of the gospel, you must demonstrate the genuineness of your faith.

Through obedience, faith, real faith is visible in the behavior and choices, and values of the person who was truly saving leak united to Christ we made evidence of faith. I am afraid a very subjective thing, probably from fear of legalism. We tell folks make sure your faith is genuine. By analyzing your feelings and emotions towards Christ, but we dare not tell them to analyze their love for Christ by their actual obedience to him. James, on the other hand, makes the evidence for genuine saving faith quiet objective. He says if your actions are incongruent with the faith you profess your faith is real. Even Jesus has some some harsh words to say to those who claim to have known him, but who are actually professing a false faith and in condemning these false professors. He identifies them not in terms of their lack of relationship, personal relationship with him. But in terms of their disobedience.

In Matthew seven he says, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. I never knew you were disobedient. Faith is a false faith in a false faith is a useless faith because it cannot save but thirdly and finally, James demonstrates for us what true faith saving faith justifying faith is and he does so by pointing us to the conversions of two representative Christians one who is at the top of the proverbial foodchain of faith, and one who is at the bottom but both of these lives demonstrate the sincerity of their faith in the same way that the trueness the authenticity of their faith is demonstrated by works. The first example of course, is the faith of Abraham.

Now this is an obvious choice for James to hold up as a model when after all, Abraham is the father of us all these V patriarch with whom God initiates the covenant of grace. So stands to reason that Abraham's faith would be the quintessential example of what true saving faith looks like. How then does Abraham exemplify true faith. Look at verse 21 was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. You see that faith was active, along with his works and faith was completed by his works in the Scripture was fulfilled that says Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

He was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone, and there it is.

Verse 24 the verse that makes Presbyterian Calvinists squirm, but you know it shouldn't make us squirm. Scripture is not a slave to our theological system theological system is a slave ought to be a slave to Scripture and the Scripture says something we have no need to shy away from it to downplay it to be embarrassed by it to explain it away. If all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for us in our goal should be to have zero problem versus we should seek to do so, understand and harmonize every word, every sentence, every concept in Scripture so that there is nothing in God's word, that is out of bounds off the table, swept under the carpet. If there appears to be a contradiction we can, by faith, trust that the contradiction lies in our understanding not in God's word. But that being said, there is a fairly simple resolution to the apparent contradiction between Paul and James with regard to justification of Artie mentioned the fact that they're each addressing different errors. Paul is dealing with how a person gets saved.

James is dealing with how a person demonstrates that they are saved but another piece of the puzzle has to do with the definition of justification the. The Greek word and even the English word for justify has a range of meanings, see words are not like numbers numbers have fixed values they never change one will always be one. And nothing except one words on the other hand can have different nuances, sometimes even different meanings depending on the context in which they're used the word justify is like that. It can refer to being acquitted to being declared innocent of some wrongdoing in this is the way we typically use the word and think of the word in the context of theology to save sinners justified before God. In this sense means that a sinner is absolved, declared not guilty, is treated as if he is innocent of ever having committed sin is how we think of justification typically the word justify can also refer to a vindication of some sort of a demonstration or defense of why something is warranted.

A parent might say to a child. I don't have to justify why I'm not letting you play in the road know or don't have to prove to you that playing in the road is a bad idea to justify.

In this sense has to do with giving evidence that something is true so the one use refers to an acquittal that's declared the other use refers to a vindication that's demonstrated. Paul speaks of justification in the first sense of the word is a legal declaration of righteousness.

James here is speaking of justification in the second sentence as a visible demonstration of righteousness all polls use describes one standing before God.

James's use describes one standing before other people making your faith visible in the case of Abraham. He was justified in the first sense long before he offered Isaac on the altar. Genesis 15 described that moment when God came to Abraham in any put them in a deep sleep and established a covenant with him that was full of rich and sweet promises. Genesis 1516 says that Abraham believed the Lord in that moment. And the Lord counted it to him as righteousness. That is, as justification years later after Isaac was born and half grown, Abraham was justified. In the second sense of the word when he responded in obedience to God's command to sacrifice Isaac in that moment on Mount Moriah.

Abraham's actions, his works demonstrated his faith and thereby prove vindicated his justification in the first sense that he had been given by God. Years earlier. He was justified in the first sense by faith alone.

He was justified in the second sense for all to see. By faith and works as his obedience verified and vindicated his profession of faith. If you are in Christ right now you are justified by faith alone.

At the moment of your conversion, but there is coming a day when you're justification by faith in Christ which occurred in the private recesses of your spirit before God will be made manifest and visible to all the profession of faith you claim to have made will be justified, vindicated, proven, established beyond a shadow of a doubt on the last day what James is telling us is that the vindication the proof that evidence the fruits of genuine of the genuineness of your faith will be the obedience that you have demonstrated throughout the course of your life that obedience is not the cause of your justification. That would be the error of legalism. But it most certainly does accompany and flow from your justification. So much so that if it's not present in your life than saving faith isn't present in your life. If a sledgehammer has been swung through a glass tabletop. There will be shards of glass all over the floor. The shattered glass did not cause the sledgehammer to swing what if there is no shattered glass.

There was no sledgehammer is the relationship now are good words do not cause our justification but if there are no good works there has been no saving faith folks when it comes to saving faith, obedience, matters the listen very quickly as we wrap this up. There are those who are amazingly virtuous in their behavior and reputation, but who share no part in Christ there. Good works are devoid of faith that's not the error that James is addressing but I don't want you to go home thinking, it's not a potential error is certainly is faith without works is not a saving faith, but neither is works without faith. Don't think that just because your life is free of addiction or crime or public scandal that your heart is squeaky clean before the Lord. If your virtue is not growing in the soil of absolute and desperate reliance upon Christ than it really is not virtue at all. James is not trying to feed a self-righteous spirit is trying to kill a lazy careless spirit, but both of those dangers are real, but only to wrap this up and I love how James concludes. He points us to a harlot, a prostitute and one who is not even a descendent of Abraham she's Canaanite and yet James says that Rahab the harlot had her faith proven, vindicated, justified in the very same way that Abraham the patriarch's faith was proven true obedience and submission to the God of heaven. Abraham the hero Rahab the harlot both patriarch and prostitute are declared righteous on the basis of works that sprung out of their faith in Christ, brothers and sisters, we can hear in both of these examples of faith that the clear sound of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. See Abraham, was a pagan from our Rahab was a harlot from Jericho. The saving faith that demonstrated that they demonstrated wasn't wasn't caused or even initiated by their obedience, God save them while they were in sin while they were still enemies of God he saved them. But God's salvation of them was so complete that it made them, and it makes us new creations. It makes us something we work before and part of that newness is an undeniable imperfect but vindicating faith that obeys so what should we do with this doctrine that says obedience matters in the Christian life will at the very least, I think we should examine ourselves to see if were truly in the faith. If your life is one of stubborn rebellion against God, and that doesn't grieve your soul, your faith is a pretense and you want to stop attending.

If on the other hand you are looking to Christ to save you. And yet there is a battle going on in your heart and mind and will perhaps even long-standing habitual sin.

You know it's there. You hate it when you need to be reminded of a couple of things this morning. First, you need to be reminded that this justifying obedience, of which James speaks is never a perfect obedience, Abraham lied and committed adultery. Rahab was a prostitute from the wrong side of the Jericho wall lot got drunk and committed incest. Gideon crafted and worshiped idols.

Sampson love foreign women. David murdered a man to cover up his sin folks. Genuine faith will always display the genuine fruit of obedience.

But that fruit will never be perfect this side of glory. So don't lose heart.

Christian just keep fighting sin fleeing from temptation resisting the devil and running hard after the Lord but and secondly I would encourage all believers in our lifelong pursuit of an obedient faith to know. Meditate upon Romans six, seven and eight frequently and deeply these three chapters, perhaps more than any others in Scripture teach us how to fight sin without becoming legalists and how to rest in Christ without becoming lawless, the truths of Romans six through eight ought to be our best friends on the narrow road that leads to life when it comes to saving faith, obedience, matters stay in the word be encouraged by the word and obey the work which pray father, thank you for the truth you've spoken to us today. Now help us Holy Spirit to be doers of what we've heard and not forgetful hearers. Jesus, thank you that even though we have failed and will fail again. You are our advocate and you will never let go of us. We praise you God for your faithfulness and we thank you for loving the likes of us in Jesus name, amen

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