What could a highly respected, devoutly religious, spiritual forefront father possibly have in common with a woman of ill repute? Whether you identify with one or the other, or somewhere in between, today's message on Truth for Life will challenge and encourage you. Alistair Begg is teaching from James chapter 2.
He begins today in verse 21. These are the kind of unsettling questions that are confronting us as we work our way through this second half of James chapter 2. What he has done is expose, first of all, false faith, which we have seen in our previous studies. And then he exposes the futility of a lifeless orthodoxy. Now, it is imperative that we keep in mind what James is doing here.
Otherwise, we'll get ourselves tied up in all kinds of knots. James is directing his argument here—his polemic, if you like—against those whose faith is revealed to be a hollow sham. Such faith, James tells us, is dead, verse 17. And having set aside the spurious claims, he then turns to the positive and presents his readers with two examples of faith that is revealed in action. And so he says in verse 20, Would you like evidence or proof that faith without deeds is useless?
Well then, let me call my witnesses. And he calls into the dock, first of all, Abraham, the most respected ancestor of the Jewish people and the spiritual father of all who believe. It's interesting, isn't it, that he says, Was not our ancestor Abraham to a Jew and Gentile audience? Surely he's just the ancestor of the Jew, isn't he?
No. In fact, the King James version refers to him as Our Father Abraham. And what he is making clear is that all who are included in Christ are actually children of Abraham, in the sense that the promise of God to Abraham in Genesis finds its fulfillment not only in believing Jews but also in believing Gentiles who are gathered under the umbrella of God's amazing grace. Wasn't Our Father Abraham considered righteous for what he did? And of course, the bell should go off in those who read their Bibles.
And the bell goes off and rings and says, But I thought a person wasn't justified by what they did. In fact, I was reading Paul in the early chapters of Romans, and he appears to be saying the absolute opposite of that. He's suggesting that Abraham himself, whom he uses as an illustration, was not somebody who was working at his salvation. What does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. If in fact Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about, but not before God. Now, when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift but as an obligation. That's Paul in Romans 4. This is James in James chapter 2. Is this a contradiction? Answer?
No. Paul is stressing the faith that issues in works, and James is stressing the works that issue from faith. Paul is arguing that faith is the only means of being declared righteous—and that is a legal statement—being relieved from the realm of condemnation as a result of being justified, which means to be declared righteous before God. And Paul is arguing, absolutely and unequivocally, that the only means of a man or a woman being declared righteous is through faith and faith alone, and James is arguing that works are the only way in which a man or a woman who has been declared righteous will be demonstrated to be so. So, if you like, Paul's issue has to do with declaration, and James has to do with demonstration. And the demonstration of works in the life is the indicator, says James, that such an individual has been declared right before God. Paul is arguing that works are of absolutely zero value in bringing a person into a relationship with God. James is arguing that where such a relationship has been established, works are an essential evidence. Now, when we consider Abraham, we will be helped. Because James calls him as his witness, and he's a very good witness. And I wish, actually, that verse 23 preceded verses 21 and 22, but it doesn't.
But we're going to consider 23 first. The Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend. Now, I think it'd be helpful for us to just go back to where this was all taking place. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, and to chapter 15. And it's there in Genesis chapter 15 that the incident to which both Paul in Romans 4, as well as in other places in his letters, and James here in James 2, takes place. It is the record of God's entering into a covenant with Abraham. He's come to him in Genesis 12, it's recorded, and told him that through him all the peoples on earth will be blessed.
It's a quite amazing statement. How God did this and the way in which it unfolded, we don't know. But God comes and appears to Abraham and gives him this promise. In 15, he comes, and he says, Don't be afraid, Abraham, which is interesting greeting.
I am your shield and your very great reward. Abraham replies, Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless? Verse 4, Then the word of the LORD came to him, This man will not be your heir, that is, the man from his servant, but a son is coming from your own body who will be your heir.
And verse 5, He took Abraham outside and said, Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them. Then he said to him, So shall your offspring be. Now, I wish that we could have Abraham right here.
And we would put him up in the pulpit and give him a handheld microphone. And we would want to ask him the question, When God spoke to you, Abraham, what did you do? Answer, I believed him. Did you do anything else, Abraham?
No. I just believed him. Doesn't that surprise you, Abraham, that you even believed him? It certainly does.
When I think about where I came from, and when I think about the orientation of my life, and when I think about God coming and speaking to me in the first instance and then saying this to me, it is a mystery to me, it is a deep mystery to me—not only that God would come and speak, but that I would both hear his voice and believe what he said. So you just believed. Yeah. You didn't do anything else? No.
Okay. Well, then, is Abraham's faith a lonely faith, a la what James is saying here in chapter 2? Because apparently all he did was he believed. That's what it says in Genesis 15 6. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
He was justified. He was declared safe and secure and righteous before God on the strength of the Messiah who would come. Incidentally, Jesus, in speaking to the Jews in John chapter 8, I think it is, says to the Jews and just blows their minds, he says, Abraham saw my day and was glad. And he must have thought, What?
Hmm. Well, no, his faith was not a lonely faith. And that's the significance of verses 21 and 22.
But don't go back to 21 and 22 yet. Go to Genesis 22, and again, you have the context for what James is saying in chapter 2. And this, of course, is the testing of Abraham. Some time later, God tested Abraham.
There's no question that he did. And I'll leave that for your homework. Part of homework, at least. So, back in James 2 and in verse 22, you see that his faith—that's Abraham's faith—when he offered his son Isaac on the altar, his faith and his actions were working together. You remember, James is addressing the individual who has already said, Someone will say, verse 18, You have faith, and I have deeds. In other words, someone says, Well, can't we just separate this out? James says, No, we can't separate it out.
You can't go at it this way. Faith and deeds go together. That's what he's arguing. And so he says his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. What is James saying? He's saying that we can conclude on the strength of the evidence, verse 24, that a person is justified by what he does inasmuch as this testifies to the existence of real faith. That's what James is saying. James is not saying that a person is put in a right standing with God as a result of works. He knows his Bible, if you like, too well to say that. He understands what Paul has been saying. He and Paul are agreed on that. Paul is making sure that at the front end, the person who wants to use works as entry into heaven is confronted by sola fide. James is concerned that the person who wants to hold on to some scrap of testimony of paper that he once became a follower of Jesus and has done nothing about it and never gone on, he wants to confront that individual with the distinct possibility that what he declares to be a sincere faith is nothing other than a false, dead, hopeless, useless faith.
And that is why it is so crucial. Now, let me just show you something in this Genesis passage before we go on. In Genesis 22—and I'm grateful to my friend and guide, Alec Mattia, for this—he points out that here in the Genesis 22 passage, we have an illustration of the way in which God accommodates himself to our thinking so as to help us, so as to enable us to get the unfolding picture. So, for example, in Genesis 15, when God speaks to Abram, and he says, So shall your offspring be. And Abram believed the LORD and credited to him as righteousness. Well, God might say, So far, so good. Now let me see how Abram does.
Of course, he knows how Abram does. But the way it unfolds, it's as if God is looking in to see how he's going, and God's watching him in the intervening period, and we have the Hagar incident. But now he looks down, and he sees him make this journey. And he sees the donkey, and he sees the wood, and he sees the altar, and he sees the knife, and he sees dear Isaac. And what does it say in Genesis 22 12?
The angel cries out, Do not lay a hand on the boy, don't do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God. Now I know! God says, Now I know! He knew all along. What does he mean, Now I know? He says, Now I know, not as some people in open theism teach, because he didn't know and he just found out, but he says it this way as an accommodation to us so that we might understand what's happening.
How do we know that the Genesis 15 6 belief is evidence of real faith? Now we know when the knife is carried up before his son. Now we know.
Why? Because faith and deeds go hand in hand. God knows all along. But he represents himself in this way so as to enable us to get the picture—that true faith produces results and, in particular, and as expressed in Abraham's case here, the result of trusting, costly obedience to the Word of God. Isn't that what we see in Abraham's life? Trusting, costly obedience to God's Word. How do I know that I am in Christ? Because of my trusting, costly obedience to the Word. No trusting, costly obedience? Question mark.
Big question mark, says James. Call my second witness. We're not going to have as long with you, Rahab.
I'm sorry, but at least we'll fit you in before the lunch break. From the most obvious witness, the father of the faith, to the least likely witness. I call Rahab to the stand. Rahab, just a couple of general questions to begin with. What did you say your occupation was?
Ah, thank you. And your background, are you from the Jewish faith? You're a Canaanite. A Gentile? Uh-huh.
A Canaanite prostitute. Yes. All right.
Just so that the jury can be clear. And what about your knowledge of God? Well, she said, I know that the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. All right. It's quite good.
It's not very good, but at least it is a help to us concerning what you have to say. Now, we really want to talk to you, Rahab, about the spies and what you did with the spies. Can you just tell us what you did with the spies? This is all in Joshua chapter 2, incidentally, and is also part of our assigned homework. What did you do with the spies? Well, I took the spies into my house, I hid them up on the roof, I looked after them for a while, and I made sure that they could sneak out—because the gates of the city were locked—I made sure they could sneak out entirely unharmed.
And then maybe just one final question, Rahab. Why was it that you did this? Well, it just seemed to me that a person who believes in the living God, who is sovereign and compassionate, would act in this way. It just seems to me that someone who believes, albeit however fledgling a belief, would do what ought to be done. And you see, Rahab's faith stands in direct contrast to the armchair philanthropist up in verse 16.
If one of you says, Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? No good. If Rahab had done that in relationship to the spies, what good would that have been to the spies? No good to the spies at all.
They would have been in the clink. Rahab puts her home, her resources, her ingenuity, and her personal safety on the line, because hers is a living faith. By mere contrast, verse 26, a simple profession is a dead thing.
Comparable only to a corpse from whom the breath of life has vanished. Reading from Joshua chapter 2, and on all the way through to Joshua 6 at least, where you have the story that many of us remember from Sunday school of the walls of Jericho tumbling down. And when the walls of Jericho come tumbling down, if you look carefully right around verse 25, you will see that the record details the survival of Rahab and her family on account of the sovereign intervention of God. And when you read chapter 2, it will become apparent to you that in a very similar way to what we described in relationship to Abraham, it's really mysterious to factor in why it is that this lady, the shady lady from Jericho, should ever come to believe in the God of Israel. And when you read in Joshua chapter 2, you will be as mystified and as gratified, I hope, as I was to recognize that here from the lips of a Canaanite woman with a shady lifestyle comes this great Israeli decrelation of the significance of a mighty God of Israel. Somehow or another, in the goodness of God, she got it, and she believed it. And having believed it, she demonstrated her belief. And it is a wonderful reminder in conclusion that when you take the two witnesses called to the stand—one from a religious background, at least over time, and one from an irreligious background—a man and a woman, one man of significance and repute, another lady of disrepute—both called to the stand to testify to what? To testify to the amazing grace of God.
And if you doubt just how amazing it is, this is your final homework assignment. Read the genealogy of Christ in Matthew chapter 1, and you don't have to get too far down the list to find Reah. Reah is an ancestress of the Messiah Jesus. What kind of wonderful God is this, who reaches down into the lives of people and picks them up and grants them faith and changes them?
Has he changed you? You see, the faith that James has articulated here in chapter 2 is a reminder to us that the church is not a club for people that are all sorted out. The church is not a club… That would be like saying that a hospital is only for doctors and radiologists, or that a cemetery is only for undertakers. The church is not a club for people that have got it all together. The church is a refuge for folks who have been rescued and redeemed and set right.
And Rahab's past was no barrier. The life of faith is more than a private, long-past transaction, albeit a transaction of the heart with God. Says James, genuine faith is a life of active consecration in the obedience which holds nothing back from God and holds nothing back from human need. And the question James is asking is, reader, is that your faith? Is that your faith?
Abraham and Rahab were polar opposites on the social scale, but both were equally used by God to demonstrate how true faith goes hand-in-hand with deeds. We're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. If you're benefiting from these practical lessons in our study of the book of James, you might want to own all four volumes in this series. The series is titled A Study in James. There are 40 sermons available on a convenient USB.
It's only $5 and shipping is free in the United States. You'll find it in the mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash store. In addition to teaching from the Bible each day, we also, here at Truth for Life, carefully select books to help you and your whole family grow in your faith. The book we're recommending to you today is a children's book. It's titled Little Pilgrim's Big Journey, Part Two. This is an allegory that tells the story of the Christian life that teaches young children how to stay on the path that leads to eternity. Request your copy of Little Pilgrim's Big Journey, Part Two.
When you give a donation, you can do that at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you're able to worship together with your local church this weekend, and we hope you can join us back on Monday. Does your pastor's job strike you as dangerous? Probably not, but on Monday we'll hear about the serious and significant hazards of the preaching profession. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-27 15:26:47 / 2023-02-27 15:34:38 / 8