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In the Court of Public Opinion

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
August 19, 2022 12:00 am

In the Court of Public Opinion

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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August 19, 2022 12:00 am

When James makes the bold statement that we are not only justified by faith but by works as well, how can we reconcile that with the Apostle Paul's message that salvation is through faith alone? Stephen gives us the answer in this emphatic look at one of history's most debated questions.

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For thirty years, Abraham is experiencing prosperity. He's thinking, is God good or what? He's probably thinking, my tests of faith are over. I made it. I'm good to go. You know, I'm there already declared right before God.

There's no more stuff out there for the court of public opinion. I put in my dues. Then God comes along and says, Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one you love, make him a burnt offering to me. Part of what it means to be a Christian is that our life is on display for the world to see.

For many of us, that's a bit uncomfortable. We think of our faith as a private matter. However, God wants to use the lives of Christians to show unbelievers the reality of the God who saved us.

In today's lesson, Stephen is referring to that as the court of public opinion. So here's the question for today. What conclusions would people draw about God from observing your life? Dynamic faith results in a changed life. And we're going to see what that means today here on Wisdom for the Heart. A few weeks ago, I visited a man in an intensive care unit. He for years was a Christian scientist. Christian scientists deny the atonement of Christ on the cross for sin. They believe in a universal salvation.

They say there's no need for any mortal will ever fear the coming judgment, no such thing. Now this man lay in the final stages of cancer, having courageously battled it for two years. His daughter and son-in-law were hoping and praying that we would be able to talk together. He was open to that. But before I got to their home, he was taken to the hospital now in the last stages of cancer. They asked him if I could come and visit, and he agreed. I asked the nurse if I could come when everybody else was gone after hours, and she was a believer, and she said, we'll make that happen. So I returned that night around nine o'clock, and we were uninterrupted for nearly an hour as I had the opportunity to deliver to him the gospel of Christ.

We sensed the urgency of this hour. Little did we know that within six days that he was going to die. Nothing I said to him was new. He'd watched the lives of his kids. He'd heard the gospel before. But he had never personally trusted in Christ believing that he was, indeed, the God-man whose cross-work was sufficient for his sins. When I finished explaining the gospel to him, I asked him what he wanted to do about it.

He said he wanted to think about it. I prayed for him and left, but not before telling him to make sure he told his family if and when he decided to accept for himself the personal claims of Christ. Five days later, one day before he died, he informed his family that Jesus Christ now lived in his heart as his own personal savior.

His funeral, held in our chapel, took place two days ago. So what about you, I wonder, today? Do you have faith?

Who knows? But today may be your final opportunity to hear the gospel and receive it. This may be the day before you die. James is giving us a tour of three faiths, so to speak. James chapter 2 is where I invite your attention. Only one of these faiths is genuine. Only one is the real item.

Now I want you to follow this carefully. Dead faith affects only the mind, as James has described it. It intellectually acknowledges the words, believes in the validity of the words, but that's it. Demonic faith affects the mind and the emotions. I mean, the demons have an emotional reaction to the truth of God. They shudder. Now James is going to illustrate for us a third kind of faith, and it is dynamic faith. Dynamic faith affects the mind, the emotions, and it moves forward to affect the will.

Let me illustrate it this way. Let me ask you a question. Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl? Someone.

That's a prophet. Someone is going to win the Super Bowl, but you ruined my illustration. Back to my question.

Well, never mind that illustration. Let me give you a different one. Suppose you have an incurable disease, and I tell you there's a doctor in California who's given his life to studying that disease, and he's found a cure. He's written a book, and I give you a copy of the book. You promised to read it. I see you a few months later, and I ask you, well, what do you think? And you say, oh, man, that doctor is amazing. Did you read the book? Oh, I read it. My name is written all through that book.

It's like he knew me inside and out. Do you believe that he has the cure? I certainly do.

Well, when are you going to California? You know, I really don't like to fly. It makes me uncomfortable. What do you say I just read the book? See, genuine faith in Jesus Christ goes beyond admission and acknowledgement into acceptance, and James, for the point of this context, is saying it will ultimately be seen in action. To illustrate this point of dynamic faith, which is what we'll call the third, he's going to take the life of someone that every Jew would immediately identify with and recognize.

In fact, every one of us would, whether we're Jew or Gentile. It is Father Abraham. Look at verse 21 of James chapter 2. Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected, and the scripture was fulfilled, which says, and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God. So you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Now, as you read that, immediately there's a tension that begins to build, isn't there? In fact, this is the portion of James' letter that was so irritating to Martin Luther, the reformer. He was so adamantly opposed to the Roman Catholic dogma of salvation by works, salvation you merit, salvation you earn. He was such a strong defender of salvation by grace alone through faith alone that he missed the point of James.

In fact, he ended up calling the entire letter an epistle of straw. But on closer inspection, it becomes clear that James has something in mind. Let me recommend that you get out your pencil or pen and be prepared to write into the margin of your Bible two references that may help you as you go back later on. If you look back at James chapter 2 and verse 21, James writes, was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? In the margin of your Bible, write the text Genesis 22 because that's the account of Abraham offering Isaac, preparing to offer him as a burnt offering. Now, look back at what James says in verse 23, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, and Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Next to that verse, write Genesis 15. And you can see immediately how James has reversed the order of two events that occurred to make a point. The Apostle Paul will use in fact this very same quote from Genesis 15 that Abraham believed, but he's gonna use it to prove that Abraham was justified by faith apart from works, Romans 4. Now, James comes along and uses the very same text from Genesis chapter 15 to show that the justification is not by faith alone but by works. So who's right?

You have this tension. Is it Paul or is it James? Do we take a vote? No, no need to take a vote because they both happen to be right. They are both looking at the life of Abraham, this same text, but they're looking at it with two different perspectives.

Let me explain. You need to keep in mind that there is such a thing as justification in the eyes of God. That is by faith, and the analogy of scripture shows over and over again it is faith alone. There is also justification in the eyes of mankind. That is not by faith because they cannot see faith. That's an intangible, invisible element.

They can only see works. So these are the two sides or sides of the coin called justification, faith and works. In fact, there are two general meanings for the original word, justified, tikayo.

It appears often. One has to do with the legal declaration that you are righteous. Literally, you are right with God. This is the way Paul most often used the quote or the word, I should say.

I'll quote him from Romans 3.24. We are justified as a gift by God's grace. It's a gift. You are declared right with God and it must be a gift because none of us could ever earn it.

None of us could ever be good enough to be declared by a holy God. You're right. You're righteous.

It's a gift. That's one side of justification in the court of God's opinion, declared righteous. There's another side and the other side of justification is vindication before men. That is justification in the court of public opinion. In God's court, justification takes place in a moment in the transaction of salvation. In the court of public opinion, it takes place every moment throughout the day. Sometimes we succeed and nearly as much as we'd like to.

Often we fail. So depending on which side of the coin you happen to be emphasizing, you can either promote justification by faith or justification by works. Justification by faith is in the eyes of God. Justification by works is in the eyes of men. Now here's something really interesting, okay?

Assuming nothing else has been yet, here's something. Both the apostle Paul and the apostle James illustrate their particular side of the coin with the same life, the life of Abraham. And they use the same verse from Genesis 15 which reads, Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him, it was counted to him as righteousness. But I want you to understand before we go any further that Paul uses the verse to prove the fact that Abraham was justified before he ever did anything.

Genesis 15 declared righteous takes place before Genesis 22, he offers Isaac. James will use the life of Abraham to prove the fact that what Abraham did actually revealed he belonged to God. Paul is emphasizing the root of salvation. James is emphasizing the fruit of salvation.

In fact, look at verse 22 again in James chapter 2. You see that faith was working with his works. Faith was working with, it's the word synerge gives us the word synergy. There's a synergy between faith and works. And as a result of this synergy, verse 22, faith was perfected. That word perfected again is James' favorite word, you could translate it matured, shown to be grown up. Did you notice how James began verse 22? He says, you see, do you see? Look, look at the life, look at Abraham offering up Isaac, look how his faith has grown up. That's his point.

It has been 50 years of growth, by the way. Like one author said that Abraham's life was really nothing more than a series of surrenders to God as God prepared him to make the ultimate surrender to God. Think about it. He was first told to surrender his father and his family at home and leave them. Have you ever had that test of faith? He was told to surrender the well-watered plains of Jordan to his nephew Lot and he passed that test of faith. He was later told to surrender Hagar and Ishmael, that Ishmael would not be the son of the covenant promise. And then when God later came to Abraham, who is now more than 100 years old, it is a conversation that fascinates me. Isaac has been born. Isaac is now in his thirties and God comes to him in Genesis 22, which James is highlighting. And here's what God says, Abraham, take now your son, your only son, the son whom you love, Isaac. I mean, how many times does he have to say, do you think Abraham was hard of hearing or maybe a little slow?

No, but he was stubborn. And so he's probably got these little thoughts in his mind and maybe there's a loophole in here, but listen again to what God says and imagine with me how Abraham has every loophole closed. Abraham, present Lord, take now your son.

It doesn't sound too good. I have two sons. No, take your only son. Okay, but Ishmael and Isaac are both technically the only son of their mother.

No, take the one whom you love. Well, I do love Ishmael. Abraham, take now your son, your only son, the one whom you love, Isaac.

End of conversation. James will say, you go and watch Abraham on Mount Moriah and you tell me, is this not the greatest vindication of a person's faith that you've ever seen or heard of before? Watch him surrender his son to God. God had promised Abraham a son, this covenant son, this promise when he was 75 years of age, his wife Sarah, 65 years of age. Life expectancy during this period of time, from what we can tell, was about 120 years, which means there's still a slight chance that Abraham and Sarah might have a child of their own.

Time passes, slim chances dwindle down to none. Ten years after the initial promise, God appears again, reminds Abraham of the promise and says to Abraham, I am your shield and your very great reward. Abraham retorts with some sarcasm, then why am I still waiting for a son? God told Abraham to go outside and look up at the sky and try to count the stars. You ever gone outside?

I've read that you can see about a hundred stars on a clear night, but then on closer inspection, seven are airplanes and three are satellites, right? Not Abraham, it's clear, it's dry, it's dark. And God says, your seed will outnumber them. And then what happens? Nothing. For 14 years, nothing. How would you be doing by now? I don't know about you, but I'd have a little trouble. Still waiting, still waiting for the promise.

The prospects seem impossible. That's why Abraham gets tired of waiting and he institutes plan B. It's known as Project Hagar, who delivers Ishmael. God rejects him as the covenant seed. This was Abraham's lack of faith, not act of faith. Ishmael will grow up resentful, he'll fulfill the prophecy of God's words to Hagar that Ishmael's hand will be against everyone, Genesis 16, 12. But when all of the prospects for God's promise to Abraham seem now impossible, like Abraham's just blown out a hundred candles on his birthday cake and Sarah's blown out 90.

The shocking news comes that she's expecting and nine months later they have a newborn son, Isaac. He grows up, for 30 years Abraham is experiencing prosperity. He's thinking, is God good or what?

He's probably thinking, my tests of faith are over. I made it. I'm good to go. You know, I'm there. Or did you declare it right before God?

There's no more stuff out there for the court of public opinion. I put in my dues. Then God comes along and says, Abraham, take your son, your only son, the one you love and make him a burnt offering to me. And Abraham discovers what maybe you've discovered in your own life, that your greatest test of faith is the next one.

Buried in this story is the wonderful type of Christ throughout this entire ordeal. Isaac, the only son is offered by his father. God offers his unique son. Isaac carries the wood up the hill for the sacrifice. Christ for time carries the cross beam of wood up the hill.

Isaac willingly mounts the altar. Christ willingly gives himself as our sacrifice, Philippians 2.8. As Abraham raises the knife to take his son's life believing, we're told in Hebrews that God's going to have to do something. Evidently it's going to be a resurrection because this is the covenant son and from him is going to come this race. So I assume that's what God will do and will come back later together but he's still going through the ordeal, this painful ordeal. He raises his knife to take his son's life. An angel stops him and says, look over there. There's a ram caught in the thicket, the quietest ram in the history of the human population in the world.

He sacrifices the ram. But God had promised a lamb. Before that chapter ends in Genesis 22, Abraham will say, on the mountain of the Lord, on this mount, this ridge, Moriah, it will be provided on that same ridge of hills.

We can't know for sure where. Centuries later the lamb of God will be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, fulfilling the prophecy of Abraham and the type that Isaac had served. But because we know all that, we miss what James is saying is the demonstration, the vindication of justification before man.

So let's not be too hasty. So we have the idea that Abraham has his hands in the pockets of his gown and he's whistling as he walks up Moriah's ridge. And because of that and because we know how it turned out, we overlook the pain of now what had been 50 years of waiting and the thought of taking your own son's life. What is your test of faith? We tend to minimize the challenges and tests of faith and the lives of others, and we magnify our own. See, James isn't bringing up Abraham so he can just rehearse Old Testament history and prove he'd stayed awake in synagogue school. He isn't using Abraham's decision of faith as, isn't that wonderful?

No, he's using it as an example for us. He's effectively saying the example of Abraham, which accepted the tests of God imperfectly at times, completely at other times, is to be our example of living dynamic faith. This is more than Old Testament history. And for Abraham, it was the culmination of 50 years of testing and growing and maturing that now out there in the court of public opinion provides this remarkable event which becomes, in James' mind, proof of faith. This is the vindication of justification. This is the same thing Jesus Christ, by the way, would say, let your light so shine before men, not in your garage, not in your living room, not in here. Anybody can do that and come off looking pretty good. Before men that they may see your good, what?

Works. Not how many times you come to church, not how many verses you can say, not how many times you've been through the Bible. They don't care. They don't care if you were here today. That means nothing to them. They want to know how we demonstrate our faith out there. You see, we have the idea that we're demonstrating lives of faith by what we have.

Look at what I have. Isn't this proof of my faith? James is saying, no, no, no, you got it backwards. Demonstration of faith is seen by how you act when there is something you lose, something you do not have, some answer God does not provide, some test, some surrender. I wonder, what has God asked you to surrender? What has he asked you to place on the altar of your life and effectively said that will not be fulfilled?

What hard thing has he asked of you? What has he asked you to put on the altar of surrender? Dead faith would say the altar of surrender to Christ is something every maturing Christian should do, but not real. Dead faith would never participate in what it acknowledges. Demonic faith would say the altar of surrender to Christ exists, it's real, and there are many who live for Christ but they will never surrender.

In their holy state they cannot. Dynamic faith would say the altar of surrender to Christ, in what he is asking of me today, it is real and every believer who desires to mature in their faith would submit to that imperfectly at times, completely at other times, and by the way, I am willing, Lord, to sign on. I will vindicate out there in the court of public opinion my testimony that I really do belong to a living God and he belongs to me. Dynamic faith is the demonstration of faith through life.

That lesson was called, In the Court of Public Opinion. It comes from Stephen Davies' series from James entitled, Faith Works. When we come back next time, we'll continue working our way through this very practical series from God's Word. If you have a comment, a question, or would like to correspond with us, send an email to info at You can also use that address if you want to ask Stephen a question about the Bible or the Christian faith. We have a special place on our website where Stephen answers those questions. You can go to to read the questions that Stephen's already received and his answers to those questions. And you can ask your own question by sending it to info at If we can help you personally, our number is 866-48-BIBLE. Thanks for tuning in. Be sure and join us next time for more Wisdom for the Hearts. We'll see you next time.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-08 20:40:37 / 2023-03-08 20:49:39 / 9

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