James 2:18-21 - A Living Faith
Review: (1) Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone; (2) Scripture must be understood in its context in order to avoid error; (3) James describes what a transformed life looks like— that is, that good works must necessarily result from genuine faith in Christ as Savior and Lord; (4) A mere profession of faith that shows no evidence of a life transformed is useless, as it is not genuine
Verses in focus: James 2:18-21, which is to be understood in the context of the entire epistle.
- James is here using another example in order to drive the same truth he has already proclaimed in the prior verses. See the explicit truth about salvation apart from works in Titus 3:5 and Eph. 2:8-10.
- In James’ example, a genuine believer is exposing the empty faith of one who is merely professing faith. The genuine believer is showing evidence of the true faith he possesses by the good works that is evident in his life: “I will show you my faith BY my works.” This genuine believer has a living faith, not a dead faith.
- In James’ example, the genuine believer makes clear that “even the demons believe—and shudder.” To shudder means to be horrified or to be struck with extreme fear, a picture of one having their hair stand on end because of terror. See Mark 5:1-17 and Matt. 8:28-34. James’ example and these passages make clear that “having a correct knowledge of the God of the universe is not a guarantee or a proof of possessing a living faith.” It is clear that the demons hate God, although they have an understanding of who He is!
- James uses two O.T. characters, Abraham and Rahab, to further his argument and to prove his point. (See Joshua 2 for the details about Rahab). At first glance, James’ words about Abraham and Rahab, that they are “justified by works” appear to contradict Paul’s explicit proclamations about salvation in his epistle to the Romans and Galatians, which explain the exclusive manner in which one can be saved.
- In Genesis 15, we are told about the promise of God to Abraham. Genesis 15:6 is the quoted portion by James, which in its context is clearly understood that Abraham was credited with righteousness apart from his own works. Read Romans 4 and Galatians 3. Abraham’s justification occurred PRIOR to circumcision! This makes clear that circumcision (Gen.17) was the sign of Abraham having already been declared righteous by God, apart from the Law!
- James’ use of Gen. 15, combined with Abraham’s offering of Isaac in Gen.22, show that James’ statement complimented Paul’s epistles. Through Abraham’s obedience in offering Isaac, Abraham’s genuine faith was demonstrated. His act of offering Isaac was proof of the righteousness or salvation that Abraham already had by faith. IN THE SAME WAY, James uses Rahab as an example of a genuinely saved believer whose good works was proof of the faith she already possessed! James is not commending Rahab for her lies or her occupation as a harlot. James is using Rahab’s willingness to risk her life to protect God’s people as proof that Rahab was saved! Her genuine salvation was evidenced by the good work she demonstrated in risking her life for the sake of saving another! She was a sinner saved by grace!
Final thoughts: As so aptly put in the song, “Grace,” by CityAlight, it is God’s grace that leads the sinner home “from death to life forever and sings the song of righteousness by blood and not by merit.”
May the faith we profess be one that we truly possess, evidenced by the good works that result from a genuine faith.