The Justification of Faith by Works

We believe in the wonderful truth of justification by faith without works. It’s the most important truth in the Christian religion. We are justified, declared right by God, through faith alone, apart from works.

But some have taken that wonderful glorious truth and twisted it by arguing that if works don’t matter when it comes to being saved by God, works don’t matter when it comes to our witness before others. If works don’t matter in the court of heaven, they don’t matter in the court of human opinion.

These professing Christians therefore do not pursue good works, do not commend good works, and may even condemn good works done by other Christians as legalistic or as undermining the Gospel. They may even glory in sinful works because this allegedly shows how free the Gospel is. The end result is that non-Christians who see all this have serious and understandable questions about such a faith that doesn’t produce any change in people’s lives.

James confronted this error in James 2:18-26. There, he argues that while works do not enter into our being declared righteous before God, works do enter into our being declared righteous by people. His argument is that invisible faith is proven, demonstrated, evidenced, and justified by visible good works. What’s his proof? He gives us three examples

Himself (18-19): James throws down a challenge to his opponent. “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” He says, I can prove I have faith by the visible works you can see in my life. How can you prove you have faith without pointing to works? It’s like claiming you’re a baker, but you have no cakes to point to. Or, to use the example James uses, it’s like the devils claiming to have faith without having any good works they can point to.

Abraham (20-24): James then asks his opponent, “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (20). He doesn’t wait for an answer, but goes straight to Abraham, the prototype believer, the one whom the Bible uses as a model for justification by faith alone.

Abraham was justified before God by faith alone. But his faith was justified and proven before people by his willing offering of Isaac as a sacrifice (21). That was what proved him righteous before people. That was what made him a useful believer. His active faith produced active works and so completed his faith before a watching world, perfected his witness before others. He was justified by faith alone before God, but not before people. All people have to go on is what they can see, and Abraham gave them something to see, with the result that he was justified before them by works.

Rahab (25-26): Rahab was justified by faith alone before God. But she proved her faith, she justified her faith before others, by the way she received and protected the Israelite spies. These works justified, or proved, her faith before others.

James sums it up like this: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (26). Or to put it more bluntly, “A faith without works is as useless as a body without a soul.”

LIVING THE BIBLE

If you claim that God has justified you by faith alone, prove it to others by good works. Prove your faith by your works.

PRAYING THE BIBLE

We praise you, just and holy God, that you justify us, you declare us righteous on the basis of Christ’s work alone. We thank you that we do not have to bring any good works before you because we have none that can please you. We praise you that being justified by faith we have peace with you through Jesus Christ our Lord.

But we want others to know this too and therefore you have called us to prove our faith by our works, to demonstrate we are declared righteous before you by being righteous before others.

We agree with your assessment that workless faith is utterly useless and dead. Deliver us therefore from such useless, lifeless, workless faith.

We praise you for Jesus Christ and for his perfect faith and his perfect works, that we present alone to you as the basis of our salvation. Help us to live as he lived so that others can see the one we believe in for our salvation. Amen.


God-Words without God-Works

Some Christians have lots of God-words but no God-works. I’m sure you’ve met them. The Apostle James certainly had and it raised serious questions in his mind.

  • Are they truly saved?
  • Can they ever be useful?
  • Do they have spiritual life?

James raises these three questions in James 2:14-17 and gives us three warnings about God-words without God-works. In the process, he gives us three motivations to pursue more of both.

1. GOD-WORDS WITHOUT GOD-WORKS IS HOPELESS (14)

  • Mr. God-words says he has faith: “Someone says he has faith” (14). He says it a lot. He talks a lot about faith and especially his faith.              
  • Mr. God-words has no works: He has lots of words but “does not have works” (14). It’s not that he has no job, it’s that he has no religious works pleasing to God.      
  • Mr. God-words is hopeless: “Can that faith save him?” (14), asks James. It’s a rhetorical question that expects the answer, “No, God-words without God-works cannot save anyone.” He is hope-less.

Mr. God-words talks a lot about faith and hope, but he has no faith and therefore no hope.

“But,” says Mr. God-words, “My words help lots of people.” Nope.

2. GOD-WORDS WITHOUT GOD-WORKS IS USELESS (15-16)

  • Mr. God-words talks about God-works: He says to the poor and hungry, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” (16).
  • Mr. God-words does no God-works: He speaks about helping the poor and hungry but “without giving them the things needed for the body” (16)
  • Mr. God-talk is useless: “What good is that?” (16) asks James. Another rhetorical question which expects the answer, “None!” He and his words are totally useless.

Mr. God-words has a motor-mouth but a useless life.

“But,” says Mr. God-words, I get a buzz out of talking about God.” Well it may feel like life, but it’s actually death.

3. GOD-WORDS WITHOUT GOD-WORKS IS LIFELESS (17)

  • Such God-talk is workless: His faith is “by itself…it does not have works” (17). It’s a very lonely faith because it has no works-children or works-friends
  • Such God-talk is lifeless: Such faith “is dead” (17). It’s not just unhealthy. It’s dead. It’s not breathing. It’s a talking corpse.

Mr. God-words talks about spiritual life but is actually spiritually dead.

But the reverse of all this is also true, and that’s what I want to focus on today in living the Bible.

LIVING THE BIBLE Add God-works to God-words for proof of spiritual hope, evidence of usefulness, and signs of life. Yes, if your God-faith produces not only God-words but God-works, you can increase your spiritual hope, be encouraged by evidence of spiritual usefulness, and rejoice in reliable signs of spiritual life.

PRAYING THE BIBLE All-knowing and all-seeing God, you see our hearts, our mouths, and our lives. You know if we have true faith in our hearts, true words in our mouths, and true works in our lives.

We confess that we are too often like Mr. God-words. We have lots of words but little works because we have little faith.

Please give us proof of spiritual life, evidence of spiritual usefulness, and signs of spiritual life, by helping us to add God-works to our God-words by giving us more God-faith.

We praise you for the Lord Jesus who perfectly combined God-faith, with God-words, and God-works. Please give us your Holy Spirit that we may follow in his footsteps and so have a Christianity that is hopeful, useful, and powerful. Amen.


Listen to this episode on Living the Bible podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify. Index to Living Faith in Testing Times series.


The Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel

Many reject Christ and Christianity because they are afraid of what they will lose and the pains they will suffer if they follow Christ.

The devil and many in the world have been very successful in maximizing the losses and minimizing the gains involved in following Christ. Let’s call them “the suffering, poverty, and misery” alarmists.

Some influential and popular Christian leaders have responded by maximizing the gains and minimizing the losses in following Christ. They are often known as “health, wealth, and prosperity” teachers.

But both of these extremes are based on bad information and result in bad decisions. Many hear the “suffering, poverty, and misery” alarmists and decide not to follow Christ. Others hear the “health, wealth, and prosperity” salespeople and follow Christ for all the wrong reasons (and usually end up disappointed and disillusioned).

Is there a way to measure the gains and the losses of following Christ more accurately so that we can make better decisions? Yes, there is. We’re going to look at Proverbs 3:1-12 for a balanced biblical perspective that will give us the information we need to make the most important decision of our life.

For more, see my sermon notes.  Scroll down a bit further and you’ll find a one-page sermon summary infographic.

Sermon Notes

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Infographic

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Jesus Counsels the Anxious

Let’s be honest, we’re all worried, aren’t we? Some of us are worried about catching the coronavirus. All of us are worried about the economy and the impact on our jobs, our homes, our education, and our families. Even the most confident and hopeful of Christians have been shaken by this sudden turn of events. Worry stalks us and haunts us at various points of the day and night, and sometimes all day and all night.

Worry is not a pleasant experience, is it. Our thoughts go round the same thing again and again, each time imagining worse and worse outcomes and results. Our minds become a “What-if Factory,” playing out innumerable scenarios. What if this….what if that…what if the next thing…” and on and on.

That then starts what’s often known as the “Worry-Anxiety-Stress” cycle. Worry starts in our thoughts, but these worrying thoughts then produce anxious feelings. We feel fearful, hopeless, doomed. But it doesn’t end there. Worried thoughts produce anxious feelings which then produce stressed bodies. We feel pains in our bodies, we feel short of breath. We have headaches. We can’t eat, we can’t sleep. And these bodily pains and malfunctions of course, make us think there’s something seriously wrong with us, which gives us something else to worry about, and so the vicious cycle starts all over again.

Does that sound like you and your life right now? The good news is that God knew this day was coming and in Matthew 6:25-34, he has provided counsel for us to stop worry at its source. And if we can stop worry at its source, we can then stop the resulting anxiety and stress and live more peaceful and joyful lives even in the midst of worrying times and events.

For more, see my sermon notes.  Scroll down a bit further and you’ll find a one-page sermon summary infographic.

Sermon Notes

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Infographic

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Judgment on Pre-Judgment

“Prejudice” is making a (usually negative) judgment about something or someone that is not based on evidence, experience, or reason. Examples of prejudice include racism, nationalism, sexism, etc. Another word for this is “bias,” meaning we favor someone or some group over another for no good reason.

Because of our sinful hearts, bias and prejudice are easy and fighting them is difficult. They are common and fighting them is rare. Bias and prejudice will continue unchecked unless we deliberately confront it. In James 2:8-13, James confronts our prejudice and challenges us to change our bias both in the present and the future.

1. GOD CONDEMNS BIAS IN THE PRESENT

Unbiased love fulfills the royal law: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well” (8).

Loving our neighbor as ourself is called the royal law because it comes from God and it dignifies all his image-bearers. When we love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of their color, class, religion, sex, etc, we elevate God, ourselves, and everyone else too.

Biased love breaks the whole law: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (9-11).

We tend to treat bias and prejudice as small matters, even as funny matters. But God doesn’t. He convicts and condemns. He asserts that even if we break the law in this one area, it breaks the whole law. It puts a crack in our entire legal case. He also asserts that bias is equivalent to murder, in that it is hatred at its root. That means bias effectively murders someone and forfeits our own life too.

Bias may get a laugh, but it takes away two lives.

God condemns bias, but why is that such a big deal?

2. GOD WILL JUDGE BIAS IN THE FUTURE

Biased love will be judged without mercy: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (12-13a).” James warns that the sentence God pronounces upon the prejudiced will be executed in the future. If we don’t show mercy to others, God will not show mercy to us.

The merciful will find mercy: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (13b). Those who are merciful, loving, kind, gracious to others will find God’s mercy, love, kindness, and grace. This doesn’t mean that we can earn mercy by being merciful. Rather it means, because we have received mercy from God, we will show God’s mercy to others. And so mercy beats down pre-judgment in time and in God’s judgment in eternity.

We were saved because God showed mercy not bias, therefore we will treat others with mercy not bias.

Bias is a big deal in God’s eyes, isn’t it?

Living the Bible

Reject bias because of God’s present condemnation and future judgment of it, and treat everyone as royalty in order to defeat pre-judgment and God’s judgment.

Praying the Bible

Our unbiased God, you are not prejudiced but merciful. You save people regardless of their color, culture, class, sex, age, size, past, etc.

You sent Jesus to embody your beautiful mercy and to drive prejudice out of your church. Indeed you sent Jesus to experience the worst pre-judgment so that we could be delivered from ours. We praise and exalt your name for that.

We confess that we often treat people in a prejudicial way. We are biased and unjust. You condemn this and will punish this unless we find your mercy.

God, be merciful to us, we are sinners. We confess that the seeds of racism, nationalism, culturalism, classism, and every other -ism are in our hearts. Use the cross of Christ to dig out these roots and use Christ’s blood to kill these weeds.

Help us to treat others as royalty in accordance with your royal law, and so may mercy triumph over judgment. Amen.


Listen to this episode on Living the Bible podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify. Index to Living Faith in Testing Times series.


God’s Heart for the Poor

What happens if we honor only those who are materially rich.

  • The poor reject us and the church
  • The rich reject us and the church
  • God rejects us and the church

When we prioritize the wealthy, we all lose. But there is a way for all to win. Let’s see how James directs us so that the poor, the rich, God, and we all win. In James 2:5-7, James tells us that: 

1. GOD HONORS THE POOR THAT YOU DISHONOR 

God honors the poor: “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (5). James is not teaching that God saves all poor people, but that God saves regardless of wealth, and that more poor people are saved than rich people.

You dishonor the poor: “But you have dishonored the poor man” (6a). James is not accusing all Christians of this, but it’s certainly true of many.

Measure people by their faith, not their finances.

Yes, but what if we get rich people into the church? We’ll have both social credibility and finance for mission. Really?

2. THE RICH DISHONOR YOU AND GOD

Let’s see what the rich generally do. Again, this is not true of all rich people but of rich people in general. There are, of course, rich people who are godly and have been a great blessing to the church. This is a general truth, to which there are exceptions.

The rich dishonor you: “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” (6b).              

The rich dishonor God: “Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” (7).       

Favoring the rich incurs the disfavor of God.

So, who should you prioritize in your evangelism, your mission and vision?

LIVING THE BIBLE

Honor those who are rich in faith with no regard for their wealth.

PRAYING THE BIBLE

Great God, you are rich in every way, and yet you have a huge heart for the poor. We praise you that you save regardless of social status and that you go out of your way to save the poor. Please share your heart for the poor with us.

We confess that we often do not share your heart for the poor, and instead our hearts are towards the rich. We honor them and seek their favor thinking that it will help the church. We must admit, however, that this has rarely worked as a mission strategy. The poor lose, the rich lose, and ultimately you lose.

We pray that you would save the poor despite their poverty and the rich despite their riches, and that you would make us all poor in spirit that we may be rich in faith.

Above all, make us like Jesus who embodied your heart for the poor. Make us willing to be poor as long as we can have the rich Christ. Amen.


Download Infographic here. Listen to this episode on Living the Bible podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify. Index to Living Faith in Testing Times series.

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