LIVE YOUR FAITH

 

Week of November 1, 2009

 

Bible Verses:James 1:19-25; 2:14,18-26.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson can help you understand that saving faith expresses itself in obedient living and will challenge you to demonstrate your faith in everyday life.

 

Receive the Implanted Word: James 1:19-21.

 

[19]Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; [20]for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. [21]Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.[ESV]

 

James has just been speaking of the word of God as the seed in the womb [18] issuing in birth. Now he speaks of the word of God as the seed in the soil [21] growing to the full salvation of the soul. The word which James would help his readers to hear is the word of Scripture. James calls us to be quick to hear the word which God speaks. Having called us to keep the truth of the new birth in the forefront of our minds, James wants to guard us against becoming stuck in infancy as Christians. We must learn how to capitalize on the birth which has come to us from our Father. How we move on from the new birth into the new life, then, is the question James is raising, and a key question it is. We must go on hearing that word which corresponds to the God-given new nature and in this way progressively enter into new life. By hearing the life-giving word, the energies of the new nature are stimulated into action. Therefore, we must be quick to hear. Then James seems to mix together the two ideas of getting on with people, and going on with God. Corresponding to the positive command about spiritual progress, there is also the negative command to be slow to anger because anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires. The growth of the new nature into spiritual maturity is the righteous purpose of God for us. This is what will happen if we go on with the blessed task of hearing the word of truth. But our life with God cannot be insulated from our life with people. We must cultivate over the whole area of life those virtues and practices which will pay dividends when we turn our minds to God and to His Word. If we are controlled by anger then we will not be able to listen to God's word. We are to expose ourselves to Godís Word by hearing it; we are to make our first response by receiving it. In opening up this topic, James touches on four aspects of this receiving: first, the proper preparation for receiving the word; secondly, the required attitude; thirdly, the thing to be received; and finally, the expected result. Our hearts and minds must be prepared to receive the planting of the word by putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness. The noun filthiness refers to everything that taints, soils or devalues our lives. Wickedness is a general work rooted in the idea of badness and covers everything that might be wrong in character or conduct. The central idea of rampant is excess or abundance. Thus James thinks of the wickedness we find in ourselves and in our lives as ever abounding. We dig out the weeds of wickedness in one place only to find them growing in another, and then reappearing with vigor where we thought we had eradicated them. Thus our experience is to be one of constantly working, hoe in hand, against the fertility of the old, sinful nature. The key ingredient to use in this eradicating work is the Christlike quality of meekness. When exercised toward God, meekness is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good without disputing or complaining. It is the spirit which says a simple Ďyesí to what the word teaches and commands; it is the mind disposed to learn and to do so with prompt readiness. Able to save your souls is the third description of the objective at which the new birth is aimed. The first was that we should be a kind of firstfruits [18], the objective of being wholly and specially for the Lord; the second was to produce the righteousness that God requires [20], the realization in our conduct of the righteous life which He purposed; and now here is a third description, the salvation of our souls. Every day should provide us with some fresh evidence that we are saved, that new powers are at work within us, and that the Lord is progressively making us whole. The energy behind all this is the implanted word. Godís word is the implanted agent of the new birth and also is the agent in daily growth. Growth follows as we receive more fully the word which has made us children of our Father. Our daily embracing of the word of truth creates the conditions in which the implanted word germinates, grows and becomes fruitful in salvation.

 

Do the Word: James 1:22-25.

 

[22]But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. [23]For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. [24]For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. [25]But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.[ESV]

 

James now turns to something else in our fruitful relationship with Godís Word. We listen [19] and receive it [21]. But we must also express it, carry it out [22-23,25]; we must be doers. And we must take care not to deceive ourselves [22] about this. The point of Jamesí illustration of the man looking in the mirror is that, instead of going away and forgetting, the believer is to persevere and act upon his looking into the word. It is in connection with all this that James says we have a choice: we can either deceive ourselves [22] or bless ourselves [25]. We deceive ourselves when we mistake the part for the whole. It is only part of our fruitful use of the Word of God to hear it and receive it. In addition to receiving the word, we must also become doers of the word by putting the meaning and instruction of the word into practice in our daily lives. James describes Godís Word as the perfect law, the law of liberty. The law of God is perfect, first, because it perfectly expresses His nature and, secondly, because it perfectly matches ours. These two sides of the law belong together. In His commandments, the Lord has taken what is true about Himself and has expressed that truth in a rule for us to obey. Godís law matches our human nature, for we were created in the image of God. We live the truly human life when we express His likeness in our conduct. The law which is the perfect expression of the divine nature is also the perfect vehicle of expression for human nature. True freedom is the opportunity and the ability to give expression to what we truly are. We are truly free when we live the life appropriate to those who are created in the image of God. The law of God safeguards that liberty for us. But it does even more, for obedience brings life and power. The law of God is the law of liberty because it safeguards, expresses and enables the life of true freedom into which Christ has brought us. This is the blessing of which James speaks, the blessing of a full life, a true humanity. Obedience is the key factor in our enjoyment of it.

 

Perfect Your Faith: James 2:14,18-26.

 

[14]What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? [18]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. [19]You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder! [20]Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? [21]Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? [22]You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; [23]and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"--and he was called a friend of God. [24]You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25]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? [26]For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.[ESV]

 

[14]What is a true and saving faith? That is the function that verses 14-26 have to fulfill in Jamesí teaching. What makes faith real? Can we be sure that our faith is a saving faith? Critical to understanding the argument of the section and integrating it successfully into a broader biblical perspective is the recognition that James is not arguing that works must be added to faith. His point, rather, is that genuine biblical faith will inevitably be characterized by works. Trying to add works to a bogus faith is an exercise in futility, for only by receiving the implanted word [1:21] and experiencing the inner transformation that it brings can one produce works pleasing to God. James, in a sense, proposes for us in these verses a test by which we determine the genuineness of faith: deeds of obedience to the will of God. To arrive at a correct definition of faith, James introduces four illustrations: the ill-clad and hungry brother or sister Christian [15-17], the believing but troubled demons [18-20], Abraham, the friend of God [21-24], and Rahab who welcomed Joshuaís spies [25-26]. Notice three things about these illustrations. First, each illustration ends with a summary statement of what James wants us to learn [17, 20, 24, 26]. Secondly, the first two illustrations are negative (what faith is not); the second two are positive (what faith is). Thirdly, the first and last illustrations deal with the manward evidence of a true faith (hungry people fed; endangered spies received); the second and third illustrations deal with the godward evidence of a true faith (peace with God Ė not terror, and a life of obedience to Godís will). Verse 14 sets the scene for this four-step definition of saving faith. Imagine a person who says that he has faith. But their claim to faith is unsupported by any concrete evidence in their Christian walk. This is James starting point in this passage. Thus the assumption James is making is that saving faith results in a distinctive lifestyle. James uses the term works to mean all that should be distinctive about the person who believes and is saved. And the relationship between faith and works that James is proposing is that true saving faith produces works.

 

[18-26]Two types of faith are contrasted here: that of the demons and that of Abraham. There is a faith productive only of fear; there is a faith productive of friendship. Verse 18 gives an imaginary conversation between two individuals. The implication of the person speaking is that, just as God gives different people different gifts, so one personís gift is a spirit of unshakeable trust while another has a God-given aptitude for works of mercy. Should not each then get on with the exercise of his gift without any implied criticism of the other whose gift is different? The problem is that James is not talking about some special gift of faith but the general gift of faith by which alone all become Christians. As verse 14 has made clear, it is saving faith of which James is speaking. This becomes very clear in the allusion to the demons. Even though the demons believe that God is one. Yet, holding this, they continue as demons; they are not saved; they know nothing of peace with God; and they do not love the only God whom they confess. Their fear stands in contrast to the peace of salvation. How, then, can we be sure that ours is a true faith Ė that we really do have peace with God? There must be some way of certainty: for this is the implication of Jamesí own claim, that I will show you my faith by my works. The answer comes in the illustrative use of the story of Abraham. These verses are crucial to our understanding of what James is saying. The sequence of events of which James is speaking began in Genesis 15:6 and concluded in Genesis 22:12. Genesis 15:6 is a divine response to Abramís faith; Genesis 22:12 is a divine comment on Abrahamís faith. Regarding Genesis 15:6, James would concur with Paulís understanding of what happened. God promised Abram an abundance of descendants. Abraham, on his part, took full cognizance of the total human impossibility of this ever happening; but he did not waver from his trust in God fulfilling His promise. He remained fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness [Rom. 4:22]. During the twenty-five year wait for the promised son, Abram did fall into the sin of seeking a son and heir along human lines [Gen. 16]. But some time after the birth of Isaac [Gen. 22] Abraham was called by God to the severest test of all, and this time there was no shadow of doubt. Isaac alone was the promised heir. And now Abraham is commanded to use Isaac as a burnt offering. In the face of this difficult test Abraham demonstrates that his faith is real by his actions. Alone of the New Testament writers James makes use of a very curious feature of the Genesis account of Abrahamís faith. According to Genesis 15:6 the Lord is already convinced that the faith which has been exercised is real and so He counts this faith as righteousness. God pronounced Abram to be righteous in His sight, on the ground of the faith which he had placed in the divine promises. Yet, in Genesis 22:12, as Abraham stands with the knife upraised, the Lord stops him with the words, now I know that you fear God. But had not the Lord, who knows all things, known that from the start? Here, as so often, the Bible lets us into the mind of God by portraying God as if He were man. So then, if God were human, He would see Abramís faith in Genesis 15:6 as a starting point but would want to see results or works that prove this faith to be genuine. It appears in Genesis 16 that Abramís faith might not be genuine. But then in Genesis 22, there is an altar, knife and fire, the precious Isaac, and the expectation that God would reconstitute the burnt body and restore the boy to life. This is indeed faith. We know, of course, that the Lord did not need this process of validation. He knew from the start. But He is represented as needing it; He is depicted as if He came to a final decision about Abrahamís faith through observation of Abrahamís works. And He graciously condescends to be represented to us like this, so that we can share His point of view. A true faith produces results, and in particular the result of costly and wholly trustful obedience to the word of God. It fell to James, alone in the New Testament, to bring out this total view of the faith of Abraham. What, then, would James look for as evidence of the reality and living quality of our faith? In answering this question James uses two individuals, Abraham and Rahab, that offer a significant contrast. Abraham is a major Bible figure; Rahab, a minor participant. Abraham is the father of the faithful; Rahab a foreigner. Abraham is respected; Rahab is disreputable. Abraham is a man; Rahab, a woman. The contrast is intended to alert us to the fact that a fully comprehensive statement is being made. The primary works of faith, then, are the works of Abraham and Rahab and they apply to all without exception. What was the work of Abraham? He held nothing back for God. What was the work of Rahab? She reached out and took into her own care those who were needy and helpless, regardless of the cost to herself. The life of faith, then, is the life which respects the glory of Jesus, for in His obedience to God and His concern for needy sinners He made himself nothing Ö humbled himself Ö to the point of death, even death on a cross [Phil. 2:7-8]. It is a life of obedience to the word of God seen in our concern for the needs of man. The life of faith is more than a private transaction of the heart with God. It is the life of active consecration seen in the obedience which holds nothing back from God, and the concern which holds nothing back from human need.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† James raises the key question concerning how we move on from the new birth into the new life. How does he answer this question in verses 1:19-25? How does our anger interfere with our growth in this new life?

 

2.†††††††† What are the four aspects of receiving the implanted word that James gives to us? How can you apply these aspects to your own spiritual growth?

 

3.†††††††† In 2:14-26, how does James answer the question: What is a true and saving faith? What is the relationship between faith and works for James? [Note in these verses that Paul in Romans and James here are using justify and works in different contexts. Paul is using works as a false means of earning God's justification and salvation. But James is using those terms in discussing the evidence of faith in a person who is already saved. Both use Abraham as an example. But Paul focuses on Genesis 15 while James focuses on Genesis 22.]

 

4.†††††††† What point is James making by using Abraham and Rahab as examples of true faith? How do each of them, in their own way, present the two evidences of saving faith that James wants to emphasize in this passage?

 

References:

The Letter of James, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

The Message of James, J.A. Motyer, Inter-Varsity Press.