Part 7 – Expression of the Character and Will of God Himself
This is part 7 of a 15 part Bible Study on the book of James .
Compiled and written by Norma Becker – a true woman of God and God’s word.
*The Index, with links, to all 15 parts is at the bottom of each page.
Expression of the Character and Will of God Himself
James 2: 10-25
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:10-11).
Although God’s law has many facets, it is essentially only one, being the expression of the character and will of God himself. To violate the law at any one point is to violate the will of God and to contradict the character of God. The same God who said,
“Do not commit adultery,”
“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
The person who breaks just one law has become a lawbreaker. Although just one commandment is broken, the entire law of God has been flouted. When viewed like this, an act of favoritism is far from insignificant.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13).
God has ordained unalterable laws. Complete and consistent obedience is required if spiritual maturity is to be attained. The recipient of mercy should likewise be merciful. Mercy should be the mark of the regenerate person. Just as the law of love doesn’t give you the right to show disrespect to others; the possession of faith doesn’t give you the right to not do good works.
A believer should not only demonstrate his love by readily accepting others but he should also demonstrate his faith by helping others.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
In verse 14 James emphasizes that this person’s faith is based on a false claim of faith.
Merely Claiming to Have Faith is Not Enough
Genuine faith affects the believer’s behaviour and is evidenced by works. In verses 15 and 16 the problem is illustrated by an example that is ridiculous. For someone in need of the basics of life, sentimental good wishes do little good. If nothing is done to fill the need, what good is it? It is worthless if it is all talk and no walk.
“Faith not accompanied by action is dead” (James 2:17).
This states the problem he will demonstrate in the next verses. Action is the proper fruit of living faith. If no deeds are forthcoming, it is proof that the professed faith is dead. Notice that James does not deny that it is faith. He simply indicates that it is not the right kind of faith. It is not living faith, nor can it save.
Now he Presents his Argument
”But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God, Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:18-19).
To answer that ‘someone’ he points out that works are necessary to prove that a person has faith. That someone seems to say that faith and works are not necessarily related to each other and that it is possible to have either one without the other. To this James responds with,
“Show me your faith without deeds.”
He is implying that faith can’t be demonstrated without action. Faith is an attitude of the inner person and it can only be seen if it influences the actions of the one who possesses it. Mere profession of faith proves nothing as to its reality; only action can demonstrate that faith is genuine. So James says,
“I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Even the Demons Believe….
The next argument to support his statement of
“Faith not accompanied by action is dead”
deals with the fact that the demons believe that there is one God. That God is one was a basic truth of Jewish orthodoxy, but acceptance of a creed is not enough to save a person.
To prove his point, he says that even demons believe the Shema. He is really chastising the sophisticated individual who says,
“I am a religious intellectual, but I’m not interested in involvement.”
Just like the demons whose theology is impeccable because they know much more than any earthly intellectual will ever know, their belief adds up to nothing.
Another argument to support what he is saying is in verse 20-25:
“You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that 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,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
Verse 21 is often seen as directly opposed to Paul’s statement that Abraham’s faith, not his works, caused God to declare him righteous.
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:1-5).
Paul was arguing for the priority of faith. James argues for the proof of faith. Paul declared that Abraham had faith, and was therefore justified, or declared righteous. Genesis 15:6 says,
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it (i.e., faith, not works) to him as righteousness.”
Abraham’s act of faith occurred before he offered up Isaac, which was only a proof of the genuineness of his faith. As Paul wrote, in Galatians 5:6,
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Faith that saves produces deeds.”
JI Packer says,
“James quotes Genesis 15:6 for the same purpose as Paul does – to show that it was faith that secured Abraham’s acceptance as righteous. But now, he says, this Scripture was fulfilled or confirmed and proved true by a later event when he was ‘justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac.’ Abraham’s act proved the reality of his faith, and so of his acceptance with God. James is pointing out that a bare profession of faith, unaccompanied by the good works which true faith would produce, doesn’t prove that a person is saved.”
Verse 25 refers to the story of Rahab. This example is really in contrast to Abraham. Rahab was a woman, a Gentile and a prostitute. She was chosen perhaps to show that James’ argument covered the widest ranges of possibilities. In the Greek there is a word KAI which makes to say, EVEN Rahab. She, like Abraham, evidenced her faith by action.
Then James concludes by using the human body as an illustration. The body without the spirit is nothing but a corpse. Faith without deeds is as dead as a corpse and equally useless. Faith and deeds are inseparable. If there are no acts coming from faith, that faith is no more alive than the body without the spirit.
Part 8: Spiritual Maturity
Index of James Bible Study
Part 1 Who is James?
Part 2 When and to Whom Was James Written?
Part 3 How to Welcome Trials with an Attitude of Joy?
Part 4 What Does ‘Tempt’ Mean?
Part 5 What is the Key to Responding to Trials?
Part 6 Those with True Religion Should Serve
Part 7 Expression of the Character and Will of God Himself
Part 8 Spiritual Maturity
Part 9 Spiritual Maturity continued…
Part 10 What Causes Fights and Quarrels Among You?
Part 11 Is This How We Are To Be?
Part 12 What About My Plans?
Part 13 Let God be the Judge
Part 14 The Power of Prayer & Praise
Part 15 Summary and last part