Here is the first of two biblical examples that James gives to underscore the importance of works.
Jam. 2:21-24 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (22) Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (23) And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (24) Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Let’s rearrange the content of verses 21 – 23 to put them in time order. We’ll start by figuring out when Abraham believed God.
Gen. 15:4-6 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. (5) And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. (6) And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham believed God and God declared him righteous before Isaac was born. Obviously, Abraham didn’t offer Isaac until years after he was born (Gen. 22). So Abraham’s justification in God’s sight was a result of his faith and preceded his sacrifice.
Abraham showed that his faith was real when he obeyed God and offered Isaac.
Heb. 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, (18) Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: (19) Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Abraham’s act of faith was the fulfillment, or completion, of his faith. His faith and justification were real before that moment. If he had turned away from God’s command it would have revealed that his faith was dead.
I think “ye see” is a key phrase in this passage. It’s really the point James is trying to make. We can only prove and show to others the faith in our hearts by what we do. If what we believe doesn’t affect what we do, then our faith is false, empty, dead. Faith must produce works, or it isn’t the kind of faith that justifies us in God’s sight.
How’s It Going?
- Would there be enough evidence to convict you if you were on trial for being a Christian?
- Put another way, do your works back up the faith you say you have?
Read James 2:25-26 for Monday. When did Rahab believe God? When did her works reveal her faith? Also, review chapter two and note what you’ve learned from it. What changes do you need to make based on what you’ve discovered?