World English Bible translation
2:19You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. 2:20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? 2:21 Wasn't Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 2:22 You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected; 2:23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness;" and he was called the friend of God. 2:24 You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. 2:25 In like manner wasn't Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? 2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.
James is continuing his discussion about pure religion. Pure religion begins with helping the helpless, the widows and orphans. It proceeds to keeping oneself unstained from the world and to not showing favoritism toward men based on their worldly possessions. James concludes this section with his discussion of faith and works. James is writing to believers, specifically a set of believers in Christ that also happen to be Jews. This group, though small by our own experience, was undoubtedly the vast majority, if not all, of the believers that James came in contact with during his life.
James uses a metaphor that we have continued to extend. God plants his word into the hearts of believers, like a seed or a sapling: "the implanted word." The word of faith grows in our lives and cannot be hid. So, James concludes, "faith" that does not produce works in the life of the believer that they and others can see is not the implanted word. Faith that does not produce the works of God in our lives cannot be faith that God recognizes and acknowledges.
In Today's Scripture James answers a question that would naturally arise from what he wrote in the previous section. Clearly stated, that question would be "What kind of faith does God acknowledge then?" Many people believe that God exists. Even the Jewish leaders that crucified our Lord believed in God and in what they understood of His revelation to Moses. Every day, pious Jews would begin their devotions with the Shema, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One." Such faith did not allow them to see the revelation of God in Christ, however. James goes even further and writes that even demons believe that God is one. So, what kind of faith is God looking for?
James holds up two examples from Old Testament scriptures, specifically from Genesis: Abraham and Rahab. God spoke with Abraham. Abraham believed God and for the rest of his life he acted as though he believed what God had said to him. That is the kind of faith that God desires from us. We have heard the word of God. God expects and desires that we live our lives as though what we have heard was true. You have heard God say, "Love your neighbor as yourself." God expects you to love your neighbor as you do your very life. In this way we show the life of the implanted word in our hearts.
As for Rahab, she was a prostitute living in a city of infidels. But, Rahab heard about the people of God and threw her lot in with them. She sheltered the Israeli spies and saw them safely out of the city. When that mighty city fell, God spared her and brought her in to His own household. She became a respected woman and she is even listed in the lineage of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
When the word of God is planted in us, it has the capacity to grow and take over all of our lives. But, it will only do so if the heart is surrendered to God. We can choke it back with the hardness of our hearts or we can give it free reign and allow it to overgrow everything in our lives. In the end, the implanted word will have its own way, for He is alive and He is God. Where God lives, God reigns. But, God allows us to freely choose the extent to which His life within us will affect our day to day existence. Those who surrender freely to the implanted word will experience the life of God growing within them more freely. Those who begrudge the implanted word, who continue to live by their own desires, will not experience the life of God as directly. They deny themselves the experience of living as true children of God.
So, James concludes, just as apart from the body the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead. Abraham believed, and he lived his life according to his beliefs. Rahab believed. Not only did she risk her life once based on her belief but also she continued to live as a pious woman even after she came to live with the children of Israel. This is the faith that God acknowledges. This is the faith that demonstrates the existence of the implanted word.
One more word here, and this one on a more personal note. I have seen and personally experienced a trap that every Christian falls into because of our own misinterpretations of passages such as these. Never in this passage does James charge me with the duty to go out and inspect the works of other Christians. James is calling everyone who calls themselves a believer to inspect their own lives and their own faith. There are times when we are charged to judge another's actions. James will mention one of these times in the next section, when a person receives a call to teach. I think another time is when an assembly chooses leadership who they would follow. But, aside from those specific occasions, God does not give me the authority to judge your life. He is my Father and my judge; those of you in Christ are my sisters and brothers. It is not the job of the child to manage the household. That is the Father's duties and He does it very well, thank you. When we deal with one another, let us do so on the basis of being the beloved children of God, for that is what we are. The Father loves you and has the ultimate responsibility for and control over your life. Thank God, because of that, I do not have to have control over you.
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