Lesson 20. The Demonstration of Saving Faith (2:21-26) PART 2
by John Lowe
Abraham offered up his son; Rahab received the messengers of Israel, associating herself with the people of God when everything was against them and separating herself from her people by faith. All sacrificed for God, all given up for His people before they had gained one victory, and while the world was in full power, such were the fruits of faith. One referred to God (Abraham); and believed Him in the absolute way, against all that is in nature on which nature can count; the other (Rahab) owned God's people when all was against them; but neither were they blessed by the fruit of an amiable spirit or natural good, such as men call good works. One was a father going to put his son to death, the other a bad woman betraying her country. Certainly, the scripture was fulfilled, which said that Abraham believed God. How could he have acted as he did if he had not believed Him? Works put a seal on his faith: and faith without works is like the body without the soul and outward form devoid of the life that animates it. Faith acts in the works (without it, the works are a nothingness, they are not those of the new life), and the works complete the faith which acts in them; for despite trial, and in the trial, faith is active. Works of law have no part in it. The outward direction that extracts is not a life that produces (apart from this divine nature), which, having God and His people for their object, value nothing else.
James never says that works justify us before God, for God can see the faith without its works. He knows that life is there. It is an exercise concerning Him, by trust in His word, in Himself, by receiving His testimony despite everything within and without. This God sees and knows. But when our fellow-creatures are in question, when it must be said "show me," then faith and life show.
23And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
"A friend of God is not one who talks about God, but one who walks with God. "Abraham fulfilled the Scripture that God had Moses record in Genesis 15:63 which speaks of Abraham's faith and declares his righteousness. By offering up his son, Abraham showed clear proof of his faith in God. Through Moses's words, the Holy Spirit spoke of his strong faith in God, that he is a friend of God, and the reason there was to believe that he was a justified person. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted (imputed) to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3)2. Abraham loved God, and showed himself friendly to him; trusted in him, and believed every word of his; readily complied with his will, and not only yielded cheerful obedience to his commands but urged his children after him to observe them. This was a name which Abraham was well-known by among the eastern nations; hence he is called by the Mahometans, hlla lylx, "Khalil Allah," the friend of God; and Mahomet says himself, "God took Abraham for his friend."
Abraham fulfills the truth of Genesis 15:63; it was seen to be true. Here was a man who believed in God in the most challenging circumstances. Genesis 22 is a much more demanding situation than Genesis 15.
“the friend of God” (cf, 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa, 41:8) - James may have had the events of Genesis 18:17,18 in view also. The emphasis is on the close relationship that Abraham enjoyed with God. Jesus calls His followers "friends" in John 15:14,15.
(2 Chron. 20:7) “Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham, Your friend forever?”
(Isa. 41:8) “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham, My friend.”
(John 15:14-15) “14“You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
24You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Can you see then how works can justify a man? Not as causes procuring his justification, but as effects declaring it; for the best works are imperfect, and cannot justify righteousness in the sight of God, and are unprofitable in this respect; for when they are performed in the best manner, they amount to nothing other than what is a man's duty to perform, and therefore cannot justify one from sin he has committed: and besides, justification in this sense would frustrate the grace of God, make void the death of Christ, and encourage boasting in men. Good works do not go before justification as causes or conditions but follow it as fruits and effects. And not by faith only: or as faith without works, or a mere historical theology, which being without works is dead, of which the apostle is speaking; and therefore can bear no testimony to a man's justification; hence it appears, that the Apostle James does not contradict the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:284, since they do not speak of the same sort of faith; the one speaks of a mere profession of faith, a dead and lifeless one; the other of a true faith, which has Christ, and his righteousness, for its object, and works by love, and produces peace, joy, and comfort in the soul. Moreover, the Apostle Paul speaks of justification before God; and James speaks of it as it is known by its fruits unto men; the one speaks of a justification of their persons, in the sight of God; the other of the justification and approbation of their cause, their conduct, and their faith before men, and the vindication of them from all charges and character assinations of hypocrisy, and the like; the one speaks of good works as causes, which he denies to have any place as such in justification; and the other speaks of them as effects flowing from faith, and showing the truth of it, and so of justification by it; the one had to do with legalists who sought righteousness not by faith, but by the works of the law, whom he opposed; and the other had to do with libertines, who cried up faith and knowledge, but had no regard to a religious life and conversation; and these things considered will tend to reconcile the two apostles about this business, but as effects declaring it; for the best works are imperfect, and cannot be a righteousness justifying in the sight of God, and are unprofitable in this respect; for when they are performed in the best manner, they are no other than what it is a man's duty to perform, and therefore cannot justify the one that has committed sin: and besides, justification in this sense would frustrate the grace of God, make void the death of Christ, and encourage boasting in men. Good works do not go before justification as causes or conditions but follow it as fruits and effects.
This verse is an answer to the question in verse 14. The issue is salvation: "Can that faith save him?" The answer is no because "a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." The last part of this verse is crucial to understanding the relationship between faith, works, and justification. The issue is not justification by faith vs. justification by works, but justification by faith alone vs. justification by faith which produces works
25Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
Hebrews 11:315 lists Rahab among the Old Testament giants in the faith, saying, "Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works." James and Hebrews taken together show that saving faith always results in action.
A good place to begin Rahab’s story is the time when spies sent by Israel went immediately to Rahab’s house (said to be a house of entertainment) upon entering the city. (Note: Rahab’s story is told here but has been placed at the end of this lesson to be read alone if so desired.) But why did they go there, for it seems like a foolish thing to do, as was Salmon's marrying her, which might be thought strange that a prince of Israel would marry a woman with a lousy reputation; to which may be added testimonies for her by both our apostle, and by James, and her making no mention of her husband and children, when she agreed with the spies, confirm her generally accepted character, that she was a harlot. It has to do with her business; she operated a house of prostitution.