James 2: 14-26
A faith that is not acted out is really no faith at all. What we do reveals who we are. The genuineness of one’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is evidenced more by what a person does than by what he claims.
In the cases of Abraham and Rahab, they were justified not by their words of faith, or worship ritual, or any other religious activity. In both cases their faith was demonstrated by action, by putting everything that was dear to them on the line for the Lord and entrusting it to Him without reservation. They were supremely committed to the Lord, whatever the cost. Abraham and Rahab stand for all time as examples of those whose living faith passed the test.
In Genesis 22 God told Abraham to take “your son…and offer him.” These startling commands activated a special testing ordeal for Abraham, i.e., to sacrifice his “only son” Isaac. This sacrifice meant killing on the altar the son he had waited so long for. It meant not only cutting off his son’s life, but also cutting off the channel through which God had promised to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant that would make Abraham the father of a great nation. Though God’s command may not have made sense, Abraham obeyed in faith, and God stopped him before the act. It was that faith that God honored.
Abraham, whose faith itself was a gift of God, was nevertheless justified by works. Justification by faith pertains to a person’s standing before God, whereas the justification by works that James speaks of in this verse pertains to a person’s standing before other men.
Abraham was not a perfect man, either in his faith or in his works. After many years had passed without Sarah’s having the promised heir, he took matters into his own hands, having a son, Ishmael, by Hagar, his wife’s maid. In other instances, such as when he lied twice about Sarah being his sister. But in the overall pattern of his life, Abraham faithfully vindicated his faith through his many good works, above all else by offering Isaac as a sacrifice. When a man is justified before God, he will always prove that justification before other men.
It cannot be stressed too often that no one can be saved by work. Salvation is entirely “by grace…through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But neither can it be stressed too often that, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). Genuine, transforming faith not only should, but will, produce genuine good works, notably repentance and obedient submission to Christ’s lordship. We might say that it costs us nothing to become a Christian but everything to live fully as one.
Excerpt from James: Guidelines for a Happy Christian Life by John MacArthur