Being religious isn’t enough. Saying you have faith or are spiritual just does not cut it. It’s all too cheap. It is no accident that the greatest critics of religion are Biblical authors like James. In this passage he shows us not only where faith goes desperately wrong but where it goes unexpectedly right. [Audio | Notes]
For further thought
- Many people make faith claims and it is impolite in our culture to question people’s internal convictions. Yet James asks whether an entirely private faith is can save us? (14). He insists that faith must be objectively verified to determine whether it is the real thing or not (18). He illustrates his point with four scenarios and statements that seem to contradict Paul’s well known teaching on the relationship between faith and works (17, 24, 26 compare with Romans 3:19-21 or Galatians 2:15-17).
- The four scenarios James uses to illustrate faith are:
- Comfortable religion (15-17)
- Orthodox demons (19)
- Abraham’s intention to sacrifice Isaac (20-24)
- Rahab of Jericho helping the Israelite spies (25,26)
- Q: What characterises the faith of the comfortably religious and the demons? (for insight into what the demons believe yet don’t do see Deuteronomy 6:4,5)
- Q: What are marks of genuine faith in the last two scenarios?
- James has carefully chosen the two examples of real faith: Abraham’s faith struggled for twenty five years between the time of God’s promise (Genesis 12, confirmed in Genesis 15) and its fulfilment in the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21). In many respects he is compromised and yet, despite his mistakes, he persists in trusting God.
- Q: What were some of Abraham’s mistakes during his time waiting for God to honour his promises?
- At this time in Canaan it was common enough for people to offer their children to idols but it is shocking to find this as a command of the Lord God whose character is to be just and to defend the weak rather than destroy them.
- Q: What are the indications that Abraham knew this was a personal test specifically for him?
- Q: What insight does Genesis 22:5 & 8 give you into what Abraham expected to happen as he went to sacrifice Isaac? (see also Hebrews 11:17-19)
- Rahab of Jericho (Joshua 6) is a Canaanite (of a violent and tragic race), a foreign woman (forbidden in marriage to Israelites and of a tribe cursed by the law of Moses. For example; Geneses 28:1, Exodus 34:15,16), a prostitute (commonly by necessity), a betrayer of her own people and a believer with true faith in the Lord God who ends up in the family line of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).
- Q: Why has James chosen examples of struggle and compromise to illustrate true faith and examples of inaction to illustrate false faith?
- Q: What is the place of God’s grace in Abraham’s and Rahab’s lives?
- James is a provocative preacher and seems to parody Paul at several points in this passage. Compare what James writes here with what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10 (you may also like to read Matthew 7:21-23, 25:31-46). Are James and Paul in conflict?
- More examples of Paul’s writing on Grace/Faith and Works can be found in Ephesians 4:1,17-32; 5:20; Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:13-26; Titus 3:4-8