ďJustified By WorksĒ†† Genesis 22:15-19 †††(James 2:14-26)†††††† August 30, 2009
SI:† We are studying the life of Abraham, Genesis chapters 12-25.
Last week we looked at the most significant episode in Abrahamís lifeó
†† the sacrifice of Isaac.† And we saw a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ
†† in Abrahamís offering of Isaac, and the Lordís provision of a ram as a substitute.
We continue the story this week and have already read, earlier in the service,
†† what the Lord said to Abraham.† How he praised his obedience
†† and promised blessing and salvation on account of his obedience.
The book of James has such an important interpretation of these part
†† of the story, that Iím going to do something a little different this morning.
Iím going to focus on the James passage primarily, and use it as a NT lens
†† to see what was going on spiritually when the Lord spoke to Abraham
†† after the sacrifice.† And weíll see how that applies to us.
Once again, reading from the English Standard Version.
†† Excellent and very literal translation
†† which is important for understanding this passage.†
INTRO:† A few months ago I got into a theological conversation
†† with my Catholic neighbor, as we sometimes do.†
And in this particular conversation, we got to the most important topic of all.†
†† How are you right with God?† He said:†
Through faith in Christ and the merits of our obedience.†
And I said:† (What do you think I said?)
†† No, weíre right with God through faith in Christ alone.
Our obedience counts for nothing in making us right with God.
†† The only merit that counts is the merit of Jesusí life and death.
†† Our works have nothing to do with it.
Then I quoted Ephesians 2:8-9,
ďFor it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves,
†† it is the gift of God, not by works, so than no one can boast.Ē
And my neighbor responded with a gracious comment.
†† Thatís what I admire about you Protestants, you know the Bible.
But what if he had responded with his own Bible verse?
What if he had pulled out James chapter 2?
†† ďYou see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.† Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?† You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.Ē
How do you explain those verses?† Itís especially challenging when you remember
†† that Paul, in Romans uses the very same words and seems to say the opposite.
He says bluntly in Romans 3, ďFor we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart
†† from observing the law.Ē† And then he also appeals to the example of Abraham,
†† and says that Abraham was not justified by works.
James says Abraham was justified by works.†
†† Paul says he wasnít.† Itís as stark as that.†
†† So is the Bible contradicting itself?† Not at all.†
We know historically that both of these men were in complete agreement.
†† They met together at the first Jerusalem Assembly that dealt with this very issue.
†† There were in complete agreement on the relationship of faith and works.
Whatís going on is simply that Paul and James were using the word ďjustifiedĒ
†† in two different ways to make two different points.
Justify can mean to make right.
†† If you paid off a debt and made things right between you and your creditor.†
†† You could say you were justified.† You were made right by that payment.
But justify can also mean to prove right.
†† Someone could say to you, ďJustify that statement.Ē†
†† That doesnít mean make it true but prove itís true.
So Paul is saying you canít be made right with God, canít be justified,
†† except through the merit of Jesus Christ, received by faith alone.
†† Your works have no part in making you right with God.
James is not contradicting that.† Not saying, Yes you can be made right by works.
†† He is saying that your works prove that you are right with God.
†† They donít make you justified, they prove you are justified.
A mere profession of faith in Jesus is not enough to prove you are right with God,
†† there must be works in your life that accompany and complete your faith.
So James looks at this great episode in the life of Abrahamóoffering of Isaac,
†† and he says, Abraham was justified by that.† His faith was proved true.
Just to show once more that James is not saying that we earn our salvation
†† by his obedience, just look a few verses earlier in chapter two.
†† Those who are rich in faith ďinherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him.Ē
An inheritance is not something you earn by working.† Itís not a wage.
†† It doesnít come by effort but by relationship.† Itís who you are by virtue of grace.
†† James doesnít say we earn salvationóbut we are heirs of salvation.
So James is making a different point from Paul.
†† Itís not how you get savedóbut how you know you are saved.
†† What does true, saving faith look like?† Or living faith, as James calls it.
Faith like Abrahamís brought with it Godís commendation
†† and the renewed promise of blessing and eternal life?
And, of course, the more personal question is:
†† How do you know that you have living faith?
Thatís Jamesí concern.† Thatís why he wants us to look at our father Abraham.
†† So letís do so, under two headings.
†† 1.† Insufficient signs of saving faith.†
†† 2.† Sufficient signs of saving faith
†† Weíll study and apply to ourselves.
MP#1† Insufficient signs of saving faith
James starts by looking in a direction that is very surprisingódemons.
†† He starts by looking at the faith of demons.
We donít know much about the angelic world.† Bible doesnít tell us much.
But what we do know is that demons are fallen angels.
†† Before God created the physical world of animals and mankind,
†† he created a spiritual world of angels.† Angel means messenger.† Sent one.
†† Angels were made to be sent by God to carry out his purposes.
At some point there was a rebellion against God among the angels, a fall.
†† Bible hints that one third of all the angels rebelled, led by Satan.
These angels are now called demons or evil spirits.
†† So demons are thinking, emotional, personal, spiritual beings.
†† They are committed to evil and rebellion against God.
James says, look at the faith of demons.† There are two things their faith has
†† that are fine things in themselves, nothing wrong with these things.
But if you have just those things, you can still be a demon.†
†† What are they?
First, sound doctrine.†
†† ďYou believe that God is one; you do well.† Even the demons believe . . .Ē
The statement ďGod is oneĒ is from Deuteronomy 6, passage called the Shema,
†† The Shema was like the Apostlesí Creed of the OT church.
†† ďHear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.Ē
So James is not just referring to one simple believe in the existence of God.
†† The oneness of God is the first heading of a statement of faith.
†† James is saying that the demons know and believe all of theology.
Jonathan Edwards wrote a sermon on this verse titled:
†† ďTrue Grace Distinguished from the Experience of DevilsĒ
Says demons are great theologians.† This is the way he puts it:†
†† ďThe devils have all been to the greatest divinity school in the universe,
†† the heaven of heavens.Ē†
The devils have been to seminary.† Your pastor has been to seminary and the
†† demons have too.† And what a seminaryóthe throne room of God.
So they know more sound doctrine and more about God,
†† than the greatest saint on earth.†
And thereís nothing wrong with that.† Nothing wrong with sound doctrine.
†† In fact, you ought to do all you can to grow in sound doctrine,
†† and a deeper understanding of spiritual things.
But you can have that, and still not have saving faith.†
I had a professor who told how he was once hitchhiking home during
†† his college days (back when college students did that).† Picked up by a trucker.
He started witnessing to this truck driver.† And man displayed a perfect command
†† of the Christian faith.† In fact he said, I believe Jesus is the son of God.
†† I believe he died on the cross for my sins.† I believe heís coming again.
Then he said, But itís like this:† I love the ladies.†
†† And I have one in every city.† And I want to have my fun.
Dr. Doriani asked: Can such a faith save?†
†† Will that kind of faith unite him to Christ for eternal life?
He had sound doctrine and he believed, but you can have that and still be a demon.
†† I think thatís pretty easy for us to see.†
But then James adds something thatís really sobering.†
Second, not only do they have sound doctrineó
†† ďthe demons believeóand shudder.Ē
†† They donít just know it.† The believe it so strongly that they shudder.
Let that sink in for a minute.† The demons have such a strong belief
†† in the power and greatness and wisdom of God,
†† such a strong belief in who he is, and what he can do,
†† and what he will do on the day of judgment, that they shudder.
People can do the same.† They can believe in God so strongly that they
†† are afraid of him, afraid of his judgment, afraid of hell.
†† They respect God.† They know he sees all that they do.
Oftentimes that belief makes them very religious. †Often it makes them very moral.
†† Unlike the man Dr. Doriani met, they avoid blatant immorality.
But what is all their religion and morality?† Itís shuddering.
†† Itís hedging their bets so that they come out ok on the day of judgment.
And there is a more comprehensive point that James is making.
This word shudder is really a broader word than just shuddering in fear.
†† Itís a word used to describe a purely emotional response.†
So Jamesí point is that †
†† even an emotional response to God is not enough to save you.†
Even if you had a great feeling and shouted and wept and spoke in tonguesó
†† those highly charged emotions do not in themselves amount to saving faith.
There are many, many people who say they know their faith is real
†† because they once had a strong emotional response when they heard the Gospel,
†† but their faith is never justified by their works.
Simon the magician in Acts 8 is an example.
It says that he believed and was baptized.†
†† That he followed Philip and the other disciples and was astonished
†† at the miracles they performed.† There was a strong emotional component.
But his faith was proved to be false.
†† Peter said to him, May your money perish with you.
In fact, conversion experiences arenít even limited to Christianity.
†† Malcolm Xís conversion to Islam while he was in prison is quite famous.
†† It was accompanied by very strong emotions and significant behavior changes.†
Listen to what James is saying.† Nothing wrong with having sound doctrine.
†† You have to know who God is.† You have to know who Jesus is.
†† You have to understand sin and the cross and salvation.
Nothing wrong with having a vivid sense of Godís power and holy hatred of sin.
†† And having a sensitized conscience and a trembling at Godís judgments.
And there is certainly nothing wrong with having a profound emotional
†† response to the Gospel, and a dramatic experience you never forget.†
We love conversion stories.† Not greater story than Paul being knocked off his horse
†† by the appearance of Christ.† And we love to hear people tell of
† †how they heard the Good News and were overwhelmed with emotion.
But those things alone are insufficient for saving faith.
So the personal question that hits you between the eyes is this:
†† Is my faith more than that?
Is it more than doctrinal belief and emotions?
†† And if it is more than that, then what is it?
That brings to second point . . .
MP#2† Sufficient signs of saving faith
James calls saving faith, living faith.† For a person to be alive, you donít just add
†† up the parts.† He has legs and arms and heartóso he must be alive.
†† There has to be vitality.† There has to be this mysterious life force.
Itís the same with living faith.† It has a life force that shows itself in two ways.
†† Saving faith is alive toward other people and alive toward God.
First, saving faith is alive toward other people.
James starts with a negative example:
†† ďIf a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ĎGo in peace, be warmed and filled,í without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?† So also, faith by itself if it does not have works is dead.Ē
You may hear that and say.† Oh, no.† Iím in trouble.†
†† Iíve never served in a soup kitchen.† Iíve never helped in a food bank.†
†† Where can I do it?† Where can I sign up?† Thatís not what this means.†
James is not saying that you have to add the activity of helping the poor
†† and that makes your faith saving faith.† Even pagans can add activities.†
There are many moralists and do-gooders who think they are earning points
†† with God by helping the poor and homeless.
†† Their activity is just shuddering religion.†
He is saying that if you have saving faith in Jesus Christ, that faith will be
†† alive toward people.† You will see people.† You will have compassion for them.
If they are suffering, you will move toward them and enter into their
†† suffering and do what you can to bring comfort and help.
Iíve been reading a book called ďLove Walked Among UsĒ by Paul Miller.
†† The seed for the book started when Paulís wife Jill asked him one evening,
ďPaul, do you love me?Ē† They were going through some hard times then,
†† and it was at the end of a particularly hard day.† He thought she just needed
†† to be reassured.† He said, Yes, Jill, I love you.
But then she asked him again:† Do you love me?†
†† And then a third time:† Do you love me?† Each time he said yes.
He went to bed making a list in his mind of all the things he did for his wife.†
†† All the problems he fixed.† All the chores he did.
But her question gnawed at him and so he asked himself,
†† How did Jesus love people?† Started to read the Gospels to answer that question.
So thatís what the book is about.† Itís about the way Jesus loved people.†
One of the first points Paul Miller makes is how many times the Gospels tell us
† †that Jesus saw people and looked at people.† Over 40 times.
And after he looked at them, he moved toward them in compassion.
The miracle at Nain is a good example.† A crowd was following Jesus.
†† As they came into this village, another crowd is going outófuneral procession.
†† They were carrying the body of a young man, only child of a widow.
Where did Jesusí eyes immediately focus?† On the widow.
†† ďAnd when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ĎDo not weep.íĒ
So out of this large crowd, Jesusí eyes were on just one person.†
†† He really saw her.† And then he moved toward her to alleviate her suffering.
†† You remember what happened next.† He raised her son from the dead.
When he did, the crowd started shouting in amazement that a great prophet
†† had appeared.† So Jesus was suddenly the center of the attention of both crowds.
But instead of saying to himself, Iíve fixed her problem, I can move on to the next
†† thing on my agenda, he continued to focus on the widow. †Gave son to her.
Paul Miller applied it this way.† He said, Iím good at raising dead sons and
† †then looking for the next dead son to raise, but itís hard for me to look at people.
In other words, itís easy for me to fix problems and do chores, and treat people as
†† projects.† But it takes a living faith in Christ to really be alive to people.†
What about you?† Howís your faith.† Are you alive to people so that you see them,
†† especially in their suffering and then move toward them?†
Thatís risky, isnít it?† You donít know what is going to be demanded of you.
†† You donít know what it might require in terms of your time, emotions, resources.
†† James mentions Rahab as an example.† Courage and risk she took with spies.
There are people in your life who you need to serve.† You canít.† Too selfish.
†† Look at them, move toward them, and pray:† Lord, help me to justify my faith by
†† my works. †Help me prove my faith in Christ is real by the way I treat this person.
Second, saving faith is alive toward God.
Now we finally get to Abraham.† Let me read you again what James says.
†† Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ďAbraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousnessĒóand he was called a friend of God.
Did you catch those last words?† Abraham was Godís friend.
That means Abraham didnít obey because he wanted something from God.
†† He didnít obey because he was scared of what would happen if he didnít.
†† He didnít obey purely out of duty.
He obeyed to get closer to God.
†† He obeyed as a living expression of his friendship.
And that really is the difference between dead faith and living faith.
†† Dead faith can see lots of things about God.
It can see the power of God, the holiness of God, justice of God,
†† even something of the love and kindness of God.
But this is what dead faith canít see:† the loveliness of God, the desirability of God.
†† Living faith delights in God as God.
Living faith wants to please God because of who he is,
†† not for what you can get from him.†
We have a young driver in our family.†
†† And she will say, can I take the car and go see my friends?
We will say, how long will you be?† Donít know.
†† Where are yíall going?† Donít know.
†† What will you be doing?† Donít know.
Is there an agenda for this outing?† Whatís the purpose?
And, of course, there is no agenda.† Thatís what you do with friends.
†† You just hang out.† You just enjoy their company.
†† You delight in them as your friends.†
†† You do things for them and with them because they are friends.
And if you go to spend time with them in order to get something from them,
†† then you are just using them.
Works performed in hopes of gaining Godís favor are worthless.
†† They are just attempts to use God.† God, Iíve lived right, now you owe me.
But there is another motive for works.
†† The Bible says that faith works through love, it says that works demonstrate faith.
The knowledge that God has been gracious to us when we were unworthy
†† and helpless always produces a desire to please God with good worksó
†† obeying his commandments, serving his cause in the world.
And thatís what we have here in Genesis 22.† Exactly that sequence.
Abraham believed God.† And through his faith he received Christís righteousness.
†† And then being a believer, and knowing Godís love and grace to him,
†† he loved God in return.
He demonstrated that love in the confidence he placed in Godís word,
†† and the obedience he offered to his God and Savior, even when hard.
Hereís what it comes down to:†
The Christian life is a life of faith in God, trust and confidence in his Word,
†† and in the mercy offered to us in Christó
And, it is also a matter of obedience to God, doing what our Savior says,
†† no matter what.†
Make sure, that like Abraham, you are trusting Christ for your righteousness
†† with God, Jesus and nobody else.
And, at the same time, put on holiness and obedience in the conviction
†† that only faith followed by works is true, saving faith,
†† and only works done in faith and love amount to anything.
It has to be bothóJust like Abraham.
Never excuse your lack of obedience by appealing to the fact that you believe
†† in Christ, and never imagine that your works are enough to make you right
†† with God, only faith in the one who died for you.
And thatís where you must continually lookóto the death of Christ, to the cross.
†† God said to Abraham on the mountain.† Stop.† Donít slay your son.
†† Now I know your heart.†
But on that hill outside Jerusalem, God did not stop himself.
†† He sent his only son to death for you and for me.†
And you can look at that and say:† God, now I know your heart.
†† Now I know your love.† And thatís where you get the faith for a life of obedience.
†† faith in God and a life of obedience to him.