Jamesby Douglas Estes
James now tackles objections he predicts will be raised to his statement on faith and works (Day 14, James 2:14-17). This involves a series of examples and questions.
The primary objection that James predicts is the argument that faith and deeds are valid individually; they can be split among people, similar to gifts (v. 18). As if this were possible! James teases his challenger, suggesting that he shows his ″faith without deeds″ (v. 18). Since faith is an internal commitment, how can one demonstrate it outwardly if not through deeds? In short, one cannot. Thus, James is telling his opponent that because he has genuine faith, he can demonstrate faith externally-by his actions. People demonstrate real faith through loving action.
James points out that his challenger may have accurate theology-belief in one God (v. 19). But he then uses hyperbole to suggest that even the worst creatures-demons-have ″good theology″ in that regard, as they too believe in one God. Yet demons do not have commitment to that one God, nor do they engage in good works because of Christ's sacrifice.
Calling his hypothetical challenger ″foolish″ (v. 20), James then raises another series of questions. While the readers of his letter are not his challengers, James uses a rhetorical strategy to put his readers in the midst of the debate.
The questions revolve around two examples. First, the deeds of Abraham (vv. 21-24). James asks whether it was the actions of Abraham-his willingness to sacrifice Isaac-that made him righteous (see Hebrews 11:17). James' next statement is perhaps his most important: ″You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did″ (James 2:22). James is not arguing for works alone nor downplaying the importance of faith. Rather, he is explaining that faith and works are two parts of the same whole in a person who is truly following Christ.
Second, the deeds of Rahab the prostitute (vv. 25-26). James asks whether it was the actions of Rahab-risking her life to give assistance to the enemy-that made her righteous. The answer is clear. Rahab's action was an expression of her faith (Joshua 2:9-11). With the example of Abraham (man, patriarch of Israel) and Rahab (woman, foreigner), James shows that faith must be accompanied by deeds for all believers. James' prediction of challenges to his explanation of the relationship between faith and works echoes Jesus' critique of the Pharisees (e.g., Matthew 12:33-37). A challenger may argue that correct beliefs are merely enough to please God. If that were true, would that also mean that correct works are merely enough to please God?
In order to please God, you must believe and do (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). Right doing starts with right believing, and right believing is evidenced by right doing. Today, let us answer James' hypothetical question with our lives-living both with faith in Christ and deeds for Christ.
Why do accurate beliefs only go so far?
How can we check our faith against our works? What about our works against our faith?