"Faith without works is Nothing!".
I heard this from the pulpit many times in my youth..
"Show me your faith and I'll show you my faith by my works"
... the preacher yells. And after a while it becomes a lecture, usually about service, and in a condemning and/or accusing tone. The tune is the same
- Are you serving in your church?
- If not, why not?
- If so, why aren't you serving more?
And thus the message becomes a recruiting drive to get more people to serve in the church.
Whats wrong with that you ask? Well, for one, I don't believe in condemning people in any messages from the pulpit. There is no room for fire and brimstone, trying to scare unbelievers to believe, and to get your congregation to give more.
People will believe if you preach God's love, not condemnation. Similarly, believers WILL serve in what they believe they are called to if they are told that God loves them, and have blessed them, and out of the overflowing blessings will they give more and serve more.
Guilt trips don't work anywhere. It doesn't work with your spouse, it doesn't work with your friends, it doesn't work with your colleagues. It works with your children up to a certain age, then they grow out of being affected by it,.
AND it doesn't work on the church congregation, not for long anyway. Not only it doesn't work, it SHOULDN'T be used by the preacher.
Not only that, the Scriptural basis of the verses that are commonly used, if you look closely is wrong.
Lets look at the book of James where this is from.
James 2:14 states "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?"
In the same chapter James 2:17-18 boasts "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."
James continues boldly in James 2:20 "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?".
James 20:26 states with finality "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
However, as usual the answer lies in studying the Scriptures in context, both within the context of the current passages, but also within the overall context and flow and logic that the Scriptures are written.
Why? Because all misunderstandings and arguments can be solved by reading on and following the rabbit trail God leads us on. Taking verses here and there out of context, and WILL lead to inconsistent and bad doctrine and belief.
Lets read further and deeper into James 2. In James2:21-25, he writes
" Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith,Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?"
Thats very interesting, and as will be pointed to time and time again, the examples given in the Scriptures always lead you to an answer. Many times the answer is different from the "headline" so to speak and can only be explained in the way only God can through his Scriptures.
The headline was the first few verses, that faith without works cannot save and is dead
Lets breakdown verses 21-25 as they lead to very interesting trails through the new testament
The two examples are of Abraham and Rahab and their specific "works".
verse 21 - Abraham was justified by works when he sacrificed his son on the altar
verse 22 - faith with works perfected his faith
verse 23 - fulfilled Scripture where Abraham believed in God, and this imputed in him righteousness, and he was called a friend of God
verse 24 - thus it is by works that man is justified, not just works.
verse25 - How as a harlot, she was justified by works when she received the messengers and let them escape
Both examples are very interesting
Romans 4:2-5 states the complete opposite "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Galatians 3:6 also states "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness". However in context, Galatians 3 was about faith without works. Galatians 3:7-14 is especially clear
" Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
Now is it inconsistent? How can the Bible say two completely opposite things?
This is answered in the above mentioned Scripture from James.
James 2:22 states "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?"
This clearly states that works perfected Abraham's faith.
Here is where the issue is. Many churches use this to immediately put the burden on the congregation challenging them to do works to justify their faith. But is this what James and Paul is writing about? Lets go back to see the two examples, Abraham and Rehab.
The Story of Abraham
Abram (renamed Abraham later) was first mentioned in Genesis 11, but its Genesis 12 that God first talked to Abram and asked him to leave his father's land, and in return, God promised in Genesis 12:2-3 "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing, And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
He was 75 years old when he departed from
He was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born (Genesis 21:5)
Now, we don't know how old Isaac was when he was given as a sacrifice. However, we do know that Sarah (his mother and Abraham's wife) gave birth to Isaac at 90 years of age (Genesis 17:17) and she died at a ripe old age of 127 (Genesis 23:1). The incident when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was between then, so we can assume Isaac's age as anywhere between 0-37 years old.
Secondly, Abraham collected wood for the sacrifice and put it on Isaac for him to carry (Genesis 22:6). This was sufficient wood for burning up a human body (or at least a burnt offering of a ram). Thus, it is unlikely we are talking about a few bits of splinter wood on a young child.
In fact, experts have estimated that Isaac could have been as old as 33 years old!!
If we assume that Isaac could be anywhere between 0-33 years old, and Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, Abraham would be anywhere between 100 to 133 years old when this incident happened.
Now is the big question. WHEN did Abraham require faith, that the work of attempting to sacrifice Isaac in obedience was supposed to perfect?
Romans 4:17-22 states "(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness."
Thus, Abraham had faith since the first time God asked him to leave
Thus the time period for when he had faith, to when his faith was made perfect was 25-58 years!
The Story of Rahab
The story of Rehab takes place in Joshua 2. To resist the urge to repost the whole chapter, here is the summary:
Verse 1 - Rehab was a prostitute in
Verse 4 - Somehow the king of
Verses 5-8 - She hid them and said she didn't know where they went and sent the soldiers on a wild goose chase
Verse 9 - she believed in the Lord and believed that God was going to give them the city
Verses 10-11 - the whole city trembled with fear at the feats of God for the Israelites
Verses 12-14 - she asks for mercy when they do attack the city, and they promised her and her family safety.
Verses 15-16 - she helps them escape and tells them where to hide outside the city before going back to Joshua
Verses 18-20 - they tell her to gather her family in her house, and tie a scarlet thread on the window, and that household will be spared
Just to finish the story, Joshua 6:23 shows how the Israelites got into the city and rescued Rahab and her family
Now, again it is very clear, her faith was made perfect with her works when she hid and helped the 2 spies escape
The question is, when did she have faith in the first place, BEFORE her works?
Lets go back to Joshua 2:9-11 "And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath."
From verse 9 it is clear she believed already that God has given them the city. But WHEN did she start believing this?
When she first heard of God drying up the
Thus the time for her faith to be made perfect with her works is at least 40 years.
James 2 is not inconsistent with Romans 4 or Galatians 3. Works are faith made perfect.
More importantly, James 2 should not be used to pressure your congregation to do works, and not rely on faith.
As shown in the Scriptures, even the 2 examples James 2 gave of Abraham and Rahab, took 2-5 decades before their faith resulted in works.
Yes works are important. However, works is the natural progression and outpouring of faith. It is not you doing works that proves your faith. God works in us all, in HIS time, not ours
By the way, do you know how did God honor these two people?
Abraham did become father of many nations. As for Rahab? From harlot, she married to Salmon, an Israelite and eventually from her descendants came King David, and eventually Jesus (Matthew 1:5)!