James Chapters 1 and 2, Verse by Verse, Part 3
by Karl Kemp
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We continue the verse-by-verse study of James chapters 1 and 2 with James 2:21.
(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? [[It is necessary to see that James was speaking of works that came as a result of Abraham's faith (so too for Rahab in James 2:25); Abraham trusted God and obeyed Him by faith (but Abraham lived in the days before new-covenant salvation had become available through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ [cf., e.g., Gal. 3:21].). (Verse 22 makes clear that James wasn't speaking of Abraham's works disconnected from his faith.) It is significant that Heb. 11:17-19 speaks of Abraham's offering up Isaac by faith.
It is clear that the apostle Paul (in the context in which he ministered, and based on the gospel which he had received) would not have said that Abraham was "justified by works," whether speaking of Abraham or of Christians in verse 21, but he would agree that our works must demonstrate that our faith is real now and at the final judgment, and he (when speaking in a new-covenant, born-again Christian context) would emphasize that our works of righteousness come to pass BY THE ENABLING GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST THROUGH FAITH, SO THEY ARE IN A VERY REAL SENSE THE WORK OF GOD AND HE GETS ALL THE GLORY FOR OUR WORKS. We have nothing to boast about in ourselves. (See above under James 2:14 and below under 2:24-26.)
Paul would agree that (although true Christians are justified by faith) we will not be justified on the day of judgment apart from the works that demonstrate that our faith was/is real. I'll comment further on these important things under the verses that follow.]] (22) You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [or, completed] [[Abraham's works demonstrated that his faith in God was real.]]; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,' [see Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6] and he was called the friend of God [Cf. 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8]. [[If Abraham had not responded to God and His Word with faith (including believing God and being willing to obey Him and sacrifice Isaac at His command), he would not have been called "the friend of God." Abraham did not earn God's grace (we cannot earn God's grace), but he submitted to God, His Word, and His grace with faith.]] (24) You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. [[The apostle Paul (because of the fuller revelation he received concerning God's new-covenant salvation plans and because of the context in which he ministered) would not say, as James did here, that Christians can be justified by works along with faith (Rom. 4:2; Titus 3:5-7), or by works of the law/Law, or by the Law (see, Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11; 5:4, for example). What James said here did not incorporate Paul's fuller revelation of new-covenant salvation, by grace (not works) through faith, very much including Paul's typical new-covenant use of the words justify/justification (cf. e.g., Rom. 3:24, 26, 28. 30; 4:25; 5:1, 9, 16, 18; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:8, 24; and Titus 3:5-7). (IT IS SIGNIFICANT THAT IN ALL THE VERSES I JUST CITED, PAUL SPOKE OF OUR BEING JUSTIFIED, BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, AT THE BEGINNING OF OUR CHRISTIAN LIVES, BEFORE WE HAD DONE ANY WORKS. So too regarding being SAVED BY GRACE in Eph. 2:5, 8-10, for example.) However, as we have discussed, the apostle Paul would agree with James that faith which is "alone," without works, is dead; it isn't real faith and that those who have such "faith" will not inherit eternal life.
The apostle Paul (based on the fuller revelation he had been given) EMPHASIZED that true Christian faith will necessarily manifest itself in righteous works (being doers of God's moral law) BY THE SAVING, SANCTIFYING GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST. Paul, in his typical new-covenant context, where he is speaking of our being justified (or saved) by grace, through faith, could not say "a man is justified by works" (Eph. 2:8-10; Rom. 11:6, for example). There is a rather substantial difference between saying we are justified by faith which (by the powerful, enabling grace of God in Christ) manifests itself in works of righteousness and saying that we are justified by faith and works.
The apostle Paul did teach, however, that when it comes to the day of judgment, we will be judged according to our works (see, for example, Rom. 2:6, 7; 2 Cor. 5:9, 10; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7; cf., e.g., Matt. 16:24-27; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 22:10-15). Our works must confirm that our faith was real. (See my recent article, "Romans Chapter 2, Verse by Verse.) In Rom. 2:13 the apostle, speaking of the day of judgment said, "the doers of the Law will be justified."
I believe Paul could say those words of Rom. 2:13 in a context where he was speaking of Christians being justified on the day of judgment. For one thing, Paul taught (including in Rom. 2:26, 27 and 8:4) that Christians are doers of God's moral law. However, the apostle wasn't fully speaking in a new-covenant context in Rom. 2:13. One primary point that he was making in Rom. 2:13, in that context, was that it wasn't good enough for the Jews to be "hearers of the Law"; they must be doers of God's Law. In that context (Rom. 2:1-3:30), Paul was helping the Jews see that they needed to submit (in faith) to God's new-covenant salvation, so they could be forgiven and so transformed by the saving grace of God in Christ (which includes all the work of the Holy Spirit, who indwells all true Christians), that they would fully keep God's moral law in their daily lives, that they would become "doers of the Law," all in accordance with Old Testament prophecies (cf., e.g., Isaiah chapter 53; Jer. 31:31-34; and Ezek. 36:25-27). All such people will be ready to stand before God and be judged according to their works, which will demonstrate that their faith was/is real.
The apostle Paul always made it clear that (even though Christians are not under the old covenant, which was founded on the Mosaic Law) we are called, enabled, and required to fulfill the moral requirements of the Law (Rom. 8:4; 2:26-29; 1 Cor. 7:19; cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:25-27), and he repeatedly spoke of the need for us to be dead to sin and alive to God and His righteousness, through the powerful saving grace of God in Christ (see Romans chapter 6; 8:1-14; and Gal. 5:16-25, for example; these verses are all discussed in my writings; I recommend my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin" for a start).
As we have discussed, and will further discuss, the apostle Paul would not agree with saying "a man is justified by works" (James 2:24; cf. James 2:21, 25) where he was dealing with how we are justified, or saved, but he would agree that faith in God, His Son, and His gospel that does not result in works of righteousness is not saving faith.]] (25) And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? [[(This double bracket goes on for fourteen paragraphs.) This work of Rahab reflected her faith in the God of Israel in her heart (see Heb. 11:31 [this verse is discussed as part of the discussion of Heb. 11:1-40 in my "A Paper on Faith" that is on my internet site]; cf. Josh. 2:8-14, espec. Verse 11). Apparently James just makes the point that Abraham was justified because of his true faith and the work(s) that flowed from that faith, and then he says the same thing regarding Rahab. It is a valid OT concept to speak of works being reckoned as righteousness (cf. Deut. 24:13; Psalm 106:31). As I mentioned, it is also Biblical to speak of Christians being justified/found righteous at the final judgment based on works (cf. Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:11, 12), because the works demonstrate that the faith was real.
Although what James says here is Biblical, he doesn't get to the heart of the new-covenant gospel, which is so well presented by the apostle Paul. For one thing, Paul typically uses the verb "justify" of Christians being declared righteous when they submit to God and His Son and His gospel. And it is very important to see (many Christians deny this super-important point) that he frequently uses the verb in a very full sense that includes our being forgiven and declared righteous AND OUR (having been born again) BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS WITH THE IMPARTED RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. (See, for example, the discussion of Rom. 1:16, 17; 3:21, 22 on pages 76-79 of my paperback book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and the entire chapter in that book on the meaning of justify and justification in the new covenant. I recommend reading my e-book first, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Romans 1:16, 17; 3:21, 22 are discussed there too, but the paperback book has much more information about the meaning of justify/justification.)
It is easy to understand why the verb justify often means much more than God's forgiving us and declaring us righteous, as important as that is. (If we stop with forgiveness and right standing, we are missing about 90 percent of what salvation in Christ Jesus is all about). Jesus, the Lamb of God, didn't just bear our sins, back to Adam, with the guilt, so we could be forgiven and declared righteous in some isolated legal, positional sense. He bore our sins with the guilt AND WITH THE PENALTIES, INCLUDING THE MAJOR PENALTIES OF SPIRITUAL DEATH AND BONDAGE TO SIN. (Spiritual death and bondage to sin came upon Adam and his descendants because of the transgression of Adam [see Genesis 2:17; Genesis chapter 3; and Romans chapter 5].)
It is significant, as I showed in the first three chapters of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," that the Hebrew words for sin, iniquity, and transgression, unlike our English words, include within their range of meaning the idea of penalty for sin. Quite often those words must be translated "penalty" or the equivalent. This is super-important (but not widely known) information. We will never adequately understand sacrificial offerings, and especially the One Supreme Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, if we do not understand that the sacrificial offerings were bearing the sins, iniquities, and transgressions with the guilt AND WITH THE PENALTIES. Many key verses from Isaiah chapter 53, which is one of the most important passages in the Bible dealing with the all-important atoning death of the Lord Jesus, are discussed in my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ." These things are discussed, but to a lesser extent, in my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin."
Jesus bore our spiritual death (I didn't say He died spiritually; He didn't; see my article, "Did Jesus Die Spiritually?"), so we could get out of the kingdom of spiritual death and be born again. (The apostle Paul's typical use of justify/justification necessarily was a "justification OF LIFE" [Rom. 5:18]; born-again Christians experience the very life of God from the time of the new birth, through the indwelling Spirit of life.) AND JESUS BORE OUR BONDAGE TO SIN, SO WE COULD GET OUT FROM UNDER THAT EVIL TASKMASTER AND LIVE/WALK IN THE IMPARTED RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. God's righteousness is imparted to us as we walk by the Righteous, Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, which we are called, enabled, required, and privileged to do (Gal. 5:16). God paid an infinite price to set us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin. For one thing, He hates sin! I discuss these super-important things in many of my writings, but two of the most important are my paperback book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" and my recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Both are available at amazon.com.
I'll give another illustration to show why Paul's use of justify/justification cannot be limited to the forgiveness of sins and declaring believers righteous. (To communicate the idea that the emphasis and heartbeat of Christianity is to be forgiven and declared righteous, which we often hear in our day, is a gross misrepresentation of the gospel. God hates sin, and He sacrificed His Son to redeem Christians from the kingdom of sin, spiritual death, and Satan and his multitudinous hosts.) When we become Christians, in a very real sense we stand before God the Judge in a courtroom setting. On the basis of our submitting to God, His Son, and the gospel from our hearts, in faith, He forgives us and declares us righteous, BUT WE CAN'T STOP HERE! It must be understood that in the very act of declaring us righteous, God is declaring that sin, spiritual death, and Satan and his multitudes have no more legal authority over us. So now, for one thing, in the ideal case we would never sin again. As my writings demonstrate, the New Testament repeatedly speaks of Christians not sinning/being dead to sin and living in the imparted righteousness of God. See 1 John 2:3-6; 3:3, 7-10; and 4:12, 17, 18, for example.
ROMANS 3:24 is one of quite a few verses where the context demonstrates that the apostle Paul sometimes used the Greek verb "dikaioo" in a sense that goes far beyond being forgiven and declared righteous: "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." The fact that Paul spoke of our "BEING JUSTIFIED as a gift by His grace THROUGH THE REDEMPTION WHICH IS IN CHRIST JESUS" serves to confirm that he is using justified in a very full sense here which includes being redeemed out of the kingdom of spiritual death and bondage to sin and born again and made righteous with the imputed and imparted righteousness of God. The basic idea behind redemption is buying a slave to set him free. We were all slaves under sin, spiritual death, and the god of this world. We would not be redeemed if we were still living in the kingdom of spiritual death and bondage to sin and the demons. We were redeemed out of that kingdom through the atoning death (the shed blood) of the Lamb of God (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18, 19; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14 [all these verses are discussed in my paperback book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin"]).
Let's take a quick look at ROMANS CHAPTER 5. (Romans chapter 5 [and Romans chapter 6 and 8:1-14] is discussed in some detail in my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin.") The first two verses (Rom. 5:1, 2) demonstrate that those who are JUSTIFIED BY FAITH have peace with God and have obtained introduction (access) by faith into all the grace that we need to live for God in this world, very much including the grace to live with the victory over sin. We would not have "peace with God" (or be reconciled to Him) if we had been forgiven and declared righteous but were still rebels who were hostile toward Him and His commandments (see Rom. 8:7, for example).
In Romans chapter 5 the apostle Paul spoke of the time before we were justified with the words, "while we were still helpless" and "ungodly" in verse 6 and with the words, "while we were yet sinners" in verse 8. In verse 9 he went on to show that those things have been set aside now that we have been justified, and in verse 10 he added "while we were yet enemies of God" to the things that have been set aside though our "having now been justified by His blood" (Rom. 5:9). "We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Rom. 8:10; also see verse 11). According to these verses (and these verses are rather typical), we would not be justified or reconciled to God if we were still helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God. The way the verb justify is used in verses 1 and 9 it includes being taken beyond being "helpless" "ungodly" "sinners" and "enemies of God." If we submit to the gospel on God's terms, we will be justified, using the verb "justify" in the full sense it is used in Rom. 3:24; 5:1 and 9; and 6:7 (see below on 6:7), for example.
I'll also comment on the use of the noun "justification" in Rom. 5:18 (Greek "dikaiosis"; this Greek noun was derived from the verb "dikaioo"; it is only used two places in the New Testament, here and Rom. 4:25). The context demonstrates that justification is used here in the full sense of being delivered from the "condemnation" that came upon mankind through the transgression of Adam. As Rom. 5:12-21 show, that "condemnation" included spiritual death and bondage to sin.
I'll read ROMANS 5:18, 19: "So then as through one transgression [Adam's] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [referring to the all-important atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ] there resulted JUSTIFICATION ["dikaiosis"] OF LIFE [my emphasis] to all men [to all who submit (in faith) to the Lord Jesus Christ, the "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45; cf. Rom. 5:14)]. (19) For as through the one man's [Adam's] disobedience the many WERE MADE SINNERS [my emphasis], even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous [no longer sinners]." "The many [all the offspring of Adam, which includes all people] were made sinners." They were all born outside of the garden of Eden into spiritual death and bondage to sin. But "through the obedience of the One [referring to the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ; He was obedient in every way, but the emphasis here is on His "one act of righteousness" (Rom. 5:18)] the many will be made righteous." Isaiah 53:11 prophesied that the Righteous One [His being righteous had nothing to do with His being forgiven] would make His people Righteous [cf., e.g., 1 John 3:7, where the apostle John spoke of our being righteous as the Lord Jesus is righteous; I trust we can all agree that He never sinned.] through His atoning death (see my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" or my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin" on this verse). Our being "made righteous" overthrows our having been "made sinners," and we, in union with the Lord Jesus, are ultimately taken to a place much higher than what Adam had before the fall, including having a glorified existence (which includes having a glorified body designed for heaven; Adam had a flesh and blood body designed to live on the earth) and reigning with God forever in the age to come (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 15:42-58; Rev. 22:3-5).
I'll give one more example from the book of Romans to demonstrate that sometimes the apostle Paul used justify in a very full sense that goes far beyond the forgiveness of sins and being declared righteous. (A big part of what we needed was to be born again and MADE RIGHTEOUS AND HOLY and that is what God has provided at a very high cost to Himself. Romans chapter 6 is probably the most important chapter in the New Testament that teaches victory over all sin, but Rom. 8:1-14 is equally powerful, and there are very many other powerful passages. The Greek verb "dikaioo" is only used one time in Romans chapter 6; I'll quote ROMANS 6:7: "for he who has died is freed [dikaioo] from sin." This translation of the NASB well communicates the fact that those who have died with Christ (they have died with Christ through becoming united with Him in His all-important atoning death and resurrection, by faith in God, His Son, and His gospel, as verses 1-6 demonstrate) HAVE BEEN FREED FROM BEING SLAVES OF SIN. (This is the heartbeat of Christianity. We have been set free from being "slaves of sin" [Rom. 6:6, 17, 20; cf. Rom. 6:1, 2, 7, 11-14, 18, 22] and been made "slaves of righteousness" [Rom. 6:18, 19; cf. Rom. 6:4, 5, 11, 13, 16, 17, 22].) In Romans 6:19 and 22 the apostle spoke of our holiness (we are called and enabled to live in an abiding state of holiness).
This translation of Rom. 6:7 communicates well, but it obscures the fact that "dikaioo" is the verb used here. I would prefer translating "is justified from sin." This translation provides one more obvious example where Paul used dikaioo to include a whole lot more than being forgiven and declared righteous.
It is clear that James isn't using the verb "justify" the way Paul typically does when he speaks of Rahab being justified by her works. (For one thing, she lived in the days before new-covenant salvation had become available through the incarnation, atoning death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.) Rahab's ultimate righteousness and her place in God's heavenly kingdom come through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ; her name is recorded in the LAMB'S BOOK OF LIFE (cf. Rev. 21:27). (Now we will discuss James 2:26.)]] (26) For just as the body [the human body] without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." James again tells us that faith without works is dead; it isn't real faith; it won't save us. As I have mentioned, Paul would agree with this point, but he would strongly emphasize that the works of righteousness of born-again Christians are produced by the saving grace of God in Christ (which includes all the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit) through faith. God must receive all the glory for our works of righteousness. Paul said, for example, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS [my emphasis], which God prepared beforehand so that we [God's born-again new creations] would walk in them]" (Eph. 2:10).
May the will of God be fully accomplished through this paper and His people be edified!
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