Setting

The passage of this lesson continues and elaborates on the exhortation to be doers of the word. With examples and illustrations, James makes a strong argument that faith without works is dead.

Key Verse

(2:22)

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Outline

Segment Analysis

  • 2:14-17

    1a.

    According to James, what kind of faith is one that is without works?

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    A dead faith (17).

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  • 1b.

    What does it mean?

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    Such faith is useless and ineffective. It does not profit anyone and is unable to save (14,16).

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  • 2.

    Explain the words, “Can faith save him?” Is James teaching that faith in Christ is not enough to save a person?

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    The phrase is better translated as “Can such faith save him?” The “faith” James speaks of here is a dead faith. Notice that James does not state that the man has faith, but that the man says he has faith. James’ argument is that such a faith, which is not true faith at all, cannot save the man. On the other hand, true faith in Christ brings justification.

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  • 3.

    What is the point of the illustration in 15 and 16?

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    Faith without works is but a lip service, which profits no one.

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  • 4.

    Think of examples in your life where your faith is found only on your lips rather than in your actions.

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  • 2:18-20

    5.

    There are two views about where the quotation in verse 18 ends. The first view holds that there is only one speaker, whose words extend to the end of the verse. According to the second view, the man’s words end at “…I have works,” and the rest of the sentence is the author’s response. We will adopt the second view for the purpose of our study. a. What is wrong with the statement, “You have faith, and I have works”? b. What is the point of James’ response, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”?

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    a. The statement implies that faith and works are separate, distinct qualities, and that a person can have faith without works. But according to James, it’s simply impossible to have a living faith without works.
    b. James challenges the one who says, “You have faith, and I have works” by asking him to show his faith without his works—an impossibility. James, on the contrary, is able to demonstrate his faith by his works. The argument is that faith does not and cannot exist without works. There is no such thing as a true faith without works.

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  • 6.

    In your life, what criteria do you use to measure your faith?

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    A concrete yardstick of faith is whether we willingly and actively obey God’s word from our hearts.

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  • 7.

    What kind of belief do the demons have in God? How is such belief different from a genuine faith?

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    Demons believe in God in the sense that they have conceptual knowledge of God. But their inclinations and works are contrary to God. Knowing that they are under condemnation, they tremble in their belief of God. Genuine faith, however, manifests the divine nature of Christ. With such faith, we have no fear of judgment (1Jn 4:17).

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  • 2:21-24

    8.

    Read Paul’s teaching on justification by faith in Romans 3:21-4:25. He insists that man was justified apart from his works. James, on the other hand, stresses that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. To explain the apparent contradiction, answer the following questions. a. According to Paul, at what point in his life was Abraham justified? b. According to James, when was Abraham justified by works? c. Does James deny that Abraham had been justified by faith earlier on in his life? Support your answer. d. Was Abraham’s offering of Isaac out of his faith in God’s promise? (cf. Heb 11:17-19) e. Now read Jas 2:22. Explain the words, “by works faith was made perfect.” f. What point in Abraham’s life is James referring to in 23? In what sense was “the Scripture was fulfilled”? When was the Scripture fulfilled? g. In conclusion, how is James’ use of the term “works” different from Paul’s use of the same term?

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    a. Abraham was justified by God when he believed in God’s promise that he would have numerous descendants (Rom 4:3; cf. Gen 15:6).
    b. Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac on the altar (21).
    c. His quotation in 23 confirms that he does not deny justification by faith when Abraham believed God’s promise.
    d. Yes, Abraham’s works were based on his faith in God’s promise.
    e. Abraham’s subsequent works of obedience sufficiently demonstrated his faith in God’s promise. In other words, his faith was “perfect,” or genuine, because he acted upon his belief. The justification by works did not contradict, but confirmed the justification by faith.
    f. The Scripture’s declaration that God justified Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 15, was fulfilled when Abraham acted upon his faith by offering Isaac, as recorded in Genesis 22. In other words, Abraham’s works proved that the Scripture’s declaration of Abraham’s faith was true.
    Based on our analysis thus far, we see that there is no contradiction between Paul and James. Abraham was justified by faith in the sense that he did not earn God’s righteousness by his good works. On the other hand, Abraham was also justified by works because his subsequent works demonstrated and validated that he was a true believer.
    g. For James, works are the natural fruit of faith subsequent to conversion. These works are not for the purpose of earning salvation, but they confirm our faith in Christ. The works that Paul discusses are works of the law, with which the self righteous hopes to win salvation. Rather than demonstrate faith in Christ, these works are done to take the place of faith.
    Therefore, the difference ultimately lies with a person’s attitude and intentions. When a person performs good works without faith, he attempts to justify himself with his own righteousness. But when a believer performs good works out of faith, he is simply obeying God from his heart, with no intention of trusting in his own merits.

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  • 9.

    In light of this passage, what characterizes Abraham’s faith? Do you also have the same faith?

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    Abraham’s faith manifests itself through obedience to God’s commands and trust in God’s promise.

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  • 2:25-26

    10.

    Read Hebrews 11:31 about Rahab’s faith. What did she believe that led her to receive the spies? (cf. Josh 2:1-21)

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    She believed that the Lord God is the God of heaven and earth, and that He has given the land of Canaan to the Israelites (Josh 2:9-11).

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  • 11.

    What does Rahab’s example illustrate?

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    Rahab’s faith in God was not just mental agreement but was demonstrated through her works. Because she had genuine faith, she was justified by God and her life was spared. Therefore, the faith that brings justification and salvation is one that is accompanied by works.

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  • 12.

    What does verse 26 teach about the relationship between faith and works? Explain this relationship in your own words.

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    Faith cannot be living and active without works in the same way that the body cannot be living and active without the spirit. Just as the spirit gives life to the body, works give life to faith.

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