What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The first humans failed their test of faith. They trusted what they "saw" rather than believing what God said—His words—and became the first example of man choosing to walk by sight rather than by faith. Humanity has followed this example ever since, proving that Adam and Eve's faithlessness was not an aberration but a trait of every human heart, including ours.
What were the consequences of this sin, this act of faithlessness? The answer is in Genesis 3:24: "So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life."
Adam and Eve's sin of faithlessness destroyed the close relationship they had with God. Because they did not trust Him, their lack of faith put a barrier between themselves and God. The broken trust, faithlessness, ruined that relationship just as it does in our human relationships.
Adam and Eve chose to follow the faithless Satan rather than the faithful God. Satan persuaded them to focus on what they could see rather than what God said. The strategy was so successful that Satan has consistently used it on humanity.
Satan is the prime example of faithlessness. Satan believes God exists, but his is a dead faith because it does not lead to right action. James 2:19-20, from the New Living Translation, forcefully points out the futility and foolishness of Satan's faith: "Do you still think it's enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?"
Faith—What Is It?
There are at least two possible ways to understand what He means. The first is that God is always working to produce faith in His people so they can properly use their free moral agency. The second, however, is the primary meaning because they ask what they had to do. Jesus replies that godly work for the individual is believing in or on Him as Messiah.
In other words, as Jesus uses it, faith is itself a work. Labor is involved in faith because living faith requires activity to meet the definition given in James 2. As the apostle says, faith without works is dead, and such "faith" is in realty not even faith. Some, especially evangelical Protestants, object to this because they feel it creates a "works" salvation.
Their objections, though, are so much sound and fury without biblical substance. Jesus says at least a dozen times in different ways that salvation is by grace. Biblically, merely believing or agreeing with God or some biblical doctrine is of itself no better than being dead. Dead things produce nothing because nothing is working to produce anything. This is why Paul in Hebrews 3 can use "unbelief" and "disobedience" interchangeably. In other words, if a person only agrees, he merely has a preference, and his works will be at best inconsistent and sporadic. If a person has living faith, however, his belief will be a conviction, and works will occur.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)
In God's mind, true faith or living faith is virtually synonymous with obedience and works. Faith and obedience are interchangeable, even though they are not specifically the same thing. This is just like the Bible's usage of mind, heart, and spirit—they are not specifically the same thing, yet they are so interconnected that they really cannot be separated.
This verse is a quotation of Genesis 15:6. There is a parallel quotation in Romans 4:1-3:
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
This verse in essence says that Abraham was justified because he believed. He was legally righteous before God because of his faith. This becomes the basis for Paul's teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. What Paul does not mention here is that Abraham's justification (Genesis 15:6) occurred 14 years before Abraham was circumcised. Paul's conclusion is that, based on Genesis 15:6, Abraham was justified by faith. The "work" of circumcision did not come for another 14 years! The circumcision did not justify him—the faith did. See the notes at Galatians 2:16.
Paul explains further in verses 21-25:
And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Paul shows that we are also justified (cleared of guilt, have our sins wiped away) by belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. What God did for Abraham, He will also do for us. Paul's conclusion then is that justification is by faith.
But like Galatians 2:16, this seemingly sets up a paradox, because faith does not stand alone:
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:20-24)
Paul also points out that there is more to the equation of justification than just faith in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."
These last two scriptures show that living faith cannot be separated from obedience—from works. Faith and works go together; where there is living faith, there will always be good works. If no works are produced, there is no living faith. What we truly and deeply believe will determine the actions we take in our lives. If we truly believe something, our "works"—what we do in our lives—will always point to that. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)—a man lives and acts according to what his core is.
As discussed previously (Galatians 2:16), these verses are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Each of these passages has a different context and purpose, and so we do not get the whole answer from any one of them individually. James' purpose is to show that there are two kinds of faith—living and dead, genuine and professing.
James says that a person's faith is perfected or completed by the kind of works that the faith produces. He shows that it is the kind of faith that Abraham had that made the real difference and brought about justification. Justification is entirely an act on God's part, but the kind of faith that brings about justification is the same kind that also brings about good works. It is not our works that save us, but only those who are "working" in the right way will be saved because their works will be indicative of what they truly believe in. Living faith, which James talks about, cannot be separated from works.
Paul backs this up in his second letter to the Corinthian church:
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim [work; labor], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him [our acceptance by Him after being justified is dependent on what we do!]. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)
Paul lived by faith, but he worked (labored) so that he would be acceptable to God. If he did not work, he would not have been acceptable to God even though he professed God, said he believed in Christ, had faith that He could save, etc. His works were an indicator to God of what he had faith in—what he believed.
Paul's faith was the same faith that James was talking about—a living, active faith which produces good things—good works. Dead faith is inactive (toward the things of God). It does not produce anything profitable. It is the particular kind and quality of works that separates the Christian from the world, giving evidence of what a person believes.
David C. Grabbe
Is there any contradiction between the opinions of Paul and James on this matter?
Simply, no! Paul, in Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is required and, as we have seen, in verse 10, says that good works are also required. James, in the second chapter of his epistle, says that faith and works are inseparable:
· Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (verse 17)
· But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (verse 20)
· For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (verse 26)
In his Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley states that:
Paul's doctrine of Justification by Faith, and James' doctrine of Justification by Works, are supplementary, not contradictory. Neither was opposing the teaching of the other—they were devoted friends and co-workers. James fully endorsed Paul's work (Acts 15:13-29; 21:17-26).
Paul preached Faith as the basis of justification before God, but insisted that it must issue in the right kind of Life. James was writing to those who had accepted the doctrine of Justification by Faith but were not Living Right, telling them that such Faith was No Faith at all. (p. 659, capitalization as in original)
The Revised Standard Version translates James 2:20 in a very interesting and appropriate way: "Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?" It is barren that is so intriguing. In the Bible, several women—for example, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth—could not have children. In the physical realm, a fertile male and a fertile female are both required conditions for reproduction for most forms of life. Spiritually, active faith and active works are both required conditions to reproduce godly, spiritual life in us. In both cases, life, whether spiritual or physical, is a gift of God, the Creator and Life-giver. If either condition is absent or inactive, barrenness or lack of new life results.
Another meaning of barren common in English is that of a land without vegetation, a desolate place. The Greek word James uses is argos (instead of nekra, "dead," as in verses 17 and 26), meaning "lazy," "unproductive," "unprofitable," "idle," "ineffective." Its literal meaning is "no work" [a (negative) + ergon (work)]! The word picture that develops is of an area of land that receives plenty of sunshine but too little rain, and hence, it is barren, desolate. Such a land cannot be worked because it will not produce anything profitable. In the same way, a person having only faith will produce nothing profitable; he needs a steady "rain" of work to grow and mature.
So there is no contradiction. Faith is required. Works are required. Works toward God are to do His will and His work and, yes, to obey His laws. Works toward our neighbors are to serve them and to do good for them. Doing them promotes growth of godly character and provides a shining example of true Christian living.
Faith without works is dead. Faith with works is life—eternal life!
Faith Without Works
As the Bible records history, Abel is the first human to offer a sacrifice to God. The Bible gives no indication that he was following what was then popular among the children of Adam and Eve, nor that he was following "common sense," human reason, or his feelings. Undoubtedly, God had instructed Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel in His truth. Abel stands out because he offered by faith. He believed the specific instruction given to him, while neither Cain nor anybody else did. His motivation is what set Abel apart; he believed without twisting what God taught.
Recall that Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Faith in God must have a foundation, and listening is the means by which that foundation is formed. At this point, it is important to understand what Paul—and of course, God—mean by "faith." There are two general kinds of faith: "dead" and "living," as James terms them.
When James calls the one "dead," he is in no way saying that whoever has that faith is stupid. In fact, they may be quite intellectual—"smart," as we might say. He means that, in relation to God, they do not have living or active faith. We can illustrate the difference this way: Suppose two people receive exactly the same instruction from the Word of God; both have been informed as to what He requires. The difference between the person with dead faith and the one with living faith is that the latter is influenced to submit to what he has learned. The one with dead faith remains only informed.
Thus, the person with dead faith may enjoy using his biblical knowledge to discuss and even to argue for or against a given concept. However, it remains only information because the influences to submit and do something in relation to God are lacking. He cannot honestly be said to believe, even though the information he has may be quite extensive and true. By contrast, the person with living faith believes and submits, making active use of the godly information to change his life.
The person with dead faith hears outwardly; the person with living faith hears outwardly and inwardly and yields to it, believing it. This latter person also has what the Bible calls "the faith." Paul writes in Galatians 5:6 that this faith works by or through love. What is love? I John 5:3 declares, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." Love is obedience to God.
Thus, living faith is belief in God that keeps the commandments. Living faith produces growth. It is this faith that is in view throughout Hebrews 11. In the case of Abel, the Word of God that he heard is most likely what God spoke to Adam and Eve. Abel, in turn, heard it from them and believed it. Cain heard the same words and was merely informed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
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