Life Lessons from Hard Times – Studies in James
We are in a very contemporary discussion – frankly a dispute – about history in our country. The foolish actions of some to tear down statues and monuments, without regard for the historical contribution to the issues of racism in our country, has been disheartening. As we have often said, if we ignore the lessons of history, our mistakes will likely duplicate themselves. We hope for better during these times.
History and context are critical in understanding life. James draws on the third of his four illustrations of faith and works in our section, addressing the ancient Abraham, and the life-changing illustrations of his walk as a patriarch of our faith.
James 2:20-24 20You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
- Faith without works has no value in growing up a Christian. In Genesis 22, we have both a poignant scene of a father and his faith trusting for the survival of his son on an alter (remember the whole of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant resided in Isaac, in his life, in his progeny – Gen 15). Abraham followed God with obedience, trusting in His promises more than even the physical circumstances of his son on an altar. Really incredible. This actually foretold the offering of Jesus as God’s son on the cross, for which death was not stayed, but redemptively completed, with the resurrection, to complete man’s restoration to God. Our point here is that Abraham’s faith had no value in finishing his life until he obediently following the directions of God with Isaac on the altar. The illustration by James is obvious.
- Works is the finishing of faith in each life. James emphasizes his point with repetition. Abraham …’was considered righteous…faith and his actions were working together…faith made complete…credited to him as righteousness…called God’s friend’. Again, the point could not be more obvious. In the context of what it takes to grow up a Christian, faith must lead to works, it must show itself in action, and this response – obedience – is both the tool and the measure of maturity. The faith of Abraham was strengthened and matured by works!
- Salvation and justification bring maturity. 24You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. The keyword is ‘alone’, or in some versions ‘only.’ This is not a discussion of initial redemption which is by faith and not by works. This is wholly and completely and contextually a discussion of Christian maturity. What it takes to grow us up! The redemptive justification is before God. The maturity of life justification is before men. We will not – cannot grow up – in the faith without works.
My view is that the greatest of our earthly joys is parenthood. The miracle of conception and birth, the growth and maturity of our children to responsible and independent adults, the passing of the baton and legacies of our life to them – is immeasurable. But can you imagine the joy of the birth of a child, who stays a child? While we have some circumstances in life where that happens, that is not the norm nor the expectation of families with children. Just as the life of a child is not finished until he or she reaches maturity, even so the life of a follower of Jesus is not accomplished until we apply our faith in obedience and works. It isn’t complicated. Not easy. But unavoidably necessary. No exceptions. God’s best to you during this summer and season in life.
– John Moore