God’s Word for You
James 2:23-24 Works and faith
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, July 28, 2020
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He was also called God’s friend. 24 You must recognize that a person is declared righteous by works and not by faith alone.
Do we become righteous because of our good works, or because of our faith? To this, we have simple, clear words from the Scriptures that should not make us hesitate for a moment to answer:
1, We are righteous because of Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect life, and not because of anything we say, think or do. “We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
2, We are righteous because we put our faith firmly in Jesus, and not because of anything we say, think or do. “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28).
3, Our faith is put on display and proved through the things that we say, think or do, in short, through our good works. “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).
James our coach has just cited a famous example to illustrate his point that everyone will know. It’s the account of Abraham and Isaac (verse 21). Now he drives home his point by quoting what Moses said: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now Moses didn’t say, “Abraham did a good work for God,” he says, “Abraham believed God.” He is still proving his point a posteriori or from the effect (the good work) to the cause (the faith). Abraham’s faith was what was credited to him, but the faith was displayed by what he did.
Abraham believed and trusted God’s promise. It should be obvious that Abraham believed in God; God had spoken to Abraham in person, more than once. God had appeared to him to promise that he would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 15:1-6), and again, to give him the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-12). Then God appeared to Abraham yet again in the form of a man to promise that Isaac would be born within the year (Genesis 18:1-16). Each time, Abraham believed God’s promises to him. Abraham was in the habit of making a sacrifice to the Lord whenever this happened, and he even had Sarah prepare a meal on the last occasion. But God gave him another opportunity to show his faith for other people to see (you and me) by sending him to sacrifice the son, the child of the promise.
Abraham was also called “God’s friend.” James does not say “friendly to God” or “friendly toward God,” but “God’s friend.” That is, God considered Abraham a friend and spoke with him as a friend does. A friend is a person one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, often (but not always) apart from family or romantic ties. For Abraham to be called God’s friend is truly remarkable. And where is this said? King Jehoshaphat prayed: “O Our God, didn’t you drive out the inhabitants of this land before your faithful people? Didn’t you give it to the descendants of your friend Abraham forever?” (2 Chronicles 20:7). Also, many translations of Isaiah 41:8 call Abraham God’s “friend” (NIV) even though the participle there can be translated “the one whom I love” (EHV).
The things that we do, our works, prove or show our faith, just as our actions show or prove our friendship. Abraham showed his friendship to God with his unflinching obedience, an obedience we would do well to imitate. But our imitation should come from a heart that says, “I want to show my love like Abraham did,” not, “I want to gain what Abraham gained and so I will perform good works.” Then our good works will show the quality of our faith, while empty faith and empty works will fall away forever.
Give Jesus your service but be sure to do it out of thanks.
Shall we not yield him in costly devotion
Rarest of fragrances, tribute divine,
Gems of the mountains and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?
Vainly we bring him the finest of off’rings,
Vainly with gifts would his favor secure.
Richer by far is the praise that the heart brings;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor. (Christian Worship 92:3,4)
Pastor Timothy Smith