The Faith of Abraham and Rahab
1. Recognize the Context: Previous Context-James 2:14-19
James again presents two rhetorical questions that expect negative answers. The first question considers the value of faith not accompanied by actions. The second question ponders the salvific efficacy of an actionless faith. At stake is the genuineness of such faith. For James, a faith not demonstrated by deeds is fraudulent and worthless.
Verses 15-16 present an example proving his point. This situation, though hypothetical (suppose), is very relatable. A fellow believer requires basic necessities, including clothes and food. In verse 16, the person’s response is nothing more than a pious platitude. It’s a prayer-wish that rings hollow. James’ question “what good is it?” accentuates the emptiness of the words.
Now, James returns to his discussion of faith and actions. Verse 17 provides his main thesis, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Verse 18 continues with a hypothetical response to his argument. James stresses actions can’t be separated from faith; they are two sides to the same coin. In verse 19, James commends his readers for their monotheism (Deut. 6:4, Mark 12:29-31). However, an orthodox understanding of God is insufficient. Even the demons have this (Mark 1:23-24, 5:1-8), but are terrified of God. True saving faith includes knowing who God is and living in a relationship with him. The evidence of genuine faith is a changed life putting faith into action.
2. Read the Scripture: James 2:20-26
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
3. Reflect on the Scripture: James continues his argument by using a firm tone to make his point. He calls anyone who still does not understand the connection between faith and actions a “foolish person.” Like the book of Proverbs, this term is not an intellectual attack. Rather, it questions a person’s moral and spiritual understanding. James then asks if more evidence is needed to prove faith without actions is useless (v. 17).
Assuming more support is needed, James provides Scriptural support to his thesis on the inseparability of faith and deeds. With another question, he asks about Abraham’s position before God by his willingness to offer Isaac on the altar (Genesis 22). The expected answer is an affirmation concerning his righteousness before God. Again, James sees faith and deeds connected. Faith informs actions, and actions demonstrate and complete faith.
In verse 23, James quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” For James, Abraham’s faith, recognized during the covenant ceremony in Genesis 15, brought out Abraham’s faithfulness with Isaac in Genesis 22. Additionally, Abraham was seen as God’s friend, which also demonstrated he was in a right relationship with God.
Verse 24 states, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”This claim does not mean James is contradicting Paul’s argument concerning salvation by faith. Paul addresses works (of the law) and says they can't save. Faith is necessary. James is addressing works or deeds of love that flow from a life of faith. In this context, James has just spoken of correct belief, which even the demons have. For James, this correct belief has to be accompanied by actions to be genuine faith. As we said last time, Paul would agree (Gal. 5:6, Eph. 2:8-10). James uses a second Scriptural example, Rahab, the prostitute from the Jericho story (Joshua 6:1-25). Although different from Abraham in every way, they both share a faith in God, which led to action. As a result, she trusted God and remained with his people.
Finally, James concludes with an illustration of the human body. Just as the body is dead without the spirit, faith without actions is dead (verses 17 and 20).
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully reflect on your faith journey. Is your faith made evident by your actions? Today, prayerfully reflect on what this passage reveals about the character of God.
Today, prayerfully reflect on what this passage reveals about the human response to God’s character.
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. What specific actions can you take to demonstrate your faith to one individual this week?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).
Read and study the passages listed above.