Dr. Dean's last class taught at Preston City Bible Church before moving to West Houston Bible Church. November 10, 2004
We have come to a place in our study of Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 where Abraham is faced with his second test, the test as to whether he would stay in the land that God promised him without taking his own initiative and try to solve problems on his own. But, like most of us, we know that Abraham decided that he wanted to use his human viewpoint problem-solving devices in order to handle the famine situation in the land, rather than trusting that God would supply the necessary resources. We see in a comparison with Abraham at the end of his life when he has the test with Isaac that he is ready and willing to sacrifice Isaac because he knows that God promised him a seed and that if he kills the seed God will and can and is able to resurrect the seed. But he didn't have that level of faith and trust in God at the beginning. God is still promising the seed in the first three verses of chapter 12. Abraham had the promise of God that he would be alive and would have multiple descendants, so why is it that he freaked out and punched the panic button as soon as the famine came along and increased to the point where he could not take care of all his employees and servants and animals and family that he left and went to Egypt?
As a result of that there are cumulative problems. When we choose to solve our problems our own way and we get into carnality it is not just the simple problem that now we are out of fellowship, now that if there is any kind of attempt to obey the Word it is just wood, hay, and straw. It is not just that we are committing sin and sin has its natural consequences—we've seen that it can generate its own form of adversity called self-induced misery, that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap—it is that carnality can start manufacturing its own unintended consequences. We see a perfect example of this because what happens when Abraham goes down to Egypt he does something that he has done all along. When Abraham left Haran he took with him the things he had acquired and the people he had acquired. So he is picking up slaves along the way. He goes down to Egypt and picks up a slave girl named Hagar. If he hadn't been in Egypt he wouldn't have picked up Hagar; if he hadn't picked up Hagar then Sarah would not have been saying later on that they had another human viewpoint solution to the problem of no seed. Now they had the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We have this problem today because Abraham decided to solve the problem that he faced, the adversity of the famine. One thing led to another, one decision led to another decision, and this produced unintended consequences, and the next thing what we have is a major international crisis that isn't resolved and ultimately leads up to the battle of Armageddon and isn't resolved until the Lord comes back. So we need to just think about the decisions that we make in like have consequences. The younger we are consequential the decisions are. So we have the face the fact that when we are faced with adversity every decision matters in some way, we can't just treat it lightly. We must get into that drill mentality where we constantly go through it with the problem-solving devices.
By way of review what we have with the land is that the giving of the land, the granting of the land in the Abrahamic covenant, is analogous to the believer in positional truth. It is an unconditional gift. However, the enjoyment of that unconditional gift is dependant upon the ongoing volition of Abraham. So when Abraham is in the land he is positive, when he is negative he is out of the land. The same thing develops later in the history of Israel. When they are positive they are in the land in the place of blessing, when they are negative there are the cycles of discipline that always relate to the land and to the enjoyment of the land. So that in the fourth cycle of discipline they have economic catastrophe, famines, and other things of that nature, and in an agricultural society that means everybody is in trouble. There is hunger, suffering, death and disease. Then the fifth cycle of discipline is when they come under military defeat and are taken out of the land. Incidentally, the five cycles of discipline only relate to Israel. They may to some degree mirror certain trends, certain cycles of history that take place on other nations, but the key is understanding the land. God didn't promise the land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean to the United States of America. He didn't promise that island off the coast of France to the British. He did promise the land west of the Jordan to the Jews forever and ever, and so the cycles of discipline are directly related to the enjoyment or the forfeiture of the blessings related to the unconditional gift of the land to the Jews. Therefore you cannot take those five cycles of discipline and flip those to any other people group because they are covenantally guaranteed, related to a covenant contract with God. God did not make a contract with any other people other than Israel. You can take the concept of a client nation and apply that to other nations, because a client nation is simply a nation that is being used by God to accomplish His purposes during the age of the Gentiles. But there is no covenantal relationship there, there is no contract between God and any of the nations that He has raised up over the last 2000 years in order to promote the gospel.
Abraham faced adversity with the famine in the land. We find that adversity is the inevitable outside daily pressures of life that attack and seek to penetrate the soul. There is minor adversities which are inconveniences, things that are uncomfortable and don't allow us to run the day the way we would like it to run. These can be minor things to major things where there are major calamities that take place either personally or historically that affect us. Stress is what happens when we do not handle that outside pressure through the utilization of the ten stress busters. All ten of these are spiritual skills. Skill is something you practice in order to make it a part of your life. It has to be practiced perfectly. If we practice it imperfectly we are a failure, so we have to go over this again and again. We just drill it into our life as a pattern. When things start going bad and we find that we have already punched the panic button, we have already lost our temper, put our fist through the wall, the first thing we need to do is stop and confess, use grace recovery and get back in fellowship so that we now have the power of the Holy Spirit on our side. Now we are walking by the Spirit and we start using the faith-rest drill. This is essentially what Abraham did and why he becomes a picture of faith and the production and maturity that comes from the application of faith.
We need to master these problem-solving devices. Every time we face something we need to just stop and ask how each one of the basic mechanics fits the problem. Where do we apply what? What promises apply? You see an inner dynamic between the third, fourth and fifth—faith-rest drill, grace orientation, doctrinal orientation—they all fit together, they feed off one another in terms of a cycle. In the faith-rest drill we are taking our faith and mixing it with promises. What are the promises? That is doctrinal orientation. In order to get doctrine what do we have to do? We have to understand grace. So these three are interlocking and interrelated and they are built off the first two, confession and waking by the Holy Spirit. In fact, if you get right down to it the mechanics, the walking, are the faith-rest drill, grace orientation and doctrinal orientation. When we are doing that, that is walking by the Holy Spirit.
What is it that keeps us walking in the light? How do we stay there? We stay there through using the problem-solving devices. Every time we face a difficulty or problem we use these and we stay in fellowship, and that is called abiding in Christ. When we fail to use one of those we are immediately relying on some sort of human viewpoint mechanism to stay in fellowship and then we are out of fellowship and not abiding in Christ but walking in darkness. When we abide in Christ we are also said to be walking in the light, and it all depends own our volition. It is how we are going to decide what we are going to do in our moment by moment walk with the Lord.
In James 1:22 James says, "But be ye doers of the word." This is not Christian service and is not what James is talking about here. The concept of doing is based on the Greek verb POIEO [poiew] which simply means in this context to do what you have heard, or in other words, application. That is, listen to the teaching of the Word of God, to let it change your thinking (Romans 12:2), so that hearing leads to the result of doing or application. In the last part of chapter one and the first part of chapter two James takes hearing and doing, and this is analogous to faith which produces works. If we have believed that which we have heard, then that is going to culminate in application or works, i.e. production. In this case we are talking about divine good production, that which has eternal consequences.
In James 2:21ff James gives two illustrations of what he is talking about. One is from Abraham and the other is from Rahab.
James 2:21, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation."
We see here that Abraham is used as an illustration of spiritual maturity in the New Testament. Abraham is talked about as being justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar. When did Abraham offer Isaac on the altar? That is in Genesis chapter 22. Abraham has been a believer since before Genesis 12. In fact, in Genesis 15:6 (quoted in James 2:23) is an event which happened a long time before Genesis 22, at least 30 or 40 years later. The saved from the penalty of sin justification occurred before Genesis 12, so James 2:21ff is talking about the fact that works justifies something else. They justify in the sense that it is a demonstration of the reality of our previous justification. So it is not salvation. The key to understand this is in James 2:24, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." The problem here is that the last word in this verse is the Greek word MONON [monon], accusative case. The OS ending is an adverb, MONOS. The Greek adjective is MONES [monhj], just one letter difference. Why is this important? The English text makes it sounds like we are justified by faith plus works that are in keeping with that faith. This is what the Lordship crowd teaches. That is because the word "only" in English is an adverb. A adverb modifies a verb. But what it looks like in that sentence is the "only" or the "alone" as it is translated in some versions only qualifies the faith. But faith is a noun, so an adverb has to modify a verb, not a noun. The other thing that compounds it is that there is no verb in that last clause "and not by faith." What is the verb supposed to be in that last clause? Justify. It is borrowed from the previous clause, it is called an ellipsis when you leave out the verb because it is understood. So this should read, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only justified by faith." That makes it clear that there are two different kinds of justification. If this is translated with the adverb modifying the noun it makes it look like there is one justification with two phases to it, but if you are grammatically correct and have the adverb modify the understood verb "not only justified by faith" then you recognize that there are two different kinds of justification that James is talking about. One relates to phase one when we are saved from the penalty of sin, and the other is when we are experiencing phase two salvation when we are freed from the power of sin. That is what Abraham is illustrating in chapter 22 of Genesis, that he has matured to the point where his works have demonstrated his justification and he is now handling adversity apart from sin.
All through here this is talking about the kind of faith that a believer has that has value. That is why James is saying we not only need to hear the Word but also to do it. James 2:14, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith [has heard the Word], and have not works [not application]? can faith save him?" It is not talking about salvation from the penalty of sin because this guy is already a believer, he is talking about "my brethren." He is addressing believers and is talking about the dynamics of faith in the life of the believer. In essence he is saying, "What applicational value is it, my brethren, if someone claims to have doctrine, but he does not have production?" Then in verse 15 he gives an example. Doctrine doesn't have any value unless you apply it. So in v. 17, "Even so faith, if it hath not works [has no application], is dead, being alone [being by itself]." A dead faith is not a non-existent faith; a dead faith is a non-viable faith. It is not producing anything. Death in the Bible never means non-existence, it means separation. In verses 18, 19 James puts in the words of an objector. The basic contention of the objector is that faith and works are totally unrelated. He uses an example in v. 19, "You believe that there is one God; you do [POIEO] well." In other words, that is where it should end. He is commending James that he has faith, but on the other hand he says, "the demons also believe." Okay, you believe and the result is that you have application, but the demons believe, and they shudder—no application. The point he is making is that they both believe, it produces one action in one person and another action in another person, so can you say there is an intimate connection between application and faith. This is the argument of the objector. In other words, he is like many licentious believers today who say, "I believe that but I am just going to live today the way I want to live." No application. But James replies in v. 20, "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" or "Are you willing to recognize, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless?" The word that he uses for "useless" is the Greek word ARGE [a)rgh] which means that it is non-productive. That is a much more precise word than "dead works," and it gives us the idea here.
The issue here is, how do we produce in the spiritual life? We produce by using the problem-solving devices. When Abraham is walking by means of faith He is producing. Having said that, James uses the illustration from Abraham. It is not just an academic exercise, it is study to learn how to think, to learn about reality as God has described it in His Word. And we are barraged day in and day out with the cosmic system, human viewpoint to solve and cope with problems. It is embedded in everything.
The key verse that we must come back to is James 1:2: "My brethren, count it all joy when you encounter various trials." This is what is going to happen to us for the rest of our lives. "Because you know that the testing of the doctrine in your soul produces endurance. And let endurance have its maturing work [production] that you may be mature and sufficient, lacking nothing." This is when you realize that God has provided everything, the grace solution is the only solution, and the human solution is no solution.