Faith and Works; Eternal Life and Eternal Death
Matthew 25:31–46; James 2
Matthew Lesson #163
May 14, 2017
“Father, we pray that as we study Your Word today, as we reflect upon what our Lord taught at the conclusion of this Olivet Discourse, Father we pray that You would help us to understand it, to think through what its implications are for our lives, and Father we pray that we might understand the issues involved.
“Father, we’re thankful that we have Your Word that is so clear on our salvation; that is so very clear that it is not by works that we are saved, that there’s nothing that we can do to affect our salvation, that it is all done by Jesus Christ on the Cross, so that all we need to do is accept it as a free gift, to believe that Jesus died for us, and that is all.
“Father, we pray that as we study today, You would help us to have a greater appreciation and understanding of Your grace.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me this morning to Matthew 25, and we’re continuing our study in the passage that is known as The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46. I want to focus on this question that arises out of this passage on the connection between faith and works.
Before we begin, I want to read to you a quote I ran across yesterday. This was a statement that was made by Sir Lancelot Andrewes. I’m not going to ask, “how many have heard of him raise your hand,” because most of you have not, though you have read much that He has written. Sir Lancelot Andrewes was considered the second most brilliant man in the British Empire in the early 1600s.
The man who was considered the most brilliant was a man named Usher. You’ve read in the middle column of a Scofield Reference Bible, “Ushers Chronology”. He was the Archbishop of Ireland, and He was actually brilliant, spoke a number of different languages.
Many people don’t really know much about him other than that and they think, “Well, who is this idiot who thought that the earth was created in 4004 BC?” He was considered the most brilliant man of his generation, that’s who he was.
Sir Lancelot Andrewes was considered to be second to him, and he was the chief editor and translator of the new King James Version. Part of his responsibility at one time was he was the preacher for the Court of St. James, so that it was the court of King James of England who was his congregation. He has a number of interesting and insightful quotes.
He is a brilliant writer and master of the English language, and I ran across this yesterday. It is something we all need to be reminded of every now and then, as we are part of a congregation that focuses on the teaching of God’s Word, and that we put an emphasis on the importance of studying and learning and knowing God’s Word.
We’re very different from many congregations today that seek the popular, seek that “feel-good,” seek to go to churches where they are motivated. This was 500 years ago, Lancelot Andrewes said, “It is not our task to preach what people wish to hear, but what one day in some sad future they will wish that they had heard.”
Think about that. “It is not our task to preach what people wish to hear, but what one day in some sad future they will wish that they had heard.”
Teaching the Word of God is not always something that is accepted, that is pleasant, that is a “feel-good” experience, but it is the truth that we need to learn to conform to and to live our lives by.
As we come to this judgment passage, much of which I taught last week, it raises certain questions. One of those is this question of the relationship of faith and work, something that is very, very misunderstood today. In fact, at the heart of this description of this judgment—that isn’t the final judgment, as I pointed out last week—but is the judgment on the Gentiles at the end of the Tribulation period, Jesus makes the statement, Matthew 25:32-40,
“All the Gentiles will be gathered before Him”—that is the Son of Man—“and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates His sheep from the goats.
“And He will set the sheep on the right and the goats on the left. Then the king will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; and I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
“ ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
“ ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the king will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ ”
That passage is frequently quoted, I understand—because several people informed me of this after last week—that it is quoted at every Roman Catholic funeral. It is quoted in many other denominational funerals as well, because there are many people who think that this is the gospel.
That if you do not take care of the sick and the poor, if you are not feeding the hungry of the world, then you will not go to Heaven. It is used as a threat, it is used to intimidate people to give money, and it is used in many cases to be the so-called “Christian rationale” for socialism, for social justice, for feeding the poor.
Not that some of those things, such as taking care of those who are going through difficult times, being compassionate and generous, that has nothing to do with this passage. This passage—as I pointed out last time, when you understand who “the least of these My brethren” are—that’s not talking about the poor people, the destitute people, the lower socioeconomic groups of the world.
That is talking about something very, very different. In fact, this socialist view that has come to be the dominant view today—what in fact is the minority view throughout church history. But there are other views that are equally erroneous. I’m taking time to work our way through this a little bit, so we understand what Jesus is teaching us here.
Last time I had these six questions we were going to look. We’ll review question number one.
Secondly, the connection to the previous three parables, which I’ve talked about. Before this there are three parables; this is not a parable. It has specific individuals named: the Son of Man. The only metaphor that’s used here is that of the sheep and the goats, but after the initial reference there, they’re treated as individual human believers, so it’s not parabolic at all.
Third, what’s the significance of “Son of Man”? That is a term for the Messiah who comes to take His kingdom on the earth. This is talking about a future time when He comes to establish His kingdom on the earth, which will then last a thousand years, at the end of which we will see the Great White Throne Judgment, which is described at the end of Revelation 20.
This is a distinct judgment: He will come. When He comes at the end of the Tribulation to establish His kingdom, sit up on its throne in a literal, geophysical, kingdom centered in Jerusalem, a Jewish kingdom with a Jewish Messiah who is ruling the world. That is so crucial to understand.
We got to the fifth question, and I said we will come back and address it this week. What I want to try to do today is to look a little bit at the context and understand a little bit more about what Jesus meant by “the least of these My brethren.”
Secondly, to address the question, “what is the gospel?” “What is the gospel?” A lot of people are confused today about the gospel. Those who take this as a gospel passage are saying that we’re saved by works: we’re saved by social action; we’re saved by social justice; we’re saved by helping people. Is that the gospel?
Third, what is the relationship then between faith and works, because there are a lot of people who say there is this necessary connection between genuine belief that works itself out in certain overt works, and if the works aren’t there, you don’t really have genuine faith. The reason these sheep are saved and enter into the kingdom is because they have the right kind of works that validate their faith—they have saving faith. Is that what this is talking about?
Fourth question is we have to understand how the sheep become righteous because in Matthew 25:37, they are identified as the righteous, “Then the righteous will answer them …” So the sheep are sheep because they’re righteous, not because they did good deeds. How do we become righteous in the sight of God?
Fifth, there is the punishment aspect that comes at the end, where we talk about those who are consigned to eternal fire. In Matthew 25:46 they will go to everlasting punishment but the righteous into eternal life.
There are folks who have problems with this. This just sounds so terrible and so harsh that God would consign people to eternal never ending fire because they have rejected the gospel, and yet that’s taught throughout the Scripture.
And sixth the implications for us.
A quick reminder—as I’ve done at the beginning of every lesson—the question is, what’s the sign of Your coming? The PAROUSIA, when He would come in His kingdom. This whole passage, all of Matthew 24 and 25, the Upper Room Discourse is Jesus answering the question about what it will be like when He comes to establish His kingdom.
That coming is at the end of the Tribulation. It’s not the Rapture, which is when the Church—God’s people today, where there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Anyone who believes in Jesus is a member of the church—we are taken be with Him in Heaven.
1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 says that “the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, and thus we shall ever be with the Lord.” That comes before the Tribulation period: He’s answering questions related to that future time.
He talks about how “the least of these My brethren” are treated. That is at the very center of the interpretation of this particular passage. In Matthew 25:40 we read, “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren.’ ”
Last time I pointed out that the term “My brethren” in Matthew—how Matthew uses the term, how Jesus uses the term—is to refer to His literal, physical brothers. Those who were actually His half-brothers, half-brother in His humanity.
They were the sons—and there were also daughters—that were born to Mary and Joseph following the birth of Jesus. Because Jesus is the firstborn, He is born of a virgin conception and birth, but Mary does not remain a virgin. She begins to have relations with her husband, and then she has other children.
That’s a literal meaning of the term, but it is also another term that’s used here and that’s “the least.” This is used in passages that refer to the disciples. He’s talking about His physical brethren, which would relate to those who are genetically related to Him in terms of His immediate family, but also to those who were Jewish.
But the term “least of these” is a term that is used to describe the disciples. When you put them together—as I said last week, this is talking not just about treating Jews in the Tribulation, and you will hear some people limit it to that—it is talking about the treatment of Jewish believers.
Jews will come under intense persecution and assault by the Antichrist in the second half of the Tribulation, as he attempts to completely destroy and eradicate all Jews from the earth. Why does he want to do that? He wants to do that because he’s empowered by Satan.
Satan knows that if he can prevent God from fulfilling His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and if he can prevent God from fulfilling the promise of giving the Jewish people the land, restoring them to the land, and establishing a kingdom, then he can win the war against God. Satan is seeking to destroy the Jewish people and all anti-Semitism is a product of satanic thought and opposition to the plan and the purpose of God.
The Jewish people, whether they’re believers or not, are still God’s chosen people, even though during this Church Age, they are out of the land, they are in what is called the Diaspora, they are under divine discipline. But in the Tribulation period, they are going to be the refocused part of God’s plan.
God will be returning them to the land, and there will be a huge response to the gospel among the Jews. But they will come under persecution, and that’s what we see when we look at Matthew 25:35, “I was hungry and you gave Me food.” He’s not talking about Himself, He is talking about “if you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
These Jewish believers are going to be hungry. They’re going to be famished; they’re going to be thirsty. They’re not going to have water, they’re not to have the basics of food and water. They’re going to be strangers, they are going to be wandering. They are going to be public enemy number one, and you’re not going to know them.
Gentile believers are going to have the opportunity to hide them, much as Christians and even many non-Christians during the time of the Third Reich in Europe hid Jews who were under assault by the Nazis during the time of the Third Reich in Germany, under the rule of the of the Nazis.
They hid people at the risk of their lives. I’ve read many of these stories, and they are referred to as the “righteous among the Gentiles.” You go to the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, and there is an avenue at the museum walkway lined with trees, and those trees are dedicated to people like Oskar Schindler and Corrie ten Boom, and many, many others who risked their lives to save Jews from the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
If you were caught hiding or protecting a Jew, not only would you immediately lose your life, but your whole family. All of your friends, all of your extended relatives would all lose their lives. Everything would be destroyed, and all of your property would be confiscated by the state.
That should raise a question in our minds: Would we be willing to do that? Would we be willing to hide a Jewish person or Jewish family in our home if we knew that everybody that we were related to would be killed for our decision if we were caught? That’s what takes real courage. This is going to be mirrored in a much greater level during this time of the Tribulation.
This is a description of what will be taking place in terms of the persecution of Jewish believers in the Tribulation period. Naked, they have no food, shelter, clothing, anything; they’re sick as a result of that. They’re in prison, as Jesus describes them and this indicates the level of persecution and torture for Jewish background believers during the Tribulation period. And yet, there is praise for those who will give one of them just a cup of cold water.
We see that this idea of “the little ones” as disciples, is seen in verses like Matthew 10:42. Remember, Jesus used the analogy of a little child to picture the humility of a disciple. He only used that illustration to begin with, and from that point on, as we saw when I studied through Matthew 10 and Matthew 18, the little child doesn’t refer to the physical little child in front of Him anymore. It refers to the disciple who has become humble, who has recognized that his life is of no consequence; it’s the service to the Lord that’s significant.
That’s the point of the analogy here, because a little child in that culture, if you remember, had no value and no significance. It wasn’t just that children were better seen and not heard, they were better not seen and not heard. It’s not a recognition that they’re inherently humble. It’s that they have no social standing in the culture, and a disciple is someone who is not concerned about his social standing.
Remember what the question was? Who’s going to be the greatest of us in the kingdom? They were all about who’s going to be sitting in Jesus’ left hand and right hand when He comes in His kingdom. Jesus says, “No, you have to be like a little child.”
Then after that He uses the term “little child” to refer to a disciple who has that mental attitude. Matthew 10:42. “And whoever gives one of these little ones,” He’s talking about a disciple, so this term refers to a disciple.
Matthew 18:6, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin”—that’s talking about a disciple who has that correct mental attitude.
Matthew 18:10, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones.” He is not talking about despising children, He is talking about despising a truly humble disciple.
Matthew 18:14, “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones …” He’s talking about disciples.
So Jesus takes this word and combines it. Now the word that’s used there is the comparative; the word that’s used here is the superlative of that word. If you know Greek you’re going to say, “Well, that’s not the same word.” They’re different forms: it’s like the difference between good and best.
You can’t see how they’re connected, but best is the superlative of good. Better is the comparative; best is the superlative. So the words don’t look like they’re the same, but they actually are. One’s the superlative over the over the other. So Jesus is talking about how disciples, Jewish believers, are treated by Gentiles.
That brings up the next question: What’s the gospel? Because we would think that, “Well the gospel’s believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and works aren’t involved at all. Isn’t that what the gospel says? What’s going on here?” This is what confuses a lot of people.
We have to understand there are three gospels. They are basically the same, but it depends on the dispensation because there are slight differences. Salvation Scriptures are always by faith alone in the promise of God. But the promise of God changes from dispensation to dispensation.
What we have in the first gospel is the gospel of the Old Testament, which focused on a future provision of salvation. It’s depicted as we went through the Lord’s Table this morning, it’s depicted in the sacrificial system, the Levitical system, it is pictured in Passover. It is pictured in many other types and foreshadowings in the Old Testament that the Messiah would come and He would pay the penalty for sin.
It’s a faith in the future promise of God to provide complete salvation for my sins in His promise of the Messiah. As more revelation came along down through the centuries, then that picture of the Messiah became a little more in focus. You come to the time of Isaiah 53 and you get a picture of the Suffering Servant who would justify many. It becomes much clearer than perhaps it was at an earlier time.
Then you have the arrival of Jesus. Jesus comes on the scene and the forerunner to His ministry is John the Baptist. John the Baptist doesn’t preach, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” What does he preach? “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
So it’s a message that is still focusing—Messiah hasn’t come yet, so it’s still focusing—on the coming of the Messiah who will save us from our sins. But that now includes the idea that He is coming to establish His kingdom, so it is the gospel of the kingdom.
What is the kingdom? The kingdom is the promised Davidic Kingdom that would be fulfilled by the greater Son of David, who is the Messiah. It is a focus on the fulfillment of the promise of a Jewish king, a Jewish Kingdom, and the Messiah who would provide complete and total redemption. That is what a person is understanding at that time.
Jesus had the same message in Matthew 4:23, after John the Baptist was arrested, “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”
That verse is virtually repeated word for word in Matthew 9:35 a little later on. So the first part of Jesus’ ministry is teaching them “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Mark1:14–15 says it this way, “After John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.’ ” It’s related to that immediate offer of the kingdom.
Now what happened? The Pharisees rejected the offer of the kingdom, so it was postponed. It is taken from them and it’s not here yet. It will not come until Jesus comes in His glory at the end of the Tribulation period.
But the Tribulation period is going to be a lot like that period before the Cross. It is a focus on the Jewish people and the coming of their Messiah, who is a descendent of David, it’s a Jewish Messiah presenting a Jewish kingdom that is going to be a geopolitical kingdom with the throne of the Son of Man in Jerusalem.
This is the kingdom, and in Matthew 24:14, which is in our context of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is talking about how the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations.”
Notice “to all the Gentiles.” The gospel of the kingdom is preached in all the world as a witness to all the Gentiles. This is what’s happening in the first half of the Tribulation period.
Revelation 6 tells us that 144,000 Jews are saved, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. There will also be the two witnesses that appear, that are in the power of Moses and Elijah. And they will go forth, and their message is the message of the kingdom to the Gentiles.
There’s a Jewish Messiah coming. He’s going to establish a Jewish Kingdom. It will be centered in Jerusalem which is the capital, the historic capital of Israel. It’s all Jewish. You want to get saved? You’ve got to accept a Jewish Messiah, and He’s coming for a Jewish Kingdom that will be ruled from Jerusalem. It’s a package understanding, it’s a little different content. It’s still faith alone in Christ alone, but the content that is reemphasized is He’s coming to establish this Jewish Kingdom.
The gospel of the Church Age is minus that kingdom emphasis, because it’s not about to come. It’s not being offered today. We have passages like Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
It’s a free gift, you take it. If you can lose it, it’s not a gift. If it can be taken from you by the Person who gave it to you, it’s not a gift. It is a free gift, “not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”
Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of works which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” He saved us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
In Romans 11:6 Paul says, “But if it is by grace—that is, if salvation is by grace—“it is no longer on the basis of works”—that is “out from works”—“otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
So these three passages, among many, many, many others, separate works from faith, and it’s just something that is totally, totally different.
What we learn from this is the gospel by which people are saved in the Tribulation period is the gospel of the kingdom. Secondly, that that gospel of the kingdom focuses on a Jewish Messianic Kingdom that will have a Jewish King—a descendent of David—and a Jewish throne in Jerusalem. It’s all Jewish.
What’s your response going to be to a Jewish believer? If you understand that this is what you’re anticipating, this is what you’re waiting for, this is what you think is about to happen. How are you going to treat Jews? Are you going to be anti-Semitic? Not at all. See, this isn’t a faith plus works kind of thing. It’s an understanding of what the nature of the gospel and the message is in the Tribulation period.
You’re not going to be a believer in Jesus and hate Jews. This just isn’t going to happen because the Jesus that you’re understanding about is a Jewish Jesus, because the Jews are the centerpiece of that dispensation. Again, it’s all about salvation and establishing His throne.
Revelation 22:1, we have this stated near the summary: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
One throne and it’s the throne of God and the throne of the Lamb. Before the Lamb was sitting on the Father’s throne. By this time He’s been given the throne as the Son of Man, and He is on His throne with the Father.
Revelation 22:3 says “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
It’s now unified. Up until this point in Revelation, it’s just the throne of God. It isn’t until Jesus comes in His kingdom that it changes to be the throne of God and the throne of the Lamb. “The Lamb” is the favored term John uses to refer to Jesus in the Book of Revelation—27 times he refers to Jesus as the Lamb.
What then is the relationship of faith and works? In this passage they’re called the righteous. What’s the relationship here?
And the righteous do something. They feed the hungry, they give drink to the thirsty, they clothe the naked, and they go visit them in prison.
This is the first question we have to ask.
Now there are basically two approaches to justification; the third one I have listed there is a subset of the second one. The first view is the view that we believe: that we are justified by faith alone. It doesn’t involve works. We believe in faith alone in Christ alone. That’s a little motto that people have been using for about 25 years to emphasize a free grace salvation.
It’s faith alone. It’s not faith plus works. It’s not faith plus anything. All that is needed to be saved is to believe in only Jesus. Not to believe in Jesus and the church, not to believe in Jesus plus good works, not to believe in Jesus plus anything else. It’s faith alone in Christ alone.
But there are many who believe in an upfront works, that we are saved by faith plus something: faith plus be a member of our church, our denomination. There are others who believe that salvation is based on faith plus baptism. If you’re not baptized, then you’re not saved. They call that baptismal regeneration.
There are others that will make it, if you don’t believe in Jesus and give. There are all sorts of things: if you don’t believe in Jesus and live a certain way. There are some sins that you can commit, but other sins, if you commit them, then you’ll lose your salvation.
Then there’s a third group, a much more subtle group, and we usually refer to this as Lordship salvation, and that’s just become the term for it. It is those who believe that if you have true faith in Christ, then you will live a different life and the way you know if you have true faith in Christ is by your works.
They will quote Scripture out of context and say “by your works, they will know you.” Jesus isn’t talking about justification at that point, He’s talking about knowing whether or not somebody is a false teacher by their works, by what they say, what they teach. The Scripture is clear that it’s not as a result of works.
Titus 3:5, “it’s not on the basis of works.”
Romans 11:6, “… it’s no longer on the basis of works.” Works are not part of the equation to determine where our eternal destiny is.
What is the role of works? According to Ephesians 2:10, which is usually not ever quoted with Ephesians 2:8–9, “we are saved unto good works.” That’s a purpose, but it’s not to get to know we’re saved.
How do you know you’re saved? Are you saved by looking at your life? No. You’re saved by the promise of God, your confidence is in the promise of God. The gospel promise. I’m not looking to my works as an assurance or a sign that I’m truly, truly saved.
A passage that we all go to, and I want to spend the rest of the time this morning looking at it— turn with me to James 2—and we’re going to do a fly over. I have taught this several times. I think you can go back to a salvation series I taught when I was at Preston City Bible Church. That’s on the Dean Bible Ministries website, and I think it’s Salvation Lesson #13 and Lesson #14, and you’ll get a more in-depth study of the passage than I’m going to go through, but I’ll just hit the high points.
This is a passage that people go to—James 2—and what you’ll see, like in the heading in my New King James Bible, “faith without works is dead.” The implication for many people is, “If I don’t have works, then I don’t have saving faith.” Is that what is going on here?
In James 2:14–17 we see the basic principle laid out, and what is being taught here is doctrine. Doctrine is a term that means the teaching, the instruction of God’s Word; that doctrine without application is useless.
Now doctrine is a word that a lot of people use around here, and some people use it correctly, some people don’t use it correctly, but it is a word that was used in the King James Version, and it just means teaching, the instruction, which includes not only theology but also application. You may know a lot, and some people have doctrinal notebooks, they’ve kept all their notes from other Bible classes for years, and they’re up on a shelf.
But doctrine is designed to be internalized. The instruction of Scripture is to be internalized, and no matter how much we know, and we all know a whole lot more than we apply, doctrine that isn’t applied—that is faith: what is believed—that isn’t applied, really doesn’t do any benefit to our spiritual life. It doesn’t mean that we’re not saved. That’s the point here.
What’s difficult in reading this in the English—and also it’s not always obvious even if you’re reading in the Greek—is there’s an objector that comes along. James is going through this, he’s making his points, and then he introduces—in objection to what he is saying in James 2:18 where he says, “but someone will say”—and that introduces the words of the objector.
People usually just think that’s verse 18, but it’s actually James 2:18–19. That’s the voice of the objector. And then James comes back to make his point in James 2:20–26.
So the objector is saying, “Look! Doctrine’s all you need. You don’t need application! All you need to know is what God’s Word says and you’re okay.” James’ point is: all that is, is you’re just learning a lot, but it doesn’t do you any good spiritually unless you apply it in your life.
Then there are two illustrations given in James 2:20–26. Abraham and Rahab are the two different illustrations, and it’s talking about applied doctrine, but there it uses the terminology of justification, and we will look at that briefly. So this is the layout here.
James 2:14 starts off with this question, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
We have to understand the terms here. First of all, he’s talking to believers. He calls them “my brethren.” Again and again and again in the epistle, he addresses them as “my brethren.” Their salvific status—their position in Christ—is not a question. The issue is they’re not applying the Word.
He raises the question, what use is it if someone says he has faith—and that’s not saying that I believe, everybody believes all kinds of things. The word “faith” here is standing for what is believed, like you can say, “I am of the Methodist faith.” “I am of the Presbyterian faith.” “I am of the Roman Catholic faith.” We use the word “faith” many times to talk about that which we believe.
He says, “If a man says that he has faith”—that is, that he believes certain things, that he has doctrine, he has the teaching of Scripture—“but He has no works.” What he means by works isn’t Christian service; its application. That’s what James 1:18 all the way down through this section is all about. He is critical of the person who hears, but doesn’t do.
That’s what he talks about in the first part of this section from James 1:18–27, that you need to not only hear the Word but do the Word. That means to apply what you hear. So he’s carrying that on in this section, but now instead of hearing and doing, he is talking about hearing—or faith: what you have heard and say you believe—and your application: what you do with it. Can that faith save him?
Now the word “saved” is used three different ways in Scripture. It’s used in a lot of nonreligious ways, such as healing or being delivered from a difficult situation, but in some passages, like Ephesians 2:8–9, it talks about being saved from the penalty of sin. That’s how we often think of it. We say, “Are you saved?” And we mean “Are you going to go to Heaven when you die? Are you justified by faith alone in Christ alone?”
Then the word “saved” is often used of our spiritual life, being saved from the power of sin in our life today. We’re saved from the penalty of sin when we trust Christ as Savior, but spiritual life is a growth process where we’re saved from the power of sin. So in that sense I was saved yesterday, I’m being saved today, I’m being saved tomorrow, I will be saved tomorrow. It’s used that way.
Then it’s used when we’re ultimately saved from the presence of sin when we go to be with the Lord. When James asked this question, “Can that faith save him?” is he talking about faith to get into Heaven? Why would he need to do that? They’re already saved in phase one, they’re brethren. He’s saying can that faith provides spiritual growth for them?
If all you do is learn a lot about the Bible and you have doctrinal notebooks that line up shelves, but you’re not applying it, he’s saying, “Can that kind of faith sanctify you? Can that kind of faith provide spiritual growth for you, if you’re not applying the Word?”
This is just a paraphrase: “What spiritual benefit is it my brethren”—this is how I’m expanding the translation; he’s saying—“What spiritual benefit is in my brethren, if someone claims to have doctrine?—I know doctrine; I have doctrinal notebooks. If someone claims to have doctrine, they claim to know what the Bible teaches, but does not apply it, can that doctrine deliver him from the destructive and deadly consequences of sin on a day-to-day basis?” That’s the question.
Then he gives an illustration. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed, be filled,’ ” —and yet you don’t help them—“you do not give them what is necessary for the body, what use is that”—of Christianity?
This is a passage that validates that it’s part of our spiritual life, our love for the brethren, to help those who are in difficult times.
It’s similar to what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25:35–36 about how Gentile believers helped their Jewish brethren who are under intense persecution during the Tribulation period. James says that if you have a faith that doesn’t help others, it’s dead.
If you’re driving on the highway—first time I developed this I was living up in Connecticut—I’ve never seen it anywhere else. But you get into the spring time, and when I first moved up there, it was spring and all these critters are coming out of hibernation. If you’ve lived up north, Pennsylvania, Michigan, anywhere like that, you don’t see it so much like this.
They’re disoriented, and they get disoriented out into the highway, and I’ve never seen as much roadkill in my life as I would see in Connecticut in the spring. But whether it was a dead raccoon, or whether it was a dead possum, or whatever it was that was dead, a dead deer, there’s one thing you could say about every one of those critters, “It used to be alive.”
A dead faith is not a nonexistent faith. A dead faith is a faith that is no longer living, which means at one time it was a living faith and they were saved and living out their salvation. So it’s not saying that they’re not saved because they don’t have works. It’s saying that their once living faith is now non-operational, and it’s not of any value to them. It’s not benefiting them in their spiritual growth.
So this objector comes along—he’s using a debater’s technique, and he says—“Well, somebody’s going to come along and say, ‘well, look, you have faith and I have works. You show me your faith without the works and I will show you my faith by my works.’ ”
Basically what he saying is there’s no connection between faith and application, and he’s arguing to James and says “No, it doesn’t matter if you have doctrine or you have works. It’s all the same, there’s no connection between the two. You’re just making a false point.”
Then he uses an illustration, James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe and shudder.”
You can hear all kinds of people say, “Well, see the demons believe in God, but they’re not saved because they don’t have works.” It doesn’t say anything about salvation here. It’s not talking about that, it’s talking about the fact that the demons knew who God was and they knew He was God, and they chose to disobey Him, and their belief in God really didn’t do them any good because they chose to rebel against Him. But this is the voice of the objector. This isn’t the voice of James, and he’s not talking about salvation, so that’s just jerked out of context.
Then James responds, he says, “But you foolish fellow. Don’t you recognize that faith”— that is doctrine, what you believe—“is really of no value without application.”
Then he uses an illustration from Abraham, James 2:23, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ ”
That is Genesis 15:6. That’s talking about what Abraham had done before God called him: that he had believed in God’s promise of a future salvation; and because he believed in God, it was imputed to him as righteousness.
If you go back and listen to the series I did on Abraham within the Genesis series, from Genesis 12 through Genesis 22, I identified ten separate tests. There were many more, of course, but those are the ten tests that are described that are a part of Abraham’s spiritual growth.
At the beginning of that is when he believes the gospel and it’s imputed or credited to him as righteousness, and he becomes righteous. He is called the “friend of God.” But then he is going to be justified again in another sense as a result of what happens in Genesis 22.
Genesis 22 is near the end of his life, much, much later, when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and he is willing to do that. He now has a mature faith. He has finally understood God is going to give him a seed, a descendent, and it’s going to come through Isaac.
He says, “Whatever I do,”—the writer of Hebrews tells us that God is going to raise him from the dead—“even if I kill him.” Now his faith—his salvation faith, justification faith—is validated by application. So it’s a different sense of justification here.
James is not saying that the way we know we’re saved is by our works, and that if they’re not there, we weren’t really saved. This has nothing to do with what Jesus is saying about treating these Jewish believers under persecution, that what they are being judged for has nothing to do with their response to the gospel. It’s just their social action. Now there’s more to this, and we will come back and look at that next time.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to continue our study, to learn about Your grace, to learn what will happen in the future.
“Father, the issue for eternal life, the issue that determines our eternal destiny is: what do we think about Jesus Christ? Do we believe in Him as the One who died for our sins, paid the full penalty for our sins on the Cross, so that nothing can be added to it, but everything is provided for us?
“Father, we pray that if there is anyone who is listening to this message that has never believed in Jesus as their Savior; that perhaps they’ve trusted in their good life, or they’ve trusted in the church they’ve gone to, or they’ve trusted in what they’ve done in terms of good deeds, that they would recognize that none of that is of value.
“Scripture says in Isaiah 64:6, “all of our works of righteousness is as filthy rags”. Father, that we can only gain righteousness as Abraham did by believing in Your promise that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.
“By believing in Him, we are given His righteousness and we are declared righteous because of what He did and that we can have eternal life only by faith alone in Christ alone. Father, we pray that anyone who’s never done that who hears this message will respond to the gospel.
“Father, we thank You for the challenge to us that we are to continue to grow because understanding the Word is one thing, applying it is when we receive its benefit in our life and spiritual growth, that we will not have a dead faith, but we will have a living faith. We will be doing or applying that which we hear.
“We pray all this in Christ’s name. Amen.”