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Daily Devotional

February 13

Are You For Real? (James 2:20–26)

by the Rev. Larry Wilson

Scripture for Day 44—James 2:20–26

20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Devotional:

Faith without works is dead, useless, no better than the faith of demons; genuine saving faith demonstrates itself through actions. This really ought not to seem like a radical, new concept. "Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?"

Consider Exhibit A—Abraham. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God."

James highlights two different points in Abraham's spiritual pilgrimage, one early in his walk; the other at the end.

Verse 21 starts with the end point—"Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?" This refers to Genesis 22. Abraham stepped out in faith and offered his son in obedience to God's command. As a result, God said, "Now I know that you fear me, since you have not withheld your only son from me." Abraham's works demonstrated that his faith was genuine. That's the endpoint in Abraham's life.

But verses 22-23 rewind to a point early in Abraham's pilgrimage—"You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God." This refers to Genesis 15. But there we see Abraham struggling with doubts about God's promises. Abraham even wondered if he should adopt Eliezer, his servant, as the covenant heir. But the Lord said, "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir ... Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be." And then God's Word says something utterly amazing: "Abraham believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness." Having God's promise alone, even though humanly he and Sarah could not bear a child, Abraham believed God. And God reckoned Abraham's faith to him as righteousness.

What connects Genesis 15 and Genesis 22 is Abraham's faith, specifically Abraham's trust in God to provide the promised heir through whom salvation would come to the world (Gen 12:3). Notice how verse 22 links these two events—"You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works." They may be two distinct events, but the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 was the outworking of the very same faith that Abraham had in Genesis 15. It's not that Genesis 22 is about Abraham's works, while Genesis 15 is about his faith. No! Both are about Abraham's faith. But Genesis 22 tells how God used testing to bring that faith to completion and maturity.

Abraham was reckoned righteous through faith alone. But Abraham's status as genuine believer was demonstrated when he unconditionally obeyed his Lord. This showed that his profession was more than words and religious talk.

Words and religious talk are not unimportant, but neither are they adequate to make you right with God. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Rest in Christ alone as he is offered in the gospel. Take up your cross daily and follow him in faith, as did Abraham.


Click here for background on the author of Are You For Real?: Meditations in the Epistle of James for Secret or Family Worship.

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