Friday, 19 July 2019
Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? James 2:22
James just cited the account of Abraham offering up Isaac on the altar to support his notion that “faith without works is dead.” With that in mind, he then says, “Do you see.” Translations are divided on this. Some make it a question, “Do you see…?” Others make it a statement of fact, “You see…” Either way, the thought comes out the same in the end, which is, “that faith was working together with his works…”
In the Greek, James makes a play on words by saying that Abraham, “was working the works of him.” So, Abraham has works that he is working out together with his faith. The word is sunergeó, and it is key to understanding what is being relayed. It means “to cooperate” or “to work together.” It is where our modern word synergy is derived from. Of this, Albert Barnes says –
“The apostle does not say that, in regard to the merit which justifies, they came in for an equal share, for he makes no affirmation on that point; he does not deny that in the sight of God, who foresees and knows all things, he was regarded as a justified man the moment he believed, but he looks at the result as it was, at Abraham as he appeared under the trial of his faith, and says that in that result there was to be seen the co-operation of faith and good works. Both contributed to the end, as they do now in all cases where there is true religion.”
How can it be that Abraham “was regarded as a justified man the moment he believed,” and yet it also be true that a cooperation of faith and good works contributed to the end, if by “end” he means justification? Either one is justified and declared righteous, or he is not. The only thing that can be affected by his faith are the works (whatever works) that he does.
The works are not separated from his faith, but they are combined with it. James then confirms this by saying that “by works faith was made perfect.” It is not the justification that was made perfect. Rather, that was something that occurred many years earlier. His later works had no bearing on that declaration – as Paul clearly shows in Romans 4:9-11. This is important to understand prior to arriving at verse 2:24. It is his faith that was made perfect.
Life application: Roman Catholicism claims that deeds of righteousness increase our standing before God and assist in our justification. Protestant theologians say they have no merit but only prove salvation. Paul, however, says we are justified by faith alone and that this occurred in Abraham’s case long before the time of Isaac. Therefore, the justification is by faith alone.
Was Abraham’s deed of sacrifice meritorious in and of itself? Or was the action pointing to something else that hasn’t yet been analyzed? If you studied the passage from Hebrews 11 which deals with Abraham, then you may have an inkling of what was really involved in Abraham’s deed. Understanding what Hebrews 11 says is the key and it will resolve the matter.
No matter what the resolution is, what is important for now is that Abraham did what he was called to do. You also have a divine calling on your life – one to be holy, to honor the Lord, and to care for others in selfless ways. This calling, along with telling others about Jesus’ wonderful salvation, is something you should be pursuing all the time. Have faith that the Lord will be with you as you do!
O God, how precious is the study of Your word! It is so wonderful to look into matters presented there and to know that you have provided all we need to know to live in a holy and Christ-honoring manner. In all ways, may our lives reflect Your plan and purpose…to the praise of Your glorious grace. Amen.