Monday, 22 July 2019
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? James 2:25
James now proceeds to his final example of being justified by works. Here, he uses the harlot Rahab as an example. Unlike Abraham, who is discussed in detail by Paul concerning being justified by faith alone, there is very little mention of Rahab in Scripture, and she is only mentioned three times in the New Testament.
The first of these three times is in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Her name is simply mentioned along with other names in the list. She is then mentioned in Hebrews 11 in a single verse. And now she is mentioned in this one verse by James. In the Old Testament, it tells of what she did in Joshua 2, and the results of that for her in Joshua 6. On a cursory reading, everything about what she did in Joshua 2 appears to be an active work on her part.
Because of this, James says, “was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works.” This is James’ position, and it is recorded in Scripture. It must be true. As noted, the account of Joshua 2 tells what she did, and the account in Joshua 6 shows the result – the saving of her family and herself. James then explicitly cites the work that she did. It was “when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.”
Here, like in the evaluation of the previous verse, someone might now argue that James is referring to actual, demonstrable deeds leading to righteousness. The idea (as the RCC would claim) is that Rahab has participated in her justification through her deeds. This is good news for people like Bill Gates who do lots of things to be considered philanthropic and caring. Maybe there is hope for him because of all he has done!
No. It doesn’t work that way. A man is justified by faith alone – apart from deeds of the law. This is what Paul speaks of, and it is actually – once again – supported by Hebrews 11 –
“By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.” Hebrews 11:31
Hebrews 11, which is prior to the book of James for a reason in Scripture, cites the exact same deed that James now cites. And it says Rahab’s deed was a deed of faith. It was not separate from, but because of, her faith. Her faith saved her and it was expressed in her deed. In other words, a deed, not done in faith, is of no value in this equation. Bill Gates cannot use James 2 to say he stands justified before God, and the RCC cannot say that a person’s arbitrary deeds increase their justification before God. It is by faith, and by faith alone, that one is justified before God. The deeds of faith are what James is referring to.
When someone says, “Good deeds are the fruit of faith,” the question to then be asked is, “What deeds?” Unless the answer is, “Deeds of faith,” then they have missed the mark of what Scripture is referring to. And, the only One who can determine if a deed is of faith is God who reads the hearts and minds. Arbitrary standards of what constitutes “good deeds” are to be rejected. A person’s faith belongs to that person alone.
Life application: “By faith,” Rahab was saved. The faith justifies. The deed is merely an attachment to the faith. Many attempt to climb high mountains, but the lack of motivation to reach the summit will often outweigh the physical ability to do so; some will turn back without accomplishing their task. In contrast, those who truly desire to reach the summit can do so – even if they have far less physical strength than those who couldn’t make it. Those with faith that they can do it will be those who prevail.
We often quit a task because we don’t have faith in a positive outcome. Those who do, even with fewer resources, will continue on and be successful. The outcome is attainable, but the faith is vital.
In Matthew 17, Jesus’ disciples couldn’t heal a boy with a demon. Jesus rebuked them by saying, “O faithless and perverse generation…” (Matthew 17:17). Later when they asked Him why they couldn’t drive out the demon, He responded –
“Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’” Matthew 17:20, 21
The outcome then was possible, but they lacked the proper faith to bring it about. Rahab had saving faith in the God of Israel. Her words indicate this –
“And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Joshua 2:11
Rahab understood the omnipotence of the LORD and put her trust in it. Today, if you are facing a difficult situation, remember that God is in complete control. Have faith that what He has planned is sufficient to accomplish the task according to His will and for your best interests.
Lord, if Rahab the harlot can demonstrate such immense faith despite the situation she faced, surely we can too. Be with us and strengthen our faith that we might stand in the times of testing and trial. Give us faith that can move mountains and the certainty that what we need to accomplish will occur if it is in accord with Your sovereign will. To Your glory and in Jesus’ name. Amen.