James 2:21

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? James 2:21

James now introduces the first of the two examples which he inferred were coming by the question which comprised the previous verse. He asked, “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” To affirm that it is the case, he begins his examples with, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works.” Albert Barnes states the following concerning this –

“Justified by works – That is, in the sense in which James is maintaining that a man professing religion is to be justified by his works. He does not affirm that the ground of acceptance with God is that we keep the law, or are perfect; or that our good works make an atonement for our sins, and that it is on their account that we are pardoned; nor does he deny that it is necessary that a man should believe in order to be saved. In this sense he does not deny that men are justified by faith; and thus he does not contradict the doctrine of the apostle Paul. But he does teach that where there are no good works, or where there is not a holy life, there is no true religion; that that faith which is not productive of good works is of no value; that if a man has that faith only, it would be impossible that he could be regarded as justified, or could be saved and that consequently, in that large sense, a man is justified by his works that is, they are the evidence that he is a justified man, or is regarded and treated as righteous by his Maker. The point on which the apostle has his eye is the nature of saving faith; and his design is to show that a mere faith which would produce no more effect than that of the demons did, could not save.”

Barnes, as well as others, states that “faith which is not productive of good works is of no value.” This is true, however, he fails to state what “works” are acceptable to justify a man. As noted in the previous commentary, this will naturally cause a person to say, “I need to do works to prove my faith.” From there, he goes and does and does and does, but his doing never satisfies because nobody told him what “works” are considered acceptable.

Barnes then continues with, “that if a man has that faith only, it would be impossible that he could be regarded as justified.” That, unfortunately, entirely negates what Paul says concerning justification. Paul says that a man is justified apart from works of the law. He says that a person believes, and when he believes he is sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Consider the man who believes, is saved, and then dies – such as the man on the cross next to Christ. What works did he do? What about the person who is a quadriplegic and cannot do whatever supposed “works” someone thinks up as being necessary to be justified?

However, this was not the case with Abraham. God declared Abraham righteous in Genesis 15:6. The offering of Isaac was seven chapters and many years later. And yet, James questions, was not Abraham “justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” It begs a positive response. Is this the same work that is necessary for us? Obviously not. James will continue with his analysis of what Abraham did for the next few verses. He will then move on to the prostitute Rahab. What is it about what they did that makes their works acceptable?

Life application: James remembers the great test of faith of the Hebrew people – that of Father Abraham offering up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. However, Paul also speaks of the righteousness of Abraham and how it was obtained by him.

Hebrews 11 speaks of this same account of the offering up of Isaac as well. Because of this, it must be incredibly important and a matter that needs to be considered carefully. Take time to read Genesis 22, Romans 4, and Galatians 3. If you can understand these areas of the Bible, and also the account as mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19, then you can more fully understand what is being spoken of by James concerning faith versus deeds. Together, these passages will take you about 15 minutes to finish but they contain a lifetime of wealth for us to remember.

In the end, the account of Abraham, Isaac foreshadows the Person and work of Jesus. He, the only begotten Son of the Father, climbed this same hill, with his own wood (the cross) on His back; and His Father allowed the sacrifice to continue. Because of what Jesus did, we are now reconciled to God the Father.

It is faith in this action and faith alone which justifies us in the sight of God. Don’t be distressed at any foe that comes against you – Jesus is on your side and God the Father has approved of you because of faith in what His Son did. Be at peace!

Thank You Heavenly Father for the Gift of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thank You that He bore our sin and wrath on the cross so that we are now reconciled to You through His precious blood. We know that we can add nothing to this great work, but we simply need to accept it by faith alone. Praises, honor, and majesty belong to You alone! Amen.

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