Faith and works in relation to salvation, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg

Bible study material on James 2:14-26

As our previous studies have shown, one of the main emphasis of James is practical righteousness in the Christian life. This lesson looks at James 2:14-26 by focusing on James teaching about the relationship between faith, works and justification (salvation).

Faith and deeds in the teachings of Paul and James
James 2:14-26 has historically created many difficulties in the history of interpretation. Some scholars who follow Martin Luther, for instance, are of the view that this passage, especially James 2:24 contradict Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:28. To them, both James and Paul used the example of Abraham to illustrate these apparently opposite points (Romans 4:1-5; James 2:21-23). However, this lesson follows the view that there is no contradiction to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone as described in Romans 4:1-8 and James 2:14-26. For in the teaching of James, faith produces works. It is not faith and works that save/justify but for James, it is the works that proceed from faith. Works for James are good deeds done to one’s fellow or other brethren. These works are the sum of a changed life that is brought about by faith. Faith that does not inevitably result in good works and a changed life is considered dead faith.

It is worth noting that the differences between Paul’s teaching in Romans 4:1-8 and James 2:14-26 is an emphasis not in the message. James and Paul had a different set of false teachers in mind which they addressed. Whereas Paul’s opponents were the Jewish legalists, James’ opponents were the Jewish aristocrats. The legalists way of salvation was “works.” This has to do with the moral and ceremonial acts performed in obedience to the law. On the other hand, the aristocrat’s way of salvation was “faith.” This faith was mere orthodoxy of belief. That is literal and intellectual adherence to Judaism without any clear practical obedience.

To the legalists, on the one hand, Paul teaches that we are justified not by our own good works but through faith in Christ. To the aristocrats, on the other hand, James explains that we are justified not by mere confession of faith (barre orthodoxy) which even the demons possess and shudder (James 2:19) but works especially care for the needy. Paul adds that saving faith inevitably results in good works (Ephesians 2:8-10; Gal 5:6). James, however, affirms that works which save is naturally derived from true faith (James 2:15) and the absence of good works evidences the absence of true faith (James 2:17).

Negative examples of faith that does not save (James 2:18-19)
James demonstrates that there is faith that someone claims to have (James 2:14) which is not a true or saving faith. Thus, James gives two examples of faith that could be described as a false faith. That is faith that is separate from works and a faith that is the mere intellectual assent to a certain creed (2:18-19). These could be described as a faith that is totally weak in regard to salvation. It is likened, in the first place, to empty words of a well-wisher who when a poor and destitute brother asks for food and clothing, says, “go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and does not give the person in need the things necessary for the body (2:15-16). These words are totally useless and of no profit to the poor and destitute person. To James, the same is true for a faith that has no works.

James also observes, in the second place that such a situation is likened to demons. To him, demons believe and tremble. The trembling denotes the fear which stands in contrast to the peace of salvation. And a faith which brings about only this type of fear is a barren faith.

Positive examples of faith that saves
This is the final section of the passage and James identifies two examples of genuine faith namely the case of Abraham and Rahab. In the first place, Abraham was shown to be righteous by works when he offered up his son Isaac upon the altar. Abraham was already declared righteous by God many years previously to this action as seen in Gen 15:6. In this regard, Abraham’s subsequent works proved or demonstrated the righteousness that he had previously attained by faith alone. This perspective fits the context of James’ argument as well since his primary theme has been that faith without works is dead. Thus, true faith will evidence itself in works and these works demonstrate or show that one has already been declared to be righteous.

The second positive example relates to Rahab. One thing that is special about Rahab is that she was a prostitute. That shows that God justifies people by faith (in the Pauline sense of the word “justify”). God then changed Rahab into good works (James 2 sense of the word). From this example, James paints the picture that even a harlot can demonstrate herself to be righteous by works which are produced by faith.

In the teaching of James, we are in fact, saved neither by dead faith (James 2:17) nor by dead works (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14), but by a living faith which results in “love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). It is worth noting that we cannot be saved by works. Instead, faith that saves leads to works. The role of works is not to earn salvation but to demonstrate it. It is meant not to procure salvation but to prove it. Significantly, the reality of our faith is revealed in how we live our lives. In this light, both Paul and James wholeheartedly agree by referring to Abraham who trusted God’s promises and therefore obeyed God’s command.

Questions for application
1. How is James’ teaching about faith and works different from that of Paul in terms of their opponents and emphasis?
2. How does the example of Abraham demonstrate true faith?
3. We cannot be saved by good works, instead a faith that saves results in good works. Explain.
4. State three examples of false faith in the contemporary church.

Warding off favouritism, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg
Bible Study material on James 2:1-13

One of the sensitive issues in contemporary times relates to the phenomenon of showing favouritism. It could be observed that favouritism is usually based on character-neutral traits. That is the temptation to show partiality thrives on attributes such as a person’s skin colour, ethnicity, place of origin, level of income, educational background, health, gender, age and popularity. These attributes are said to be character-neutral attributes and so they do not deserve rejection. They have nothing to do with a person’s character. Today’s lesson on James 2:1-13 looks at James’ instruction about the temptation to show favouritism. It highlights some important arguments that, in the thought of James, should help us avoid showing partiality.

The urge against favouritism
In James 2:1, James urges the believers of glorious Christ who he addresses as brothers and sisters not to show favouritism. James seems to imply that being a disciple of Christ and living a life of favouritism do not go together. Favouritism has to do with showing partiality or prejudice. The KJV describes partiality as “showing respect of persons.” To James therefore, discriminating against people merely because of some character-neutral traits is incompatible with professing faith in Christ.

Favouritism illustrated: The case of the rich and poor in the congregation
James gives an illustration to support his urge against favouritism by creating a scenario. To James, suppose there is an assembly and a person comes in wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. This person appears to be wealthy and so receives special attention and sitting place. Another person who is poor comes in and is then told to sit on the floor. What is interesting from this scenario is that there is no description of the spiritual states nor the character of these two persons who come to the meeting. Rather whereas one who appears to be rich, the other appear to be poor. On the one hand, the rich guest is given better hospitality, warm reception and of course a nice place to sit. The poor person, on the other hand, is told to stand there or sit on the floor. James concludes this scenario in the form of giving a rhetorical remark in James 2:4 that “have you not discriminated among yourselves …?

Arguments against showing favouritism
James presents some arguments against favouritism. Five of them could be stated here.

1. Being believers in Christ and showing favouritism is inconsistent (James 2:1). The life and teachings of Jesus demonstrate that he showed no favouritism. That is Jesus was the friend of the poor, rich, women and the sick. In this light, Jesus’ behaviour does not justify favouritism.

2. Favouritism demonstrates discrimination and thus makes us judges with evil thoughts (James 2:4). In the opinion of James, by showing favouritism, we treat people based on the thoughts we have about them. These thoughts are inspired by evil and as such are often insulting and dishonouring. To James, therefore, they are not good thoughts.

3. God does not show favouritism (James 2:5). That is to say that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Eph. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:17). To James therefore, a life worthy of being God’s children desists from showing discrimination.

4. Showing favouritism insults and dishonours the disadvantaged such as the poor (James 2:6). All people deserve equal honour and dignity. Thus, people should not be dishonoured simply because of their income level and status in society. In a similar instance and perspective, James argues that it makes no sense to favour the rich more especially because they oppress the poor (James 2:6-7).
5. Favouritism contradicts the royal law of love (James 2:8-13). Partiality is against the law of love. To James; therefore, the law of love for God and neighbour is disturbed when we practice favouritism. In relation to the royal law of love, showing favouritism according to James is a sin.

The practice of showing partiality serves as a tendency to feed the human ego. For partiality thrives on offering assistance or preference based on one’s prior thoughts which are evil and self-motivated. Among the many reasons that James gives against discrimination is its incompatibility to the royal law of love. Since Christ’s life and teachings epitomise true love that knows no boundaries, being a follower of Christ invites us to stand against all forms of favouritism.

1. State three character-neutral traits that caution us against favouritism.
2. Recall any tendency of showing favouritism in the Church.
3. Under what circumstance have you been a victim of discrimination and how did you respond to it?
4. With reference to the household of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 27, what can we learn from the dangers of domestic favouritism?
5. To James, it makes no sense to show favouritism. Explain.

Right attitudes in listening, speaking and becoming angry, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg Bible Study material on James 1:19-27.

In our previous lesson, James draws our attention to the fact that God chose to give us new birth through the word of truth. Today’s lesson develops the theme of right attitude required in handling the Word (James 1:19-26) especially in the midst of trials. In other words, to James, the word of God must be an important factor in our discipleship journey. Therefore, having described the audience as brothers and sisters, James seems to offer a piece of general advice to everyone (James 1:19). James’ instruction can be discussed around his three suggestions pertaining to listening, speaking and becoming angry. Accordingly, the value of being active listeners, slow to speak and slow to become angry will be studied.

1. Actively listening to the Word and practising it
In relation to the word of God, James advices that Christians are to be quick listeners. In other words, they are to be eager, ready to listen and attuned to God’s word. These serve as a positive and humbling attitude needed in receiving the teachings of the word of God (James 1:21).
To James, actively hearing the word must lead to doing (1:22). Hence his urge to the Christians to do what it says. Receiving the word and not putting it into practice is like a man who forgets what he looks like after looking at himself in a mirror. To James, Christians have not adequately listened to God’s word if it does not lead to practice. Listening and continue doing therefore result into blessings in all that is done (James 1:25).

2. Being slow to speak and thus controlling the tongue
Not listening appropriately leads to unwise speech. Thus, James advices that we are to be slow to speak especially in times of trials. Significantly, in our desire to hear from God, we are to learn to be slow to speak. Great learners practice quick listening and slow speech simultaneously. This is a way of saying that those who want to hear God speak are to desist from being impressed by their own voices. James teaches further that controlling the tongue serves as a worthwhile mark of a true religious person (James 1:26).

3. Being slow to become angry and living righteously
James further urges that followers of Christ are to be slow to become angry. This presupposes that some forms of anger are appropriate. That means when an anger is controlled and limited in duration, it can become appropriate. In that case it can strengthen the soul when it is directed towards sin and not to individuals. Although Jesus used anger in the temple to clean out the money changers, anger did not become the only means through which Jesus achieved his aim. Uncontrolled anger, however, could be harmful in that it does not bring the righteousness that God desires (James 1:20). In that case, misguided anger could destroy relationships and marriages, organisations, churches and nations.

In this lesson, James advices us to put up appropriate behaviour needed to receive God’s word and be blessed by it especially during times of trials. To James, God’s word are to be received by attentive ears. We are also to do away with the things that prevent us from applying our hearts to obeying the word. Moreover, we are to desist from what makes us to be become angry easily and to talk too much.

1. What kind of inner voices hinder us from being active listeners to God’s word?
2. Describe two attitudes of believers that James describe as self-deception.
3. Why is tongue control so important to our practical Christian life?
4. Identify some things and circumstances that make you to become angry easily. What are you to do when you become angry?