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James 2:20-24 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 38 secs

Vindication of Abraham by Works
James 2:20-24

Validation or vindication is a synonym for justification.

James 2:20 NASB "Are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" The word translated "useless" means idle, not producing, not accomplishing something. So what this means is not a faith that is not present but a faith that is not producing. Doctrine apart from application accomplishes nothing in the spiritual life and now James will give evidence. The opponent's claim is that works can't validate faith. James is going to give two examples of how works validated faith/doctrine. Example # 1 is going to come from Abraham. [21] "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?"

Skipping ahead to verse 24, his conclusion: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." That is not a very good English translation. It seems to suggest that man is justified not by faith alone but also by works, in other words, that justification is by faith plus works. The word in the Greek for "alone" is the word MONOS [monoj], an adverb. An adverb modifies a verb; it does not modify a noun. So when this is translated as it is here in English, "alone" is modifying "faith," a noun. That is a bad translation, the adverb has to modify the verb. James has left out the verb in the second clause. Literally what is should read is, "You see that a man is justified by works and not justified by faith alone." So to correctly translate this verse is should read: "You see that a man is justified by works and not only justified by faith." What does that imply? That implies two different kinds of justification. The apostle Paul seems to suggest the same thing in Romans chapter four in vv. 1-3.

Romans 4:1 NASB "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?  [2] For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God." James is saying that if he was justified by works that is a valid justification but it doesn't cut any ice with God. It may have validity in relationship to men but not in relationship with God. O we have one kind of justification that is related to God and another kind (vindication) to indicate justification toward man. Justification before God is based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. [3] "For what does the Scripture say? 'ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.'" (Genesis 15:6)

In Genesis 12 God calls Abram and told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, and as He took him eventually into the promised land where he lived as a sojourner and lived in tents, he had separated from Lot, had a battle with the five kings, various other things had taken place such as bringing gifts to Melchizadek, all of which indicated he was a believer. Then in chapter 15, the first five verses, God reiterates His covenant with Abraham that He would provide a son from his Abram's own loins. Then in verse 6 we read: "Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." Reading that in the English it sounds as if at this point in time Abram received imputed righteousness. But hasn't he been a believer for a number of years? Obviously! Well how do we solve the problem? We have to look at the Hebrew grammar which starts the sentence off with a waw which is the Hebrew conjunction of contrast, especially if it is linked as here with a perfect verb—"Now," and then the main verb is a perfect. The perfect tense can be simple past or it can have the sense of an English perfect, i.e. action in the past with results that go on and continue. The imperfect is usually used to describe present time action and future time action. What we have here is the hiphil perfect of amen, which means to believe, to trust, to rely upon. Because it is in the perfect tense and not the imperfect it is either simple past or perfective and it refers to an event at some designated time in the past when Abraham had believed God. Verse 6 is almost parenthetical, it is a reminder. "Now Abraham had believed in Yahweh; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." It is inserted in the midst of this to remind us that God is blessing Abraham with all of this because Abraham already possesses perfect righteousness and is a believer. It is not based on works, it is based on grace to a child of God, to a believer.

"Justify" comes from the Greek verb DIKAIOO [dikaiow] which means to declare righteous, to validate, to vindicate and to justify. The events in Genesis 15 took place when Abraham was about 80-84 years of age. Ishmael hasn't been born yet, he is born in chapter 16 when Abraham is 86. Isaac isn't born until he is 99. Isaac's sacrifice on Mount Moriah doesn't occur until Isaac is somewhere in his 20s, maybe even early 30s. Forty years go by between the statement of Genesis 15:6, which refers back, and the events of the sacrifice and offering of Isaac.

James 2:21 NASB "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" What we have seen was that Abraham was declared righteous (phase one justification) long before the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22, probably as much as 60 years later.

Genesis 22:1 NASB "Gen 22:1 "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" A number of things have happened. Abraham has been tested in a variety of ways—by waiting on the birth of Isaac, by his wife, by leaving his homeland, by the onslaught of the five kings. And we read here that after these things God tested Abraham. Now what is the theme of James? It is how to have joy, inner happiness, in the midst of trials and tests. James is getting ready to end this section on faith and application, and so he wants to take us back to the main idea which is that we are going to have the doctrine in our soul tested. There is going to be evaluation. When does this take place? This takes place in two senses for the believer. At the moment of salvation we enter into the plan of God and we are going to go through adversity and tests of prosperity to see if we can apply doctrine. That means we have to utilize our volition and choose positively or negatively, to apply doctrine or to reject doctrine. If we apply doctrine under the filling of the Holy Spirit then we follow the cycle of producing divine good, experience real/abundant life, and our life produces evidence that God's will is good and perfect, according to Romans 12:1, 2. That leads to steadfast endurance; we develop persistence. The more we apply the easier it is to apply. We begin to grow, we advance to the adult spiritual life, and then we die and are absent from the body we go to the judgment seat of Christ for a positive evaluation (What did you do right in your life that I can reward you for?). The tests are designed to test the doctrine in our soul.

Hebrews 11:17 NASB "By faith [The faith-rest drill focused on doctrine] Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten {son;}" This is Abraham's final test to move him into spiritual maturity, to see if he has really understood everything that God has taken him through and told him over the years. [18] {it was he} to whom it was said, 'IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.' [19] He considered that God is able to raise {people} even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type." This is the doctrine that is in Abraham's soul. When Abraham heard this command from God in Genesis 22 he is thinking, "God promise me that He is going to give me a seed that is going to outnumber the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. I can count on that. The only child of my loins is Isaac; God has said this is the promised son. I don't care what happens on the mountain, this boy is going to live and have children because God has said so. It doesn't matter that God says to kill him, I am trusting God, I am relying on the doctrine in my soul." Abraham was focusing on God: God and His Word were more real to Abraham than the experience of having a son. Abraham's faith in God's promise was more real to him than his emotional feelings for Isaac. Because doctrine dominated his soul Abraham could think clearly, rationally and objectively about the situation and instead of reacting he said, "Okay Lord, when and where?" He understood that God had made the commandment. He has a vast amount of doctrine in his soul.

Genesis 22:3 NASB "So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him." Look at what Abraham takes with him. He has his donkey and he takes along two servants and Isaac, and he sets enough wood to supply for the burnt offering. What is missing? The sacrifice, the lamb, the sheep, the goat, whatever it might be; there is no sacrificial animal. [5] "Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.'" Notice his confidence" "we will worship," and "we"—1st person common plural—"will return to you." Abraham is so confident of what will take place. He knows that he is to sacrifice Isaac but he knows that they will both return.

Genesis 22:6 NASB "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. [7] Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' [8] Abraham said, 'God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together." Again, notice Abraham's confidence. God will provide for Himself the lamb.

James 2:21 NASB "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" When we read this question this is not talking about justification before God but validation or vindication before man. He is validating the doctrine that is in his soul—all that he has learned, all that God has taught him. He is in a test situation. Romans 12:1, 2, presents this clearly. "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." The transformation of the mind is the whole process we have been talking about: learning from the teaching of the Word—GNOSIS, EPIGNOSIS and application—the renovation of your thinking, literally, that you may demonstrate. Demonstrate is a synonym for validate. You may prove, validate, justify the will of God.

Now James drives the point home: James 2:22 NASB "You see that faith [faith-rest drill and his doctrine] was working with his works, and as a result of the works [application], faith [doctrine] was perfected—aorist passive indicative of TELEIOO [teleiow], which means to bring to completion, to mature, or to perfect. So we see the end of the process is not just to accumulate doctrine in the soul, but to actually take that doctrine and put it into practice in the tests of life. When you do that then doctrine is brought to completion, to its intended conclusion which is application.