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Wed, Jun 09, 1999

49 - Validation by Works

James 2:23-26 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 27 secs

Validation by Works; James 2:23-26


What exactly is the relationship of application to doctrine? That is James' topic at the end of this second chapter. He starts this section by asking the question: "What value is it, or what applicational value is it, my brethren, if a man claims he has doctrine but he has no application/production? Can that faith save him?" We have seen that the word "save" is used in three senses in the Scripture, and we have seen that here it is talking about saved from the power of sin in the believer's life. The question is: Can that faith in doctrine deliver him from the power of sin? And the answer is no, as is indicated by the structure in the Greek. Then there is an illustration given concerning the importance of application of doctrine in verses 15 and 16; in verse 17 there is a conclusion, "Even so doctrine, if it has no production, is dead." We saw that "dead" does not mean non-existent but non-productive, that it means it was once alive but is no longer functioning. Then there are the words of the opponent in vv. 18, 19, and these are important to understand because they set up what follows from v. 20 to the end of the chapter. James is acting like a debater. He says his position is that faith needs to have application in order to have value in the spiritual life. But there is an opponent: there are people who say.. And this is the classic debater's technique, using the opponent's words, citing them and then refuting them. The opponent says that there is no necessary connection between doctrine and application. James says that is nonsense, and he uses two examples from the Old Testament. The first is Abraham who is the paradigm of faith in the Old Testament: faith in doctrine and spiritual growth. Abraham is cited many times by Paul as the example of Old Testament faith. But then James uses another illustration from the opposite end of the social and spiritual spectrum. Abraham is the father of the Jewish race; Rahab, on the other hand, is not only not Jewish—she is a Canaanite living in a Canaanite city—but she is a prostitute at the opposite end of the spectrum from Abraham. By using these two examples James is going to demonstrate his point.


Testing is the way the believer advances in the spiritual life. We saw this in James 1:2-4 where James sets the scene for this epistle. Once doctrine becomes EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij] it has to be tested. We go through life's situations to give the opportunity to choose whether we are going to solve the problem, whether adversity or prosperity, with human viewpoint techniques or whether we are going to use the problem-solving skills outlined in the Word of God. The goal is spiritual maturity.


James 2:22 NASB "You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected." James begins this with the verb BLEPO [blepw], a present active indicative, second person singular here. "You (singular) see." We will see a contrast in verse 24 and that is why this is important. BLEPO means to see physically. There is another word that is used later, HORAO [o(raw], which is used more of thinking when the two are used in the same context and BLEPO seems to have a sense more of physical sight. But BLEPO is also used metaphorically to mean to think about, to ponder, to contemplate, to discern, and to perceive. Usually, especially with the emphasis here on the singular, James is emphasizing this one point that he has just made about Abraham. He is saying to his readers: Now pay attention to what we just saw; think about it; contemplate the example. By this time in Abraham's life, when he was probably about 120 years of age, he finally learned the lesson of 1 Peter 5:7, "casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." The result is interesting. "Was working" is an imperfect active indicative of the Greek SUNERGO [sunergw]—ERGO = to work; SUN = the preposition meaning with—meaning to work together. The imperfect is the tense emphasizing continuous action or repeated action in past time. But it is also an active voice, which means the subject performs the action of the verb. It is s third person singular verb, so that means that one thing or one individual is performing the action. What is the subject of the verb? Faith, the feminine singular of PISTIS [pistij]. Faith was working with works, so that means that faith/doctrine is performing the action. That is a very interesting concept. How can doctrine perform any action? What we see here in this passage is that doctrine is working with application. The believer makes the volitional choice to use EPIGNOSIS doctrine but in terms of spiritual growth there is a dynamic that occurs between the EPIGNOSIS doctrine and the application, and in the dynamic of the two working together spiritual growth takes place. It is imperceptible, but every time we choose to apply doctrine in our soul we advance spiritually. Sometimes there is a lot of spiritual growth but it happens incrementally as we apply doctrine, and there is this dynamic.


Remember, the two power sources in the spiritual life are the Holy Spirit and Bible doctrine. As we learn doctrine under the filling of the Holy Spirit and it is transferred to EPIGNOSIS and then applied—all under the filling of the Holy Spirit—we will advance and grow. That is the point James is making in verse 22: "You see that faith [doctrine] was working with his works [application], and as a result of the works [production], faith was perfected [brought to completion]." Here we have the Greek word TELEIOO [teleiow], aorist passive indicative. It means to perfect, although that meaning is very rare in the New Testament, to finish, to bring to completion, or to bring to maturity. It is in the aorist tense and that just summarizes the action. This is what is called the constative aorist which just views the past action as a whole, describing the action, as it were, in summary fashion without focusing on the beginning or the end of the action. It stresses the occurrence of the action more than the nature of the event. So what we see here is that doctrine brings the person to maturity. This is all a process. Doctrine is brought to completion. The ultimate end of doctrine is not just to know it, not to be able to impress all your friends with how much you know about the Bible; the issue in learning the Word is to apply it so that the Lord is glorified, and this takes place only after you reach spiritual adulthood. The final stage of spiritual adulthood is spiritual maturity. This is what Abraham has reached now and we read in verse 23 that he gains a new title for this; he is called the "friend of God."


James 2:23 NASB "and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,' and he was called the friend of God." The word "fulfilled" is not TELEIOO but it means almost the same thing. This is the verb PLEROO [plhrow], the same word we have for the filling of the Holy Spirit. This is an aorist passive indicative; it means to fill, to fulfil, to accomplish, to complete, or to bring to completion. TELEIOO in this kind of context usually relates to maturity, whereas PLEROO has the idea of bringing about a fulfilment of a doctrinal principle or of a promise. PLEROO here refers to the fact that there is a process going on that started with Abraham's initial justification at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. The quote comes from Genesis 15:6. It was on the basis of imputed righteousness that Abraham was saved, and that is the meaning of the passage. Then we have another Old testament quote following that, that he was called the friend of God. He wasn't called the friend of God in Genesis. This comes from two passages. The context of 2 Chronicles 20 is that Jehoshaphat is under attack from an alliance comprised of the Ammonites and Moabites and a couple of other external enemies of Israel. They are about to attack and are on the eve of a major battle. Jehoshaphat calls the nation together for prayer to God.


A point about prayer: it should be doctrinally based. You need to know some things about God and how God works in human history so that you can build a case with God based upon the Scriptures for why He should answer your prayer.


Jehoshaphat is going to make a case for why God should give him victory over the enemy. He starts building his case historically. 2 Chronicles 20:7 NASB "Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?" That is where we get the phrase that Abraham was the friend of God. What Jehoshaphat is doing is reminding God that He made a promise in the Abrahamic covenant. He began to fulfil that promise when the people invaded the land and drove out the Canaanites. Then he continues to rehearse all the things that God had done to fulfil that covenant, and he is going to conclude with his request to God to give him victory over their enemies. The second reference is from Isaiah 41:8 NASB "But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend." So God calls Abraham "My friend," and this is a very important term because it takes a close relationship with Abraham based on Abraham's advance to maturity. So even though God's love for us never changes, that God always has maximum personal love for us no matter how carnal we are or how spiritual we are, He seems to have a special designation of closeness for those who advance to spiritual maturity. In spite of all David's carnality God describes him as "a man after God's own heart," very close to God. So as we advance to spiritual maturity there is a special level of rapport that the believer can have with God as a result of his advance to spiritual maturity. This is going to be reflected on the believer when we get to heaven. We can draw the analogy from the New Testament that there are those who are going to advance to spiritual maturity in the church age and they will have positions that are very close to God when we get into the kingdom. They will be ruling and reigning with Jesus Christ based upon the tremendous capacity that they develop during their life on the earth.


Then James comes to the conclusion of this section and he uses a slightly different word than the one we saw earlier, the present active indicative, third person plural of HORAO [o(raw], which means to see, to pay attention. It is distinct from BELPO in that BLEPO usually indicates a single look, in this kind of a context looking at a single point, whereas HORAO emphasizes the entire argument, exercising discernment in the mentality of the soul and focusing on the whole argument that he has constructed. Now you can understand that a man is justified by works. James 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works and not only justified by faith." In other words, there are two different kinds of justification.


Then he comes to the second illustration from the life of Rahab. James 2:25 NASB "In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?" We need to go back to Joshua chapter two to understand what he is referring to.

Joshua 2:1 NASB "Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, 'Go, view the land, especially Jericho.' So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there." Apparently among the Canaanite culture an innkeeper provided a little bit more than bed and breakfast. So prostitution was practised in the local inns by the innkeepers. So Rahab was apparently an innkeeper and provided extra "benefits" for those who stayed at her inn. They are incognito and yet their disguise was not successful, and the king of Jericho realizes who they are. [2] "It was told the king of Jericho, saying, 'Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.' [3] And the king of Jericho sent {word} to Rahab, saying, 'Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.' [4] But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, 'Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. [5] It came about when {it was time} to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.'" Apparently she realized who they were and she hid them before the king's men go there. [6] "But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof." Rahab is clearly a believer by this time and her allegiance is to God.

Joshua 2:9 NASB "and said to the men, 'I know that the LORD …" She uses YAHWEH, the personal covenant name of God. This indicates that she knows some doctrine. She knows something about the Abrahamic covenant, she knows something about the history of Israel, and she knows something about God's relationship to Israel. "… has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. [10] For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. [11] When we heard {it,} our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." She recognizes God, believes in God, and she is a believer at this point and has been. So she makes a decision to cast her lot with the Israelites. 12] "Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly [chesed] with you, that you also will deal kindly [chesed, always a word which is related to faithfulness to a covenant] with my father's household, and give me a pledge of truth, [13] and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death."

When Joshua attacked after their seven-day siege and the walls came down, every area of the walls came down except the area where Rahab's house existed. There was a scarlet rope that she let out from a window to identify where her inn existed and she was protected. She and her family were the only survivors and everyone else in Jericho was slaughtered. Why was all the livestock slaughtered? Because God wanted to show that he would sustain them by His own power and they did not have to rely upon the goods of the Canaanites for their own sustenance. So God demanded absolute destruction of the enemy. Eventually they didn't d that and that is why they had so much trouble during the period of the judges.

So this brings us to the end of James chapter two. Rahab was justified by her works. When she let the messengers go that validated the doctrine that was in her soul. In spite of what might have happened to her in that context—she could have been arrested and perhaps lost her life—she was going to apply doctrine and she was going to maintain her allegiance to YAHWEH. James concludes in verse 26: "For just as the body without {the} spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."


1)  James' theme from 1:21 to 2:26 is the importance of applying doctrine. He is not minimizing the importance of doctrine but he is stressing the priority of application. He realizes that you can't apply what you don't know, and before we know something we have to take the time and the discipline to learn it and to make sure we really understand it. That takes dedication, concentration, and a lot of endurance. So James doesn't minimize the importance of doctrine but he stresses the fact that is doesn't end with accumulation of knowledge and facts, that is the just the starting point and it ends with application.

2)  Hearing doctrine without application is simply accumulation of GNOSIS [gnwsij] doctrine in the mentality of the soul, and according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 that can lead to arrogance. So if we stop short of application all we are going to produce in our life is arrogance. Remember, God makes war with the arrogant—1 Peter 5:5; Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6.

3)  God's plan for the believer is to bring the believer to spiritual maturity so that the character of Christ is manifest in the life. If you are believer that is God's plan for your life.

4)  Spiritual growth and spiritual advance comes through a) continuous, repeated attendance at Bible class to learn doctrine, b) operation of the grace learning spiral so that you can move from GNOSIS to EPIGNOSIS, c) the exercise of positive volition to apply EPIGNOSIS doctrine in the midst of the tests of life.

5)  The only way to pass tests in life is to have doctrine in your soul as EPIGNOSIS doctrine. As you apply that doctrine, which James calls faith, it works with your application to advance you to spiritual maturity. If you have doctrine without application then you will never advance spiritually and you will be miserable.

6)  If you apply doctrine in the midst of the adversities and prosperities of life, then no matter what your circumstances are you will always have the most incredible happiness, stability and tranquillity imaginable.