Sacrificial Faith on Display 

“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? Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:25-26).

True faith willingly makes whatever sacrifices God requires.

It’s understandable that James would use Abraham as an illustration of living faith—especially to his predominately Jewish readers. Rahab, however, is a different story. She was a Gentile, a prostitute, a liar, and lived in the pagan city of Jericho. How could such a person illustrate true faith?Rahab knew very little about the true God but what she knew, she believed, and what she believed, she acted on. She believed that God had led His people out of Egypt and defeated the Amorite kings (Josh. 2:9-10). She openly confessed that the Lord “is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (v. 11). Her faith was vindicated when she aided the Hebrew spies who entered Jericho just prior to Joshua’s invasion.

Both Abraham and Rahab valued their faith in God above all else. Both were willing to sacrifice what mattered most to them: for Abraham it was Isaac; for Rahab it was her own life. Their obedience in the face of such great sacrifice proved the genuineness of their faith.

James calls each of us to examine ourselves to be sure we have a living faith. The acid test is whether your faith produces obedience. No matter what you claim, if righteousness doesn’t characterize your life, your faith is dead, not living. James likened that kind of faith to hypocrites who offer pious words to the needy but refuse to meet their needs; to demons, who believe the truth about God but are eternally lost; and to a lifeless, useless corpse. Those are strong analogies, but God does not want you to be deceived about the quality of your own faith.

I pray that you are rejoicing in the confidence that your faith is genuine. God bless you as you live each day in His wonderful grace.

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask God for the grace and courage to face any sacrifice necessary as you live out your faith.

For Further Study

Read Joshua 2:1-24; 6:1-27; and Matthew 1:1-5. How did Rahab protect the spies? How did God bless Rahab?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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Enjoying Friendship With God

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 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. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:21-24).

You are a friend of God if you love Him and obey His Word.

Can you imagine life without friends—those precious people who love you despite your failings and who stand by you through joys and sorrows—those to whom you’ve committed yourself and whose companionship you treasure? They are without question one of God’s greatest gifts, yet there is an even greater gift: friendship with God Himself.

Jesus spoke of such a friendship in John 15:13-16, describing it as one of intimacy, mutual love, sacrifice, and commitment. In verse 14 He says, “You are My friends, if you do what I command you.” That’s the kind of friendship Abraham demonstrated when he obeyed God and prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:3-10). Isaac was the son through whom God’s covenant to Abraham would be fulfilled. Killing him would violate that covenant and call into question the character of God, whose Word forbids human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10). It took unquestioning trust for Abraham to obey God’s command. When he did, his faith was on display for all to see.

The Greek word translated “justified” in James 2:21 has two meanings: “to acquit” (treat as righteous) or “to vindicate” (demonstrate as righteous). James emphasized the second meaning. When Abraham believed God, he was justified by faith and acquitted of sin (Gen. 15:6). When he offered up Isaac, he was justified by works in that his faith was vindicated.

Faith is always the sole condition of salvation, but saving faith never stands alone—it is always accompanied by righteous works. That’s the test of true salvation and of friendship with God.

As a friend of God, treasure that relationship and be careful never to let sin rob you of its fullest joy.

Suggestions for Prayer

Praise God for the privilege of being His friend.

For Further Study

Read Genesis 22:1-19, noting the faith and obedience of Abraham.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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Dead Faith Versus Demonic Faith

“Someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:18-20).

Even demonic faith is better than dead faith!

In recent years there has been an alarming rise in the number of professing Christians who believe that there’s no necessary relationship between what they believe and what they do. They say you can’t judge a person’s spiritual condition by what he or she does because salvation is a matter of faith alone—as if requiring works violates the principle of faith.

It was that kind of reasoning that prompted James to issue this challenge: “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). The Greek word translated “show” means “to exhibit,” “demonstrate,” or “put on display.” His point is simple: it’s impossible to verify true faith apart from holy living because doctrine and deed are inseparable.

Can you know if someone is a Christian by watching his behavior? According to James, that’s the only way to know! In verse 19 he says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” In other words, affirming orthodox doctrine isn’t necessarily proof of saving faith. Demons believe in the oneness of God, and its implications fill them with fear, but they aren’t saved. The phrase “you do well” is intentionally sarcastic. The implication is that demonic faith is better than non-responsive faith because at least the demons shudder, which is better than no response at all.

You can’t be a Christian in creed only—you must be one in conduct as well! James makes that very clear. Don’t be confused or deceived by those who teach otherwise. Continually aim your life at bringing glory to God through obedient application of biblical truth.

Suggestions for Prayer

Reaffirm to the Lord your commitment to abide by His Word.

For Further Study

Read John 8:12-47. Make a list of doctrines and deeds that characterize dead faith and a corresponding list of those that characterize true faith.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur 

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Exposing Dead Faith

“What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14-17).

Dead faith is hypocritical, shallow, and useless.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Your righteous deeds illuminate the path to God by reflecting His power and grace to others. That brings Him glory and proves your faith is genuine.

Your deeds also serve as the basis of divine judgment. If you practice righteousness, you will receive eternal life; if you practice unrighteousness, you will receive “wrath and indignation” (Rom. 2:6-8). God will judge you on the basis of your deeds because what you do reveals who you really are and what you really believe. That’s why any so-called faith that doesn’t produce good works is dead and utterly useless!

James illustrates that point in a practical way. If someone lacks the basic necessities of life and comes to you for help, what good does it do if you simply wish him well and send him away without meeting any of his needs? It does no good at all! Your pious words are hypocritical and without substance. If you really wished him well, you would do what you can to give him what he needs! Your unwillingness to do so betrays your true feelings. Similarly, dead faith is hypocritical, shallow, and useless because it doesn’t put its claims into action—indeed, it has no divine capacity to do so.

I pray that your life will always manifest true faith and that others will glorify God because of your good works.

Suggestions for Prayer

Perhaps you know someone whose claim to Christianity is doubtful because his or her life doesn’t evidence the fruit of righteousness. If so, pray for that person regularly and set an example by your own good works.

For Further Study

Read John 15:1-8. What illustration did Jesus use for spiritual fruitfulness? What is the prerequisite for fruitfulness?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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Having a Faith That Works

“What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? . . . You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:14, 24).

True faith produces good works.

Many false teachers claim that you can earn your own salvation by doing good works. Most Christians understand the heresy of that teaching, but some become confused when they read that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). That seems to conflict with Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith.

But when properly understood, James’ teaching on salvation is perfectly consistent with Paul’s. Paul clearly taught salvation by grace. In Ephesians 2:8-9he says, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” But Paul also taught that true salvation results in good works, for in the next verse he says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In Titus 3:5 he says that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy”; but Titus 2:11-12 clarifies that God’s grace leads us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” That’s the proper balance between faith and works.

James also taught salvation by grace. He said that God redeems sinners by the Word of truth and implants His Word within them to enable them to progress in holiness (James 1:18, 21). That’s a divine work, not a human effort. James 2:14-24 follows that up by telling us how we can know that work has taken place: there will be more than just a proclamation of faith but a faith that does good works.

Don’t be confused by how faith relates to good works. Put the two together by being a living testimony to God’s saving grace.

Suggestions for Prayer

Thank God for the righteousness He is producing in your life. Look for specific ways to demonstrate your faith to those around you today.

For Further Study

Read John 8:31-32.

  • What is the mark of a true disciple?
  • What effect does God’s Word have on those who heed what it says?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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Showing Mercy

“So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13).

Showing mercy is characteristic of a regenerate person.

Divine judgment has never been a popular topic of conversation. Godly people throughout history have been ridiculed, persecuted, and even killed for proclaiming it. In their efforts to win the approval of men, false teachers question or deny it. But James 2:12-13 reminds us that judgment will come, so we’d better live accordingly.

The basis for divine judgment is God’s Word, which James called “the law of liberty” (v. 12). It is a liberating law because it frees you from sin’s bondage and the curse of death and hell. It is the agency of the Spirit’s transforming work, cutting deep into your soul to judge your thoughts and motives (Heb. 4:12). It gives you the wisdom that leads to salvation, and equips you for godly living (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It imparts truth and discernment, freeing you from error and spiritual deception. It is in every sense a law of freedom and liberation for those who embrace it.

The law liberates believers but condemns unbelievers. The phrase “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (v. 13) speaks of unrelieved judgment in which every sin receives its fullest punishment. That can only mean eternal hell! If the Word is at work in you, its effects will be evident in the way you speak and act. If you are impartial and merciful to people in need, that shows you are a true Christian and have received God’s forgiveness and mercy yourself. If you show partiality and disregard for the needy, the law becomes your judge, exposing the fact that you aren’t truly redeemed.

Are you a merciful person? Do you seek to provide for others without favoritism? When you fail to do so, do you confess your sin and seek forgiveness and restoration? Those are marks of true faith.

Suggestions for Prayer

Praise the Lord for His great mercy toward you, and be sure to show mercy to those around you.

For Further Study

Read Luke 1:46-55 and 68-79. Follow Mary’s and Zacharias’s example by rejoicing over God’s mercy toward His people.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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Transgressing the Royal Law

“If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:9-11).

You sin when you fall short of God’s holy standard or go beyond the limits of His law.

Many people attempt to justify their sinfulness by categorizing sins according to their apparent severity. For example, telling a “little white lie” isn’t as serious to them as committing perjury; cheating on their income tax isn’t as serious as robbing a bank. Others see God’s law as a series of detached injunctions, and assume they can gain credit with God by keeping one law even if they break the others. In the final analysis, if the laws they don’t break outweigh the laws they do, they think everything will be OK.

Apparently some of those to whom James wrote had the same misconceptions, believing sins like prejudice, partiality, and indifference to the poor weren’t as serious as sins like murder and adultery. Or perhaps they believed they could make up for their favoritism by keeping God’s law in other areas.

Both of those views are erroneous and potentially damning because God’s law isn’t a series of detached injunctions or a way of gaining credit with God. It’s a unified representation of His holy nature. Even though all sins aren’t equally heinous or damaging, from God’s perspective every sin violates His standard. When you break one law, you break them all and are characterized as a sinner and transgressor.

“Sin” in verse 9 speaks of missing the mark and falling short of God’s holy standard. “Transgressors” refers to going beyond the accepted limits. One says you’ve fallen short; the other says you’ve gone too far. Both are equal violations of God’s holiness. You must see all sin as an affront to Him and never compound your sin by attempting to hide it, justify it, or counterbalance it with good works.

Suggestions for Prayer

Memorize 1 John 1:9 and always confess your sin whenever you violate God’s holy law. Praise God for pitying our plight as sinners and providing a Savior.

For Further Study

Read Galatians 3:10-29, noting the purpose of God’s law.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

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