Study # 44
Thesis: James' implied considerations argue that there is no such thing as a faith that does not produce behavior that is consistent with what is believed.
Introduction: This evening we are going to look again into the opening paragraph of the second half of chapter 2. In that opening paragraph, James sets forth his thesis: Faith without works is dead. As we said last week, this is one of the most hotly contested half-chapters in the New Testament. Many, who deliberately, or unwittingly, twist the grace of God into license, react with extraordinary manipulation to this half-chapter, thinking that it doesn't say what it appears to be saying and, therefore, must be 'clarified' in order to keep people from using it to teach something contrary to what they call "the Gospel of the pure grace of God". On the other hand, many others, who deliberately, or unwittingly, twist the grace of God into a subtle form of legalism, heartily embrace this chapter, thinking that it teaches their point of view beyond debate. Actually, this chapter doesn't feed into libertinism or legalism. It is not a place to find support for either of these distortions of the Gospel. But, to see that, we must understand James in the theological context in which he wrote.
July 8, 1998
- I. James' Theological Setting.
- A. Is fundamentally colored by his readers' relatively recent emergence from a deep bondage to rather blatant legalism and their pendulum-like over-reaction into the equally unproductive libertinism.
- 1. Definition of terms.
- a. Legalism.
- 1) Actually has little to do with the presence or absence of "law(s)" as statement(s) of the inviolate and unchanging character of God and His universe.
- 2) Actually has little to do with the presence or absence of "law(s)" as demands for conformity to the unchanging character of God and His universe if blessing is desireable rather than cursing.
- 3) Has EVERYTHING to do with the issue of creaturely capability apart from a continuous flow of divine energy.
- a) The direction of the flow is of little significance. It doesn't matter whether we are talking of man's ability to determine his values, his ability to establish his faith as a composite whole of mechanisms to accomplish his valued objectives, or his ability to actually act in harmony with his values and beliefs.
- b) Legalism is the concept that man has a legitimate independence from God that allows him to value, believe, choose, and act without God as His immediate and necessary Supplier of ability.
- 4) Summary: Legalism is not fundamentally the doctrine that salvation results from works of obedience to divine laws; it is fundamentally the doctrine that salvation results from the exercise of unaided human ability in any area: love, faith, or work. Man is independently capable and inexcusable.
- b. Libertinism.
- 1) Is the opposite of legalism, but shares legalism's lack of significant connection to either forms of "law".
- 2) Has essentially to do with the concept that since man is not an essentially independent creature, he is, therefore, not responsible to God for what he does (at any level: love, faith, choice, action), nor is God going to judge him.
- 3) Summary: Libertinism is not fundamentally the doctrine that since salvation is by grace, what we do is of no importance; it is fundamentally the doctrine that the grace of salvation is largely ineffectual: man is dependently incapable and excusable.
- 2. Biblical Reality.
- a. Man is a dependent creature who is accountable to God because...
- 1) He is in unity with Adam, the creature who sinned against the divine infusion of sufficient grace.
- 2) He endorses rebellion against the sufficient grace which always attends the permission of temptation so that man has a God-imparted ability to love, believe, choose, and do what is right at the point of temptation.
- a) This does not apply to those who have already rebelled. There is no indication of sufficient grace to rebels.
- b) This did apply to Adam and to Christ.
- b. God is an effectually gracious Creator Who makes provision for man to be enlightened.
- 1) Grace is not a passive characteristic.
- 2) Enlightenment is not a consequenceless privilege.
- B. Is fundamentally connected to the mainstream of biblical doctrine that love is a values-word, faith is a mechanism-word, and salvation is a unity that remains the same regardless of which issue (salvation of the body, soul, or spirit) is under consideration.