by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Study # 47 July 29, 1998 Harlingen, Texas
Thesis:James' doctrine of justification by works is a doctrine of justification by works that proceed from a kind of faith that necessarily produces works that are in harmony with the divine telos for making faith the root of everything within the scope of reconciliation.
Introduction:Last week we examined James' anticipation of an objection to his teaching that faith without works is dead, and is therefore incapable of saving anyone. We saw that the objector was actually objecting to the idea that one could assign any kind of discernible link between what one believes and what one does. Basically he was arguing that the same act can have multiple causes, and the same faith can produce multiple, contradictory, reactions. But, James homes in on the admission by the objector that "the same faith can produce...", and claims that that is his point entirely: faith not only CAN, but WILL, produce.
This evening we are going to take on the most problematical statement that James makes: a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
I. What James is NOT Saying.
A. That justification is the result of a life of good works that, in some way, cancel out the inevitable evil works of a fallen man.
1. By James' own declaration, Abraham and Rahab were both justified by ONE work.
a. He says Abraham was justified by the act of offering Isaac upon the altar of Moriah after he had been a believer for over 40 years.
b. He says that Rahab was justified by the act of protecting the spies after she had been a believer for days/weeks/months??
2. By James' own declaration, justification took place long before the deaths of either of his examples.
a. Both Abraham and Rahab lived many years after the events that "justified" them.
b. Justification, then, is not the result of an accumulation of a lifetime.
c. Neither is justification undone by some later failure.
B. That justification is the result of a work that has no connection to a specific content of faith.
1. In NO way does James argue for a justification by a morality that is blind to a specific content of faith.
a. Abraham had a specific divine command to obey.
b. Rahab had a specific deity to accept as the true God, as well as multiple deities to renounce.
2. James' thesis is not that a man is justified by a faithless work, but that he is not justified by a workless faith.
II. What James IS Saying.
A. He is saying that faith is prophetic--i.e., that genuine faith means something real down the road.
1. This is in perfect harmony with Ephesians 2:8-10.
2. This is in perfect harmony with Philippians 1:6 and 2:13.
3. This is NOT a claim of the absence of certain kinds of evil, but the presence of certain good actions.
B. He is saying that faith is telic--i.e., that faith has a divine objective that WILL result out of the mix of faith, choices, life, ongoing time, and active divine involvement.
C. He is saying that faith is productive--i.e., that any claim to faith that remains sterile is not of the kind of faith that justifies.
D. He is saying that justifying faith is like a body with a spirit within--it cannot help but act because of the driving force within.