In our previous study, we learned there are three kinds of faith, only one of which is true saving faith. Today, we will take a closer look at this saving faith.
Dynamic Faith (James 2:20–26)
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Dynamic faith is faith that is real, faith that has power, and faith that results in a changed life. James described this true saving faith. To begin with, it is based on the Word of God. We receive our spiritual rebirth through God’s Word (James 1:18). We receive the Word and this saves us (James 1:21). “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). James used Abraham and Rahab as illustrations of dynamic saving faith, since both of them heard and received the message of God through His Word.
Faith is only as good as its object. The man in the jungle bows before an idol of stone and trusts it to help him, but he receives no help. No matter how much faith a person may generate, if it is not directed at the right object, it will accomplish nothing. “I believe” may be the testimony of many sincere people, but the big question is, “In whom do you believe? What do you believe?” We are not saved by faith in faith; we are saved by faith in Christ as revealed in His Word.
Dynamic faith is based on God’s Word and it involves the whole man. Dead faith touches only the intellect; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but dynamic faith involves the will. The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth; the heart desires the truth; and the will acts upon the truth. The men and women of faith named in Hebrews 11 were people of action: God spoke and they obeyed. “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence; faith is obeying in spite of consequence.”
True saving faith leads to action. Dynamic faith is not intellectual contemplation or emotional consternation; it leads to obedience on the part of the will. This obedience is not an isolated event: it continues throughout the whole life. It leads to works.
Many different kinds of works are named in the New Testament. “The works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16) relate to the sinner’s attempt to please God by obeying the Law of Moses. Of course, it is impossible for a sinner to be saved through the works of the Law. “The works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19) are done by unsaved people who live for the things of the old nature. There are also “wicked works” (Col. 1:21) and “dead works” (Heb. 9:14). Where there is dynamic faith—saving faith—we will always find good works.
James then illustrated his doctrine in the lives of two well-known Bible persons: Abraham and Rahab. You could not find two more different persons! Abraham was a Jew; Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a godly man, but Rahab was a sinful woman, a harlot. Abraham was the friend of God, while Rahab belonged to the enemies of God. What did they have in common? Both exercised saving faith in God.
God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to lead him into Canaan and to make out of him the great nation of Israel. It was through Israel that God would bring the Savior into the world. Abraham’s salvation experience is recorded in Genesis 15. At night, God showed His servant the stars and gave him a promise, “So shall your offspring be!” How did Abraham respond? “He believed in the Lord and He [the Lord] counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:5–6).
The word counted is a legal or financial term; it means “to put to one’s account.” As a sinner, Abraham’s spiritual bankbook was empty. He was bankrupt! But he trusted God and God put righteous on Abraham’s account. Abraham did not work for this righteousness; he received it as a gift from God. He was declared righteous by faith and was justified by faith (Rom. 4).
Justification is an important doctrine in the Bible. Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is not a process; it is an act. It is not something the sinner does; it is something God does for the sinner when he trusts Christ. It is a once-for-all event. It never changes.
How can we tell if a person is justified by faith if this transaction takes place between the sinner and God privately? Abraham’s example answers that important question: the justified person has a changed life and obeys God’s will. His faith is demonstrated by his works.
James used another event in Abraham’s life, an event that took place many years after Abraham’s conversion. This event is the offering up of Isaac on the altar (Gen. 22). Abraham was not saved by obeying God’s difficult command. His obedience proved he already was saved: “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (2:22). There is a perfect relationship between faith and works. As someone has expressed it, “Abraham was not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.”
How was Abraham “justified by works” (2:21) when he had already been “justified by faith”? (Rom. 4) By faith, he was justified before God and his righteousness declared; by works he was justified before men and his righteousness demonstrated. It is true that no humans actually saw Abraham put his son on the altar, but the inspired record in Genesis 22 enables us to see the event and witness Abraham’s faith demonstrated by his works.
D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” He did not say that because he had been a successful shoe salesman; he said it because he was a dedicated Christian. Dynamic faith obeys God and proves itself in daily life and works. Unfortunately, we still have church members today who fit the description given in Titus: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).
James’ second illustration is Rahab (her background is found in Joshua 2 and 6). Israel was about to invade their Promised Land and take the city of Jericho. Joshua sent spies into the city to get the lay of the land. There they met Rahab, a harlot, who protected them and affirmed she believed in what God said and what God was going to do. When the men departed, they promised to save her and her family when the city was taken; and this they did.
It is an exciting story and in it is one of the Bible’s great examples of saving faith (see Heb. 11:31). Rahab heard the Word and knew her city was condemned. This truth affected her and her fellow citizens, so that their hearts melted within them (Josh. 2:11). Rahab responded with her mind and her emotions; but she also responded with her will: she did something about it! She risked her own life to protect the Jewish spies and she further risked her life by sharing the good news of deliverance with the members of her family. Rahab is one of the first soul winners in the Bible, and we cannot help but compare her with the “bad Samaritan” in John 4.
Rahab could have had dead faith, a mere intellectual experience. Or she could have had demonic faith, her mind enlightened and her emotions stirred. But she exercised dynamic faith: her mind knew the truth, her heart was stirred by the truth, and her will acted on the truth. She proved her faith by her works.
When you realize the small amount of information Rahab had, you can see how truly marvelous her faith really was. Today, we have the full revelation of God through His Word and His Son. We live on the other side of Calvary, and we have the Holy Spirit to convict and to teach us the Word. Her faith is an indictment against the unbelief of sinners today. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
James 2 emphasized the mature Christian practices the truth. He does not merely hold to ancient doctrines; he practices those doctrines in his everyday life. His faith is not the dead faith of the intellectuals or the demonic faith of the fallen spirits. It is the dynamic faith of men like Abraham and women like Rahab, faith that changes a life and goes to work for God.
It is important that each professing Christian examine his own heart and life, and make sure that he possesses true saving faith, dynamic faith: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). Satan is the great deceiver; one of his devices is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit faith is true faith, he has that person in his power.
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our hearts:
- Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
- Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come?
- Do I truly understand the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins and arose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?
- Did I sincerely repent of my sins and turn from them? Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?
- Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation? Do I enjoy a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?
- Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works, or are my works occasional and weak? Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
- Do I have a desire to share Christ with others or am I ashamed of Him?
- Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me?
- Am I ready for the Lord’s return or will I be ashamed when He comes for me?
To be sure, not every Christian has the same personal experience; and there are degrees of sanctification. But for the most part, the preceding spiritual inventory can assist a person in determining his true standing before God. What question(s) would you add to this list?
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).