Justification, Faith, and Works (James 2:20-26)

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

“Justification, Faith, and Works”

(James 2:20-26)

Series: Living the Faith [on screen]

Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD

First Baptist Church, Bartow, Florida

February 11, 2018

Introductory Comments:

We are coming to our conclusion of James’ discussion of faith and works.

Next time, Lord willing, we will be entering into James’ large discussion on the use of the tongue.

Today, we will learn what we have in common with a patriarch and a prostitute.

We talked last week about faith being dead if it does not have works. If it’s dead fatih, it’s present faith. It’s really not faith at all.

James now adds more to that discussion.

Let’s look at the passage together.

Read the Passage

Read James 2:20-26

20 Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Let’s pray together.


Introduction and Review (v. 20)  [on screen]

Before we go too far, let’s first notice that James says, “Senseless person!”

James is frustrated that someone isn’t willing to listen to him.

Of course, this is a letter, so no one is actually speaking back to him, but he seems to be anticipating some resistance.

He’s trying to get the attention of the person that would disagree with him concerning faith and works.

He asks, “Are you willing to learn?”


Well, are you willing to learn, church?  Are we willing to be convinced by the Word of God?


So, in order to prove his point more, James gives us two examples of faith that are proven by works, from the history of the Jewish people.

The first is Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people.

The second is Rahab, a prostitute who helped protect the Jewish people.

James talks about faith and works for a while, and so does your pastor 😀

Why is this such a big deal to James?

Well, James has been dealing with evidences of true, genuine faith throughout his entire letter.

He talked about learning from trials.

He talked about gaining godly wisdom.

He talked about not only listening to the Word, but also doing the Word.

He talked about not showing favoritism.

And now he is continuing his discussion about faith and works.

He wants to get this across because he believes that people’s souls are at stake. False faith is no faith at all.

There is no such thing as faith without works.

We must live the faith!

James wants us to understand this, so he gives us these two examples. First, we see . . .

I. Abraham’s Faith. (vv. 21-24) [on screen]

Look again at verses 21-24.

21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, 23 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. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

James says that Abraham was justified by works.

(Give a summary of what Abraham did by nearly sacrificing Isaac)

So, James says Abraham was justified by works.

Wait a minute!  This immediately seems to contradict the words of the apostle Paul.

Let’s talk about that.

Paul says in Romans 4:2-3

2 If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about—but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.

So, Paul tells us that Abraham was not justified by works, but James says that he was.

Well, that’s confusing.

We must remember the context of what these two men are writing about.

Paul was speaking about Abraham being made right with God because he had faith, not because of what he did.

James is speaking about Abraham’s faith being proved genuine.

Abraham’s faith was proven real by what he did.

Although Abraham did not actually take Isaac’s life, he was prepared to do so because he had faith in God. His actions proved his faith in God.

Paul was saying he came into a relationship with God by faith, James is saying that the faith relationship Abraham had with God was proved genuine by his works.

Paul and James had different purposes behind their use of the word “justify.”

So, Abraham’s faith was proven genuine by his action. The Scripture was fulfilled by what he did.

One thing that may bring greater clarification here.

When Paul speaks of Abraham, he is quoting Genesis 15. Genesis 15 happens before Abraham is called to sacrifice his son Isaac. It even happens before Abraham and his sons are circumcised.  Paul is saying that Abraham was made right with God not by what he did, but by belief and faith.

James is saying that Abraham’s faith is demonstrated, it is proved genuine, his faith is justified when he actually demonstrates belief and faith in God by being willing to sacrifice his son. James says his faith was made complete!  It was real!  It was genuine!

This was the fulfillment of Abraham being called righteous and becoming a friend of God.


In verse 24, James again says very plainly that a person is justified by works.

Again, in the greater context of his letter, we know that James is talking about a person that claims to have faith.

A person that claims to have faith proves that their faith is legitimate by doing only works.

James says that someone is not justified by faith alone, which remember, as we learned last week, is the claim to faith. The claim to faith alone is not enough to demonstrate a real changed life of someone who follows after God.

Here’s the summary of what James is saying about Abraham: his faith was demonstrated by his actions. Period.


Next, James gives us another example. He gives us an example of . . .

II. Rahab’s Faith. (v. 25) [on screen]

Look at verse 25.

25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works in receiving the messengers and sending them out by a different route?

So, let’s review what happened with Rahab.

(offer a review of Rahab’s story)

As with Abraham, Rahab proved her faith in God by actually protecting the spies.  She didn’t just say that she would help, she helped.

She had faith that the God of the Israelites was the real deal and she acted accordingly.

It took great faith to believe that helping the people of God was better than helping her own people.

She was also commended in Hebrews 11:31

31 By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed.

She was commended in Hebrews for her faith, and James says that the faith that she had was proved to be the real deal by the fact that she protected the Hebrew spies.


Next, James moves away from Abraham and Rahab to talk again about . . .

III. Dead Faith. (v. 26) [on screen]

Look at verse 26.

26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

James is driving this point home again: faith without works is dead.

He talks about a body without a spirit. A body without a spirit is dead, it’s no good, it has no life.

So also, faith without works is dead, worthless, lifeless.

Remember, as we said last week, a washing machine that is dead is just a hunk of metal.

The spirit brings vitality to a body and works bring vitality to faith. It makes us alive!

Faith without actions is not really faith; dead faith is no faith at all.


Finally, let’s talk about . . .

IV. Your Faith. [on screen]

We’ve talked about faith without works for some time now.

Your faith is either dead or alive.

James doesn’t leave any room for something in-between.

Is there life in your faith?

James wants us to look at ourselves.

Paul tells us to do this as well.

Second Corinthians 13:5 says,

“5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test.”

Paul says to look at yourself to see if Jesus Christ is in you. Test yourself. Examine yourself. Is there any evidence of life in your faith?

Jesus also spoke to this.  He said,

“8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”

He said there should be fruit in our lives if we have repented.

In order to live the life that God wants you to live, you must have living faith. You must have faith that is backed up by godly living.

So, examine your faith.


Concluding Thoughts:

I trust that if you were here this week and last week you are now an expert in the idea of faith without works being dead.

However, it’s one thing to know it and it’s another thing to live it!

We must live it, church!

We must be disciples who not only love God in word, but also in deed. We must love the church, not only by what we say, but by what we do. We must love others not only with our profession, but also with our practice!


If there’s still someone out there who is hanging on to their profession of faith without any evidence of real faith know this: James’ words condemn you, Paul’s words condemn you, John’s words condemn you (we haven’t even got into that yet), and Jesus’ words condemn you. You can hang onto your faith in words only, but you will hang onto it all the way to Hell.

I’m not trying to be harsh; I’m not trying to scare you; I’m trying to plead with you to listen to the Word of God. Turn to Jesus, fully.

We cannot tell Christ that we need Him and want to follow Him and then live as if we don’t need Him and do whatever we want.


Just like Abraham the patriarch, just like Rahab the prostitute, you also will demonstrate a genuine faith, your faith will be justified, by what you actually do.

We must remember that we are brought to Jesus by faith alone!  Oh the glories of this!  There is nothing that we can do and nothing that we have to do to earn the favor of God!  We simply cry out to Him: save me, God!  And then, once we have been saved by God we are changed and we live new lives that demonstrate that we have truly been changed.

Our salvation is not based on our performance, not at all. But there will be evidence in our lives that we have been saved.


Church, we are also accountable to each other for this. Part of loving the church is practicing loving accountability.  We are to love one another by building each other up and calling for living faith in each other’s lives.

If you see me living a life other than what God’s Word calls me to live, you let me know. Hold each other accountable, hold me accountable, and hold yourself accountable to the Word of God. Amen?

Here’s our . . .

Bottom Line: Put your living faith to work[on screen]


Come into a relationship with Jesus by living faith, and put that living faith to work and show how you’ve been changed!

Here’s the weekly challenge for this week:

Weekly Challenge: [on screen]

  1. Ask yourself, “Am I justified?”  [on screen]

How do you know if your faith is real?  Is there any evidence of faith in your life?  Are you changed?

Has Jesus changed you?  Really changed you?


Second, . . .

  1. Pray that God gives you living faith[on screen]

You want the real thing, right?

Ask God to give you the real thing!

If you’re convinced that you already have living faith, praise the Lord and thank Him.

Finally, . . .

  1. Put your faith to work this week[on screen]

Live out the faith that you profess!

Share the gospel with someone.

Help someone in need.

Pray with someone who is discouraged.

Meet a need for your brother or sister in Christ.

Bless an orphan or a widow, or someone else who needs hope.

Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of the world.

Serve in our church.

Teach a Bible study; attend a Bible study.

Put your faith to work!



As we close, let’s go back to Word of God. Listen as I read the words of the apostle Paul from Ephesians chapter 2.

8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

You were saved by grace through faith, for good works prepared for you by God.

That’s incredible.

Live out what you were created to do!


Some of you will never become who God created you to be, and you will never do what God created you to do, because you have not yet decided to follow Jesus.

God loves you and wants to change your life.

Just as Abraham’s faith was demonstrated by sacrificing his son, so also God’s love for us is demonstrated in that he sacrificed His Son for the forgiveness of our sins.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God didn’t just say that He loved you, He proved it!

(Gospel Presentation)

As we conclude, if you need to make any sort of spiritual decision, know that you can do that this morning.

(Closing Prayer)

Invitation Song: Speak to My Heart


Tonight we will be in I Will chapter 7, “I Will Not Be a Church Dropout.”

On Wednesday we will continue our Bible study through the Psalms. I hope to see you all tonight and Wednesday night.

Let’s dismiss by singing the Doxology. 

(Sing Doxology)

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