Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 3 * PART 4 * BOOK 53
James 1:24 – 3:6 – Part 2
And again, I always like to thank all of you in the studio audience for coming in and making all this possible, because Iris and I always have to say, “What would we do if we came up someday and nobody was here?” Well, we would turn around and go back home because people are used to seeing you here. For those of you out in our television audience, if you want to copy any of our material, you feel free to do so, provided you don’t try to make a profit from it. We know that time is short and we feel that it’s imperative that we get the Word of God out.
All right now let’s get back again in the book of James and we’ll keep moving on, little by little. We’ve been showing in the previous three programs that the best way to understand these little Jewish epistles is to compare them back with what Paul writes to us here in the Age of Grace, because all these little Jewish epistles are first and foremost written to Jews out in the dispersion – and as we pointed out in the first half-hour today most of these congregations were probably in what is today the land of Turkey (and there were others, of course, but predominately in Galatia and Asia Minor and so forth).
And so, under the Law, James is not saying anything much different than what Jesus and the Twelve taught in the earthly ministry. And I’ve already had some people during break time today realizing that. There’s not that much difference between the Four Gospels and what you have back with James, Peter and John, and Jude, because they know nothing of Paul’s Gospel of Grace.
Now Peter, of course (by the time he gets to his second epistle, which was probably written several years after I Peter), now realizes there is something different in the works, and we use those verses often – II Peter chapter 3, verses 15 and 16 – where he says that the whole idea of Scripture is salvation, and that if they want salvation they have to go to the epistles of Paul because of the wisdom that had been given to him.
Well, that makes all the difference in the world – but back here in these earliest ones (James and I Peter), there is still no comprehension evidently of Paul’s doctrines of grace, or a Gospel of salvation based on the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah, the Christ.
All right, so back to James chapter 2 where we left off. We’re in verse 18. And James is dealing with this whole concept of faith plus works and we’re showing the comparison wherePaul says, “It’s faith plus nothing for salvation.” And then, as we pointed out in our last program, when we become a believer, the work concept enters in almost automatically by the power of the Holy Spirit. But back here James is still demanding that if you’re going to have faith, you have to show it with works.
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.’”
Now we made the analogy in the previous program, of a Jew out there in the tabernacle enclaves – and if a person out on the outer perimeter would say, “I believe the Law, I know I’ve sinned, but I’m not going to take that lamb clear up to the tabernacle.” Well, he had all the faith in the world, but was he accepted? No, because he didn’t do the works that the Law demanded.
And then I gave you the opposite example: what if a man says, “Well my neighbor took a lamb up there, my neighbor got right with God, so I guess that’s what I’d better do.” So he grabs a lamb and he goes through all the process, but it’s without faith. He did it because he saw his neighbor do it – so is he accepted? No. And so it had to be the combination of a heart-faith, followed with the work that the Law demanded and that, of course, is where James is coming from. Now verse 20.
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Well, under the Law it would be. But for us under Grace, faith is precipitating the work of the Holy Spirit and that’s where the difference comes in. All right, now verse 21. Here, James is going to come up with some valid arguments, and this is where people today get all confused. He’s going to use Abraham – but so does Paul:
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”
Now let’s stop and think a minute. Was it at that time in Abraham’s life that he became a man of faith and a believer? At Isaac’s offering? Why heavens no – he’s been a believer for years. That came long after the fact, so that’s really no valid proof. But now we can go back to Romans chapter 4 and pick up Abraham’s faith, so far as saving faith is concerned, and when did it become a reality? When God spoke to him way back in Ur of the Chaldees. And he doesn’t have Isaac until years later. All right, Romans chapter 4, and this is, again, for sake of comparison. James is using the offering of Isaac as a works that was proving Abraham’s faith. Paul on the other hand is showing us that Abraham’s faith was intact before any works. Romans 4 verse 1.
“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?” In other words, Paul never made any excuse of the fact that he was a Jew’s Jew, Pharisee of the Pharisees. So, Abraham was the father in the flesh. All right now verse 2.
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; (brag) but not before God. 3. For what saith the scripture?…”
Now you remember we talked about Scripture in our first program this afternoon. Every word of this Book “…inspired by the Holy Spirit, holy men of God wrote as they were moved by the Spirit.”
So, Genesis 1 to the last verse of Revelation is Scripture, it’s the Word of God. Now there may be places that seem contradictory, but they’re not contradictory; it’s just a change of modus operandi. God is dealing differently today under Grace than He did with Israel under the Law. It’s not a contradiction. And so we have to sift it out, as we’re doing with the difference between James written under the Law, and Paul’s writings of pure Grace.
All right, but here we find Abraham as the epitome of God’s saving someone by faith and faith alone, because that’s why Paul uses Abraham then as an example for us, even in this Age of Grace. Verse 3 again.
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, (and offered up his son Isaac? No, it doesn’t say that. Abraham believed God – period!) and it (his believing) was counted unto him for righteousness.” How much did Abraham do to become a believer? Believed it! God spoke it, Abraham believed it! And, oh, my goodness, that brings to mind another verse here in Romans. Let’s come back a little further in Romans, back to chapter 1. Romans chapter 1 verse 16. A verse that we use over and over and over. Most of you should just know it from memory. This is where Paul writes again to the Gentile believers, and says:
“For I am not ashamed of (not ‘a gospel’ but rather) the gospel of Christ: for it (just like Abraham in chapter 4, that act of faith) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that(what?) believeth;…” Plus how much? Nothing! Believing it. But does that mean that someone makes a profession of faith, and is going to go on living like they always lived before? No way. When someone makes a profession of faith, they’d better be ready for the fact that God is going to work a change in their lifestyle.
And they are going to begin to work out that salvation that has begun with their faith. And so, yes, to that degree, we can agree with James – a believer that does not respond to his faith with acts accordingly. But it is not a mandated thing for salvation. Salvation is going to come by itself and it’s going to stand on faith and faith alone – but with the understanding that a changed life is going to follow. The believer is going to have a hunger for the Word. A believer is going to be only too anxious to share his faith. But, it’s not a mandatory thing for salvation. Now let’s turn to Romans chapter 3 and look at verses 24 through 26.
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption (the process of buying us back) that is in Christ Jesus: 25. Whom (speaking of Christ) God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,…” Now again the Word has declared that it’s the blood that has made payment for our sin. Now continuing the verse.
“…to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (now here’s the verse) 26. To declare, I say, at this time (that is on this side of the death, burial and resurrection now) his righteousness: (God never compromised His holiness and His righteousness when He set up the plan of salvation) that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Not the one who believes plus something else. And so the moment God sees that sinner confess his sin and cry out for salvation, God declares him just, by simply believing in that finished work of the cross. Well, we could go on, but we won’t take any more time. We’ve got to make a little headway in James, so now verse 22 of James chapter 2. Here we find James enlarging on his argument – and well he may – because James doesn’t understand Paul’s doctrine of grace as yet. James is still the legalist.
“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works (or his works) was faith made perfect?” (or complete). I mean James just can’t get it out of his craw. That’s all there is to it. If you haven’t got works, you must not have faith, and you cannot have saving faith unless you’ve got the works. My, that flies in the face of what I teach. When we maintain that as soon as we’re condemned by the Law, and we know that we’re a lost sinner, we gain salvation by faith and faith alone in what Christ has already done. It’s finished.
You know, I told someone the other day, we’ve got a lot of kids watching our program; you’d be surprised. Most people think that since most of us are gray-headed, then my audience is also. Don’t you kid yourself, we’ve got a lot of 8, 10, 12, 14-year old kids watching. Well, one of them approached me one time at one of my seminars and he said, “Les, you’re always talking about the finished work of the cross.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, it really wasn’t finished when Christ died, it wasn’t finished until He rose from the dead.” Boy, now that’s smart thinking isn’t it? Sure it is. These kids aren’t that dumb. I said, “You’re right!” But yet so far as the payment for sin and the suffering and all that, Jesus could say from the cross, “It is finished.” But yet, you’re right – in order to bring it all to fruition, He had to be raised from the dead. And that of course, put the frosting on the cake.
So yeah, I get a kick out of these kids. Iris and I got a letter from a couple of kids just the other day, one twelve and one fourteen – so don’t cross them off. Don’t think that old Les is going clear over their heads. No we’re not. All right, back to James, and verse 23.
“And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” So James is still coming back – and remember it’s Holy Spirit inspired – we’re not going to take anything away from that, because he’s approaching these Jews that are still under the Law and so everything for them has to fit, like it has to fit for us under grace. And so he’s still on that legalistic bent that Abraham had to have works to prove his faith.
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
Now, I have sometimes put forth an argument. I don’t know how valid it is, but at least it helps me a little bit – that this whole business of faith and works is looking at it first from God’s point of view. Did God have to see Abraham perform some work in order to see his faith? No. God sees the heart! But, for mankind to see the evidence of faith, what do we need? We need to see works. We can’t look on the heart. We can’t tell if a person is a believer or not, only God can do that. And so what we have to go by is, if this man professes to be saved and he follows that salvation with (as I think will come automatically) some kind of works, then the two are tied together.
And this is what James’ argument is, if a man doesn’t have works then he must not have faith. Well, anyway, let’s move on to verse 25. Now he’s going to use some examples from the Old Testament. And I can use them, too, to prove the other side.
“Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” Now that’s James’ way of looking at it – that Rahab proved her faith by putting her own life on the line in hiding the spies. But I’m going to take you back to where James is taking you. Let’s go back to Joshua chapter 2 verse 9. And you know the story, how the Jewish spies have come into the home of Rahab the harlot, up on the wall around Jericho. Now remember, the citizens of Jericho were pagan idolaters. They knew nothing of Israel’s God, but look what she says:
“And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. 10. For we (the people of Jericho) have (what?) heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did to the two Kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. 11. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”
They had heard all that. Well now, most of Jericho could care less about what they had heard, but what did it do to this gal? It prompted her to put her faith in the God of Israel. Not a word yet about her works. And so we can look at it that her salvation began the moment she believed in the God of Israel, on the basis of what she had heard. And then, of course, her works and her preparing the way for the Nation of Israel followed. But, you can follow this all the way up through Scripture how that faith opens the door to a life of works. And we will never deny that. Now coming back to James, and he’s going to make another analogy in verse 26.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” In other words, he’s not talking about the Holy Spirit, he’s talking about the living part of a human being – that just as soon as a person dies and the soul and spirit leave, that person is dead. He can accomplish nothing. Well, he says, it’s the same way if you’re going to tell me that you can have faith and not works. Well remember, now, just the analogy that James is looking at works under the Law and it’s valid for these Jewish believers, but it is not the same as we under Grace can operate. All right, chapter 3.
“My brethren,…” So again we understand that James is talking to fellow Jewish believers. They had believed the Gospel of the Kingdom as I pointed out in the last program; they had the same profession of faith that Peter did. “Thou art the Christ the Son of the Living God.” Period. So he says:
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. 2. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, (or a mature man) and able also to bridle the whole body.” Now you know what he’s building up to, don’t you? The tongue! That’s what he’s going to deal with next.
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm,…” Which, of course, is going to control the rudder, and the rudder is a small part of a ship. But that small little rudder can cause that ship to turn. The bit in the horses mouth can cause that horse to turn. This is his argument.
“Even so (we’re talking about the same thing – one little part of our physical body of flesh that has tremendous power) the tongue is a little member, (not much compared to the whole)and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”
You know what he’s talking about? Gossip. Oh you can ruin a life of integrity and honesty and uprightness with just a little bitty fire of gossip that just explodes. Now the politicians are getting great with what they call ‘spin.’ And what do they know? That if you can bring an accusation against someone, especially a good person (that’s the ones they usually pick on), the media just simply blares it out over the whole nation. And maybe three, four weeks later, we find out there wasn’t one word of truth to it. Does it heal all the damage? No. The damage is done. A life is ruined. And we see it over and over. All right, James is dealing with the same thing, and so here again, we can take a good lesson from this. We have to be careful that we don’t destroy a life with our tongue.
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” Now we’re speaking of a tongue that is being used deceitfully and in order to bring reproach upon someone. False accusations. Don’t misunderstand what he’s driving at, and where does it have its beginning? In hell itself.
And all you have to do is just stop and think – how much damage is done throughout the whole human experience by wicked tongues. It’s beyond our comprehension. And so the admonition here is that, for us even as believers in this Age of Grace, it’s still a danger; that we can bring reproach upon someone by passing on a false tidbit of something that has no truth. But the damage will be done.