“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.”
(James 2:20-24 NIV)
James continues the argument he began in chapter 2 verse 14 for true faith in Christ. And what is this argument for true faith, saving faith? True faith must be evidenced in a person’s life by their actions.
In verse 18, James sets up a debate between two people, one person arguing for faith alone (without any evidence), the other person arguing for faith demonstrated by the way a person lives. In verse 20, James continues his argument for evidence of faith for that faith to be real.
In verse 14, James uses the term of endearment, “brothers and sisters”, to get their attention, because he has something important to say. In verse 20, he speaks to the person that believes faith does not need any evidence to be real. James addresses this person with a rather sharp rebuke, calling them “foolish”. The term “foolish” used here means to be vain, to be completely empty of any shred of God’s truth. And what has this person used to displace, to replace God’s truth? Their own opinion.
James presents his evidence for true faith, saving faith via the life of Abraham, specifically in Abraham’s act of near-sacrifice of his only son, his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). And how was Abraham’s action of taking the journey with his son, building an alter, tying up his son, and picking up the knife with full intent to sacrifice him a show of faith, and not just some random act of an insane, deranged person?
The writer of Hebrews gives us insight into Abraham’s mindset: Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). That’s a lot of faith, my friends.
James points out that Abraham’s faith in God was his starting point, and his actions were a result of his faith. Notice James’ careful ordering of words here “…his faith was made complete by what he did.”. Notice that James did not say that Abraham took action on his own, and then by faith, hoped that God would take care of the situation. Rather, James points out that Abraham listened to God’s command, had faith in God’s goodness and ability to resurrect Isaac from the dead, and took action to obey God. James tells us that Abraham’s faith was made complete, was proven true, by his actions.
Is that the end of the story? No.
James reminds his readers that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness…” (Genesis 15:1-6). Notice the depth of Abraham’s faith in God. Abraham’s faith came first (Genesis 15), and his actions came later (Genesis 22). Abraham’s actions to sacrifice his son were after Abraham believed God’s promise to make him a mighty nation through his only son Isaac.
James concludes his argument with the evidence of Abraham’s life as his first example of faith with accompanying evidence of works: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” (v. 24).
The world is watching us, dear friends. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, our actions need to reflect our beliefs. If our actions do not reflect our beliefs, we are like a little child with an imaginary friend that exists only in our minds. And God has no part in that delusion. But when our actions reflect our faith, God shows up, proving He is real to both us and to those watching us.