“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.”
(James 2:25-26 NIV)
James continues the argument he began in chapter 2 verse 14 for true faith in Christ. 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.
James uses Abraham as his first evidence; now, James presents his second person as evidence: Rahab.
We first meet Rahab in Joshua chapter 2, where she takes in the two spies from Israel, gives them shelter, and protects them. Rahab lives in Jericho, and God has promised to give Jericho to the nation of Israel as part of the promised land.
So we need to stop for a moment and ask ourselves, why did James include Rahab as an example of faith? What is the significance of James using her as evidence of someone having faith plus works (deeds)?
I believe there are several reasons. Rahab is the antithesis, the complete opposite of Abraham. She is not Jewish, she lives the opposite of a self-proclaimed “righteous” life (she is a prostitute), and she is a woman.
- Rahab is not Jewish. The Jews of James’ day believed that they were God’s chosen people (which is true). They also believed their righteousness came from being Jewish (it does not), and non-Jewish people could not be righteous before God (again, not true).
- Rahab does not live by the “rules” of a “righteous” life. Abraham was a devout and good man, respected in his community, while Rahab was an evil woman, living in a corrupt society, and at the bottom of the social status.
- Rahab is a woman. In that male-dominated culture, women were considered more like property than persons. For James to use a woman as an example of someone living out her faith through her actions was of great significance.
As we look back to Joshua chapter 2, we see Rahab’s confession of faith in God (verse 11), as well as her actions that demonstrate her faith (verses 4-6, 15-16, 21 in particular). Was everything Rahab did honoring to God, like her occupation (prostitution), or her words (lying to the king’s authorities, and sending the soldiers on a wild goose chase)? No, not at all. But God honored the tiny bit of faith Rahab showed, and counted to it Rahab as righteousness.
While Rahab’s faith was tiny, the consequences were huge. If Rahab were to be found to be lying, and harboring fugitives, she would have been killed without thinking twice. She risked her livelihood, and even her very life, to take action and prove out her faith.
Was James alone in pointing out Rahab’s faith, demonstrated by her actions? No. Two significant mentions of Rahab in scripture come to mind:
- The author of Hebrews specifically calls her out as a great example of faith (Hebrews 11:31)
- Matthew, in his genealogy of Jesus, notes that Rahab was part of our Savior’s family and bloodline (Matthew 1:5)
James wraps up his arguments on the need to have evidence of our faith by our works with one final analogy: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
James compares our faith without evidence of good deeds to a body without life. Both are dead.
James has presented his arguments, shown his evidence, and pointed us to God’s Word to make us stop and consider our lives, and if our faith is dead or living.
As each of us looks in the mirror, we must ask ourselves some hard questions to be sure our faith is living, and there is evidence of life in our faith via our heart seeking after God and doing good deeds, or if our faith is in words only, with no signs of life. God knows whether our faith is real and alive, or counterfeit and dead. The question is, do we know the real state of our heart and faith, or are we deceiving ourselves, living in a delusion?
To help our thinking, I share a series of questions John MacArthur asks:
“So, James is really saying look at yourself. What about you? Do you have a belief without behavior? Do you believe but not obey? Do you say you believe? Are you orthodox but you don’t long to serve God? You don’t love Him to the point where whatever it may cost you you’re willing to pay that price because He is supremely dear to you? Do you say you love Him? Do you say you care about Him? Do you say you believe in Him? But do you love sin? Do you court unrighteousness? Or do you loathe evil? Loathe pride? Seek humility? Is your faith useless or is it saving faith?”
(John MacArthur, sermon, “Living Faith”, James 2:21-26, November 30, 1986)