What Was James Trying To Say?

Q. Thank you for your website I have learned so much from it. I understand what James was teaching, that saving faith in Christ would produce good works, not that works saves a person. James I believe was talking to believers. My question is this, why did James have to tell them this at all? If faith in Christ produces good works (and I believe it does) and James was speaking to believers, this is something that just comes natural, to me it is like telling a fish to swim, or a bird to fly. In my opinion it seems to have caused a lot of confusion to those who believe a christian can lose their salvation. Why do you think God inspired James to write it like this? Do you think maybe it was to cause us to dig deeper into His word? This is a prime example I believe of why it is so important to rightly divide the Word of God. I know God in His foreknowledge saw the confusion it would cause, and I know He had a reason for wording it this way. Do you have an opinion of what it was?

Also in a casual reading of James 2:24 in my little finite mind it just seems like a lost man could be confused into thinking if he has good works he is saved. If James would have stopped at verse 23 when he referenced Romans 4:3 it just seems to me it could have avoided so much confusion, but then he dropped the bomb in verse 24. In your opinion why do you think verse 24 was necessary. I would like to know your thoughts on this. I am in no way saying James got it wrong, I believe every word of scripture is God breathed. I just wonder why with God knowing it would cause confusion, why didn’t he word it where there would be no confusion?

A. The issue here centers around the quote James used from Genesis 15:6. “Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Paul used this very same verse to prove that righteousness comes through faith alone. (Romans 4:3) Did James and Paul disagree? If they were both writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this would be impossible. So what’s going on?

The context of Genesis 15:6 is God’s promise of a biological heir for Abraham. Abraham believed that promise before any of it came to pass, and his belief was credited to him as righteousness, just as Paul said. Sometime later Sarah convinced him to have a child with Hagar to “help” the Lord make good on His promise. Abraham agreed and when he was 86 years old, Ishmael was born. (Gen. 16:16)

But that wasn’t what God intended. 13 years later God said it was time for Sarah to become pregnant and a year after that, when Abraham was 100, Isaac was born. (Gen. 21:5) God had kept His promise. (Notice that when Abraham tried to make God’s promise come true, it just caused a big problem. But when God was ready, all Abraham had to do was believe.)

Sometime after that, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. In referring to Isaac in Genesis 22:5, Abraham used the same word that he used in referring to his servants. It means everything from “boy” to a young man about 20 years old. We don’t know exactly how old Isaac was, but we do know that Isaac was old enough to understand what was happening and had agreed to it. (In Gen. 22:6-7 the word translated together means they went up the hill united.)

From all this we can conclude that several decades had passed between the time of the promise and the time of the sacrifice. Through all this time Abraham had believed God, and now he was being called upon to act on his faith. The writer of Hebrews said that Abraham did so because he believed that God would keep His promise even to the point of raising Isaac from the dead if necessary. (Hebr. 11:19)

Please note that Abraham didn’t initiate this action, rather he responded to God’s call. Verse 24 shows that a person of faith will respond in faith to the call of God, and in doing so will prove his or her faith to be sufficient for justification. This is not something God needs to learn about us, by the way. He already knows who are His. Neither is it intended to allow others to judge us. It’s not their concern. It’s something we need to learn about ourselves. As John wrote, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:18-20)

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