James 2:20 “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without works is dead?”
Have you ever examined the kind of works that James cited in his passage in his letter to the nations? Why didn’t James say that helping Granny paint her house was a good work instead of the examples he chose? James seems to go out of his way to use antithetical examples other than obvious “good” works we would choose. Why?
In James 2:21 he writes, “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and actions were working together.” He goes on in v. 23, “And it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.”
Now the last time I checked, murder was against God’s law! Did something change? Did Jesus offer an amendment to the 10 commandments that God adopted?
In James 2:25, James writes, “In the same way, Rahab the prostitute[huh?], considered righteous [say what?] for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” If Rahab was not cleaned up we would never use her in most churches, and yet, here’s God not only using her, but he calls her righteous for it.
So back to the question, why these examples of “good works” and not Granny?
I believe the reason that James used these examples was two-fold. First, he knew if he said that painting your neighbor’s house was a model for a works-based faith, we would surely all run out and do the same. Therefore, we would think it was our works that get us approval before God. Second, he wanted to show you the REAL works that get you justified before God.
What Abraham and Rahab both have in common is that they heard God and obeyed him. Their justification was not in the deed performed, for proof of that is in the kind of “good” work they both did. In both cases, they either broke, or were willing to break, God’s law to please the Lord; And breaking God’s law is sin, therefore, it can only be that they faithfully followed the voice of God and did what God asked, otherwise, without God’s permission to do so it would be a sin. So your good work is not a task, job, service in ministry, it is faith. For Romans 4:5 says, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
There are going to be times when you must swim against the flow in following the voice of God. At the same time, you may find yourself trying to please a pastor or someone in your family by doing things that God did not ask for. Often times, it’s in the name of “goodness” that we do work. After all, that’s what a “good Christian” does. You do what you’re asked, you do what you’re told. But that is NOT a reason to do work. The ONLY work we should do is what God requests. If you want to please God and do a good work, then follow Abraham and Rahab’s “good works,” which means listening for God’s voice and following what HE says. And when you’re not sure, take your requests to the God and let them be known. He is faithful to tell you what to do next. Phil. 4:6.
In the end, God won’t judge the work you have done. He won’t look at Granny’s house and say, You missed a spot.” Instead, he will look at your faith. That’s the “good works” James was talking about. He will examine your heart. He will ask, “Did you ask me if I wanted you to paint Granny’s house?” If so, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He’s looking for relationship. He looking for dialog. He’s looking for faith.
All God wants is your willingness to follow his call and his requests. To hear AND obey shall be counted to you as righteous especially when it’s costly for doing so. This, and this alone, will make you a friend of God.