Text: James 2:14-26, Gen 22:1-18
Summary: Your faith and your works begin and end with Jesus alone.
Good morning, everybody. Let’s pray together.
Father, thank you for gathering your children today. Lord Jesus, you are the head of the church. And so, Lord, we want to meet you. We want to be shepherded by you. We pray for the Holy Spirit to fill this place, to soften hearts, we pray for eyes to open during the preaching of your word, and ears to listen and hearts to understand. Thank you, Lord Jesus. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen
Please turn with me to James 2. Before we read, I want to ask some questions.
Anybody know the 5 solas? 1) According to Scripture alone 2) By grace alone 3) Through faith alone 4) In Christ alone 5) For the glory of God alone.
Five statements. Any problem grammatically with the 5 solas? Alone. Yes. There it is. If something is alone, there’s only one of it. How can you have five alone’s? You can only have one alone. And what is that one alone? Jesus alone.
That’s just one example of the problem with trusting in the theology created by theologians. Smart theologians have come up with something that sounds great, but when you just think about it carefully, it just doesn’t make sense. They’re taking one part of Scripture to create these doctrinal points. But they don’t take the whole counsel of God. And they come up with something that is grammatically incorrect.
What about the statement — we are justified by faith alone? Is that a true statement, you’re justified by faith alone? Let’s read James 2 and we will answer that question together.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
So now we are equipped to answer the question — are you justified by faith, or are you justified by works? According to James 2, what’s the answer?
23 …“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
And so he believed. He had faith. And from that point on, you could say he was on the path of salvation. But not until he sacrificed Isaac, that was his works, not until that happened, could we confidently say that Abraham was saved and he was justified. Yes, through his faith, he had a belief in the promise of God that a son would come out of his line. But when he surrenders and sacrifices Isaac, he was justified by that work.
Both are needed, faith and works. And I think that already should shake you up. But that’s not what you heard. Theologically you heard only one side of it, that faith is all you need. Actually, if you look at this text, who has faith only? The demons. The demons are theologically more accurate than any of us, but they don’t surrender to Jesus. They shudder at the thought that Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will one day have victory over them.
So the five solas we already know is grammatically incorrect. The statement that you’re justified by faith alone is in contradiction to what it says in God’s word. It says that you’re justified two times here, faith alongside of works. And two examples are given. Rahab is one example in Joshua 2. Spies are sent to look at how they can conquer the land and Rahab as a woman of faith had heard the stories of the great exodus and the parting of the sea and the power of God.
And she was already a believer. She already had faith. But how did she demonstrate her faith? It was through her works of hiding the spies. And that was not a simple work of just attending the synagogue and reading her Bible. It wasn’t that kind of a work. It was a work that risked her life and the life of her family, because if she were caught in this lie of hiding the spies, she would have been killed. It’s that kind of a work.
Abraham also had his work and we’re gonna look at that in detail in a moment. And it’s not an easy work. These are not easy works to kill your son with full confidence that God (Hebrews 11) will raise this son from the dead. It is not an easy work to hide the spies and risk the lives of your family members. Because a soldier shows up and they ask for the spies. This is not like attending a Bible study. This kind of work could cost you your life and it reflects the sincerity of the faith that we profess with our lips.
We read here in various places that faith apart from works is useless, it is dead. You need both to be saved. Yes, we start with nothing, with zero works. We were dead in our transgressions. In a sense we do nothing to save ourselves. It is not an act of our will. 100% salvation begins with God. All we have to do is believe and you’re already on the path of salvation.
Many people because of theologians think that’s all that they need. We think, I believe. I have all the doctrine, the five solas. I believe it all. You’re justified by faith alone. Yes, I believe that. Of course they believe it and they live out just a doctrinal understanding. There are no works. They have not counted the cost of following Jesus and Jesus alone.
But we know that the full gospel that will save you finally, not just initial salvation but final salvation, the full gospel of Jesus is faith plus your works. It begins with faith alone. You’re justified by faith alone in the beginning. But over the course of your lifetime, God will ask you and He will test your faith and He will say, prove it through your works that you are indeed on the path of salvation. In v18 it says
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
I hope that you can say that as confidently as James did. Other people say, yeah, it’s just faith only or others say, it’s works only. I hope you can say confidently that I believe and I have faith. Here are my works to prove it. I will show you my faith by my works. Such a confident statement.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
You see that faith was active along with his works. And faith was completed by his works. Not just faith only, but faith along with works. You see active faith through works. Faith that is visible through works. Faith that is active. Faith that is perfected or completed by works.
May we have many testimonies over the course of our lifetime that we have completed our faith through many, many works, not to save us because that was by faith alone. But to prove that we are indeed a follower of Jesus on the path of salvation, that we will show our faith that is active with our works, that is completed by our works. And then he says it again in v24.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
And so he says that faith apart from works is dead. I will show you my faith by my works. And then he says, faith that is active along with his works and a faith that is completed by his works, that he is justified by his works. And again, these are not easy works, like attending church, leading a Bible or planting a church. These are easy. Hiding spies and risking your life, having a knife and ready to plunge it into the heart of your son, these are the works that prove that we are indeed a child of God.
And so let’s look at Abraham in Genesis 22. I’m going to go back to what I said earlier. There’s only one sola — Jesus alone. Our faith, and our works begins, and it ends with Jesus alone. That is the Christian life, our faith begins with Jesus and our works end in Jesus, beginning and ending of our Christian life. Faith and works is in Jesus alone.
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
God made that promise. And He renewed the promise throughout Abraham’s lifetime that through him, there will be a child, and through that child a nation will form and he will be a blessing to all the nations. And because Abraham went through the sacrifice of his son Isaac, God says now, I will make good on my promise.
You could even say that God waited for this moment to test Abraham. When Abraham was tested and he showed his faith through his works, then the promise was fulfilled through his works. Not through his faith only but it was through his works.
And why do I say the whole Bible and all of Christian life is one alone, Jesus alone? If there is any text that proves that statement, it’s this text if you look in Gen 21:34.
34 And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.
And if you look at Gen 23:1
1 Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.
So many years have passed from the birth of Isaac. And he was weaned probably at age 2-5. And the Bible does not waste any words. The fact that Genesis 21 ends with a verse indicating the passage of time, many days or many years have passed. And then in Genesis 22, Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac. And then in the very next chapter, Sarah is 127 years old, which makes Isaac 37.
So how old is Isaac in Chapter 22? It’s anywhere from 2 to 37 years old. I would say he’s much closer to 37 because Chapter 21 indicates that many days have passed. A long time has passed. That’s why the verses are there.
And it’s unfortunate that we have a picture of Isaac as this little boy. And even the English translation, it uses the word “boy” for Isaac. But actually the word can be boy but it can also refer to a young man. And we would not say someone in his thirties is a young man. But if you lived to be 140-150 years old as they did in those days, 30 some years old is a young man.
I think, and there’s no proof of this, but because God’s Word is so precise, I would bet my house that Isaac is 33.5 years old — exactly the age of Jesus when He surrendered and sacrificed His life, which brings a different flavor to this story.
We see Abraham’s faith in Hebrews 11. He believed that if he killed his son, God would raise him from the dead. Because there’s only one child and God’s promise would not be fulfilled if this child was killed. Think of the faith that Abraham had in his willingness to sacrifice his one and only child.
You have to see the gospel here. It’s all over the place. God the Father sacrificed His Son, His one and only Son. Abraham is ready to do it because he believes that God can raise Isaac from the dead. And then Isaac, if he’s a five year old boy, would we have the confidence that he has a faith of his own? That’s actually a horrific scene. Abraham, the father taking a five year old who doesn’t quite believe that God can raise him from the dead and he is tying him down against his will.
Or even if we suppose Isaac is a 15 year old. Actually, if he’s 15 year old, Abraham is 115 years old. Can he tie down his teenage son? No. And think if Abraham was 133.5 years old. And Isaac is 33.5 years old. Can he force Isaac to lay down his life? No, Isaac would have to voluntarily lay down his life.
See, this is the gospel story. This is not a father telling his young boy, Trust me. Once I kill you, God will raise you from the dead. I believe it. You don’t quite believe it, but just trust me. At age 15, already if that boy is not willing, it’s not going to happen. And when he’s 33.5 years old, when he is a young man, a full grown adult, Isaac would have to have the faith of his own to lay down his life.
Isn’t this the gospel story? God takes His one and only Son. Abraham is representative of God the Father. Isaac is representative of God the Son. And Isaac voluntarily at age 33.5 years old is laying down his life because he, too, believes in God. He must believe along with his father that God will raise him from the dead. He’s not trusting in his dad. He’s not resting in his dad’s faith. He himself believes that God will raise me from the dead.
And why do I say, our faith and our work begin and end with Jesus? Because Jesus is on full display here. In both cases, Abraham and Isaac, the reason why Jesus laid down His life voluntarily is because He had the faith, the same faith that Abraham had. Jesus had the faith that God would raise Him from the dead. This is the gospel story. And so, as Christians, our faith and our works begin and end with Jesus.
Whenever you read the Bible, you want to have this lens in mind that it’s Jesus alone. You don’t want to be impressed with Abraham. And the point of reading Genesis is Abraham. And then you read Exodus. And then you read all about the exploits and the adventures of Moses. And then a takeaway after reading Exodus is Moses. If that’s the way you read the Bible, you’re always looking at different men and women, and your takeaway is always changing. What is the takeaway when you read the Bible? Is it is Moses? Is it Abraham? Is it Rahab? Is it Isaac?
The takeaway when you read Scripture has to be Jesus alone. And in this story you don’t look at Abraham’s faith, though it is impressive that he believed that God can raise Isaac from the dead. You’re not looking at Isaac’s faith, though it is impressive, that he was willing to do because he, too, believed that God could raise him from the dead. Through both, you are seeing Jesus alone and you put your faith in Him. And over the course of your life, you will have many opportunities through works to demonstrate that you truly believe in Jesus. And that’s why I say, our faith and our works begin and end in Jesus alone. That is the Christian life.
And when Isaac asked, Dad, where’s the lamb? Abraham’s answer was God will provide for Himself the Lamb. And that was a prophetic word. But in some sense Abraham was lying. There was no lamb. He didn’t have the heart to tell Isaac, you’re the lamb. But it was prophetic. And when this story unfolds and God stops him from killing his son, he sees a male lamb, a ram, in the thicket. The Lord actually did provide the lamb.
And so you could look at the whole Bible in this way. The Old Testament is — the Lord will provide the Lamb. The New Testament is — the Lord has provided the Lamb. You can just say, everything screams Jesus. And so let’s recommit our lives to Jesus. Let’s put our faith in Jesus. Let’s put our trust in Jesus. And let’s expect that over the course of our lifetime, we will be tested — James 1 — you will be tested the way that Abraham was tested, the way that Rahab was tested. And you will be justified by your works as you pass test after test after test.
Okay, let’s pray.
Father, Thank you for your love for every single person in this room and for all believers scattered in your Universal Church around the world. It is amazing to think that you love us in exactly the same manner and to the same degree as you love Jesus. And you love us so much that you would surrender and sacrifice and crucify your Son, your only Son, Jesus.
Because you loved all believers in your present day in the first century and you loved believers who would believe upon the word of Christians throughout the generations. Because you loved us, you willingly, voluntarily laid down your life on the altar, on the mountain of God, at Calvary. You surrendered your life and you were crucified.
Lord, when we think about Abraham surrendering Isaac and Isaac surrendering himself, we see the gospel. Jesus, you, too, believed that God would raise you from the dead and you voluntarily laid down your life in faith. And that was your work.
Jesus, you never ask us to do anything that you yourself didn’t do first. And so we see the faith of Jesus and we see the works of Jesus. Your faith and works cost you your life. For Abraham, it almost cost the life of this son. In his heart, he already killed him.
For Rahab, her faith almost cost the life of her life as well as the lives of her family if they were caught hiding the spies.
Father, our faith will be tested. It may cost us a great deal. Thes works that you’ll demand of us are not easy. When we do these works, they serve as further proof that we indeed believe upon the name of Jesus. And we put our faith in Jesus. And we trust in Jesus because our faith and our works begin and end with Jesus.
Jesus, you showed your faith and your works. And now, Lord, over the course of our lifetime, may we also show faith that is justified by our works. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen