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5. Faith That is Alive (James 2:14-26)

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“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

James 2:26 (NET)

I don’t have a green thumb. I know little about plants at all. What I do know is the obvious—when the plant is dead, there are no flowers or fruit of any kind. I have lots of experience with dead plants! When the plant is alive and healthy, it produces something!

James says that faith is like a plant. Faith that is truly alive produces something! The evidence is there!

day one study

Read James 2:14-26.

    1. What would you say is the theme of this passage? To find the theme is not to find something hidden, but to find what is repeated over and over! What does James repeat here?

This passage on its face seems to contradict other scriptures, particularly some that Paul wrote. Because we recognize that the Bible is God’s word, we believe that there is a way to understand both without seeing them as contradictions. Today we want to see what Paul and other biblical authors have said so that later this week we can see how James relates. Understanding what they are saying allows us to live in alignment with God’s purposes and plans for our lives—the best place to be!

Our reading deals with that biblical term “salvation.” Salvation involves a work of God where He brings people into relationship with Him. When we are “saved” from a flood, a drowning situation, etc., we are physically removed from the situation. We live because we are rescued from danger. When we are saved spiritually, God rescues us from the danger that we are in—the danger of being dead spiritually; the danger of not being truly alive as God’s creatures; the danger of living outside of the purposes of God; the danger of choosing to live eternally apart from the love of the Creator—and brings us into His own family where He cares for us and gives us great life purpose.

    1. Read these passages about salvation and write down how someone gets the salvation that we just talked about:

      a. Rom. 3:28 (“Declared righteous” suggests that God announces that we are in right relationship with Him, which happens in salvation.)

      b. Gal. 2:16 (To be “justified” connotes that same declaration of righteousness that God gives those whom He rescues.)

      c. Acts 16:31

    2. Why can we not save or rescue ourselves? Read these verses and write down your thoughts.

      a. Isa. 53:6

      b. Rom. 3:23; 6:23

    3. God loves you so much that He reaches out in love to rescue you from danger and death when you are unable to save yourself. Read these verses about His love and write down your thoughts and feelings as you read them:

      a. Rom. 5:6-8

      b. John 3:16-17

      c. 1 John 4:9-10

Stronger Jeans (optional): Use a concordance and Greek dictionary or to study the word salvation and look up other New Testament references to it.

    4. Sharing Question: When did you first hear about the love of God reaching out to rescue you? Share that memory and your feelings about it with your group.

    5. Responding to God: Respond to God’s love by writing a prayer or singing Him a love song. If you are familiar with songs of the church, you may want to sing “I Love You, Lord” or “Amazing Grace”.

day two study

Reread James 2:14-17.

    1. What kind of faith does James describe here, faith that is alive or dead? How does he illustrate it?

    2. Think about this illustration. How does it make James’ point about living faith?

In v. 14, James says, “Can this kind of faith save him?” The note in the NET Bible says this: “Grk ‘the faith’ referring to the kind of faith just described; faith without works. The article here is anaphoric, referring to the previous mention of the noun pistis in the verse.”20 It goes on to say that the way the Greek is written, the answer is expected to be “no”.

    3. Dead faith cannot save; true faith is alive. Life is often used to describe salvation. Read Jesus’ words in these verses, and write down what He says about salvation and life. How do they relate to James?

      a. John 3:3-7

      b. John 3:16

      c. John 4:14

      d. John 5:24

      e. John 6:51

      f. John 10:27-30

Stronger Jeans (optional): Look up the meaning of the Greek word for faith and other cross-references in the New Testament. Write down your insights.

    4. Sharing Question: Rom. 8:31-39 has a similar message to Jn. 10:27-30. Read it as an encouragement to your faith today. Share how the certainty of God’s love makes you feel.

    5. Responding to God: Use Rom. 8:31-39 as a basis for your prayer, thanking God for His great salvation that begins at the point of belief and continues throughout eternity.

day three study

Read James 2:14-19.

    1. How does James make it clear in 2:18-19 that faith must be more than a “faith” that merely talks and expresses intellectual assent?

    2. In v. 19 James is likely referring to the shema, one of the most basic beliefs of the Jews, his likely audience. Read the shema in Deut. 6:4 and copy it below.

There are many in our churches today who may be saying they have faith but who fail the test of true living faith that James describes—maybe even some of us. Perhaps our church culture or background involves quoting a creed, such as “The Apostles’ Creed”, in a similar way to the Jewish recitation of the shema, and we say the words with no more real faith than the demons have. When we partake of the bread and wine of communion, we are saying that we have believed in Jesus and partaken of His life when we may not have truly done so. Or perhaps we simply tell others that we are Christians and believe in Jesus without any real concern for the life that He asks us to live.

    3. What warning does Paul give the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 13:5?

    4. What tests of faith do you see in James 1:1-2:26?

Stronger Jeans (optional): Many scholars see 1 John as a test of the life of your faith. Read through it and consider that perspective. What tests do you see there?

    5. Sharing Question: Have your words about Jesus ever been hollow and without life? If you grew up in the church, did you ever proclaim to believe with your words but not with your life? If so, share how God showed you that you failed the test.

    6. Responding to God: Write an honest prayer before God. Talk to Him about the tests of faith that James talks about in this passage and where you truly are compared to his words.

day four study

Read James 2:20-24.

    1. What person does James use first to illustrate his point? What works does he cite as proof of his faith?

    2. Read the story of Abraham and Isaac in Gen. 22:1-14 and then the New Testament commentary on it in Heb. 11:17-19. Write down how you see Abraham’s faith.

Stronger Jeans (optional): Read your commentaries on Hebrews 11:17-19.

    3. In Rom. 4:1-5 Paul also discusses Abraham’s faith. These verses refer back to Gen. 15:1-6. Read both of these passages. Again, Paul seems to contradict James. What are your thoughts about the problem at this point? You may want to review what you wrote down when you did Days 1-3 lessons. Take time to ask God to help you understand how the two are not contradictory. We’ll continue looking at it tomorrow also.

    4. Read these passages written by Paul, and write down how these parallel rather than sound contradictory to what James says:

      a. Rom. 1:5

      b. Gal. 5:6

    5. Sharing Question: What has changed in your life since you were rescued from death that shows your faith to others?

    6. Responding to God: Write down a prayer that expresses your desire to show your faith to other people. How should you respond to God’s great gift?

day five study

Read James 2:20-26.

    1. Rahab is the second person that James uses to prove that faith works out in action. Read her story in Joshua 2:1-16, and write down how you see her faith.

    2. Read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount in Mt. 7:21-27. How do they relate to James 2:14-26?

Stronger Jeans (optional): Read your commentaries on Mt. 7:21-27 and write down any insights that help you better understand this passage.

    3. How do these verses help you understand how faith and works relate?

      a. Eph. 2:8-10

      b. 1 Thess. 1:2-3

      c. Titus 2:14

As you think about how James relates to Paul, perhaps Moo’s comments will help:

Critical to understanding the argument of the section and integrating it successfully into a broader biblical perspective is the recognition that James is not arguing that works must be added to faith. His point, rather, is that genuine biblical faith will inevitably be characterized by works. Trying to add works to a bogus faith is an exercise in futility, for only by “accepting the implanted word” (1:21) and experiencing the inner transformation that it brings can one produce works pleasing to God.21

Alexander Ross also comments, saying that Paul and James “are not antagonists facing each other with crossed swords; they stand back to back, confronting different foes of the Gospel.”22

    4. Think about what “foe of the gospel” James confronts as you go back through James 2:14-26. Write down an explanation of this Bible passage as if you had to explain it to someone who had never studied it.

    5. Sharing Question: If you have been rescued, accepting God’s merciful gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, share a short version of your journey to true faith. If you have not, consider what is keeping you from that kind of faith.

    6. Responding to God: If you have been rescued by God and brought into life, spend your prayer time thanking Him for that gift. If you have never come into life by believing on Jesus, realize that faith is a journey. Talk to God about where you are and ask Him to move you forward on that path. Talk to your small group leader about your journey. Ask her to pray for your understanding and faith.

We have two stories this week about salvation. The first involves the story of a woman who realized that others who call themselves Christians and believe that Jesus is God who died for them, may still be trusting that their works will earn them an eternal relationship with God. They don’t grasp the truth of James, that works are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. The second story is about a young woman’s journey of faith.

Stephanie’s story

Years ago, I was very active youth group which was responsible for bringing me to faith in the Lord when I was in Jr. High. There I met and made instant friends with Carissa, who attended a different church than I did. We did everything together and had and still have a dear friendship. Until recently our religious differences had never been an issue.

Several months ago I had occasion to go to church with her. I was in total shock from the message of the sermon, which instructed the congregation that church attendance was required for salvation. While listening to this message I was stirring in my seat, not sure if I should stand and shout...."Wow you seem very confused....Jesus died for you already, don't think for an instant that you can do anything yourself to change that!" However, I sat there and bit my tongue.

As the service continued, the time for communion came, and I was not sure what to do. After asking a friend who indicated that I should participate, I proceeded up to receive communion. Well, Carissa informed me after church in a very blunt strict way that I am not welcome to receive communion there. My heart was totally broken that she believed that the rules of her church excluded me from being her sister in God.

At that moment I realized that she believed that she and her church were the only ones going to heaven because they followed their rules and obligations made by man. What I heard that day was not about faith in Jesus but about doing enough good works to earn God’s favor. I also knew at that point that God had led me down the right road to this point because everything I knew to be true just came flowing out of me to her in response. With a lot of tears we departed feeling a little beat up.

This event has put me in deep prayer for my friend. She later wrote me a sweet note about how she was sorry and that she just wanted to share the "rules" of her church with me. Although we haven't talked much lately, my bitterness over the situation has diminished with much thought and mostly prayer. I know that she may want to complete the discussion we started and that God will speak through me. She may not agree with me, but I know we both believe that Jesus died for us. I believe that he did it all and that there is nothing else I can do for my salvation. Wow!! What a relief not to have all those burdens and guilt of my sins hanging over me. He has forgiven me already and has accepted me to join him when my day comes; no matter what I do today can't mess that up. I just want to live for Him!

Amy’s Story

I grew up in what I thought was a very "normal" family, even average to the point of boring. I grew up with both of my parents and my younger brother all living under one roof in a Dallas suburb. I was referred to as the "good kid" where as my younger brother was more the black sheep. I made good grades, usually A's, I was a ballet dancer, a softball player, a volleyball player, a basketball player, a singer in the choir and the teacher's pet -- how much more well rounded could I get? My parents would tell you that they're "good people", and even today I would agree with that. They have good work ethic, always had a job and provided the necessities for my brother and me, donate used clothing and occasionally money to charity, you know, the basic responsible citizens. The only thing really different from my friends’ homes was that my parents often invited friends over and there was usually a party at our house on the weekend including alcohol, but no drugs, and after all, most adults drank a little, right? Besides, that just meant that all my friends wanted to spend the night at my house because there was always something fun going on and we always had good junk food.

Well, one summer when I was 13, two of my best friends (twin sisters) invited me to church camp. We were going to sleep in cabins and play games and do a lot of outdoor activities--that sounded like great fun to me. I was also told that we were going to do some Bible study things and I was totally fine with that, too. After all, my family believed that there was a God. I had once asked my mom what religion we were and her reply was, “ . . . (long pause of silence). . . uhh, Christian, I guess,” so I should fit in other than not knowing very many people. The next week changed my life forever. ~Never underestimate the power of inviting someone to church~

I spent the first few days of camp having fun and getting to know people. But with each passing day I was remembering my childhood fear of death and always wondering what happened afterwards. As a young child I would sometimes cry myself to sleep because I was so scared of not knowing what was beyond death, and I remembered my parents not having an answer to that fear. But with each Bible study and worship session we had at camp, I was finding answers that no one had been able to give me before. It was the first time in my life that I had heard of eternal life, salvation, grace, and the sacrificial Lamb. I was captivated by all of this information and I couldn’t wait to learn more. One of the things that made a huge impression on me was the older high school guys. During the worship sessions these guys that were several years older, twice my size, and very tough on the outside, would break down and cry and talk about how grateful they were that Jesus died for their sins. The display of such raw emotion from all these big, tough guys was absolutely dumbfounding and made it all that more real to me. I was repeatedly asked if I was ready to “accept Christ into my heart” but I still felt like I was just getting a grasp on the whole concept and I didn’t want to leap into anything just because of an emotional high. I knew that my decision better be one that I was prepared to live out for the rest of my life, this was no light subject. I finished the week of camp without accepting Christ, but thirsting for more of this information and wanting desperately to better understand the Bible.

I spent the next few months going to church on Sundays and Wednesdays with those same friends who invited me to church and learned more and more each week. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was dealing with before I turned my soul over to it. At first it was hard to understand that I was sinner daily, not just occasionally. I was accustomed to being the good kid, and good at just about everything that I did. I didn’t lie and steal like my brother. I didn’t cuss and drink like my parents. I wasn’t doing drugs and experimenting with sex like the kids at school. I tried to always be honest, do what I was told, and excel in everything. Sure, I messed up sometimes, but much less than everyone around me, or so it seemed. Maybe a couple of times a year my brother would make me so mad I let out a four-letter-expletive, or maybe I would not tell the whole truth about how late I stayed up on the phone on a school night, but that was about it and they were such trivial little things, really.

Slowly but surely I began to see how selfishly I lived my life. I made good grades to compete with my genius best friend, I tried to be a good athlete to satisfy my father, I stayed out of trouble to avoid punishment, I was living for my purposes and not God’s, that’s where the sin was coming from. That fall I accepted Christ as my savior and submitted my life to God at a volleyball tournament where I was pulled out of game and put on the bench. I had nothing else to do, just sitting there watching my teammates play the game I wanted to be in, so I started praying. At first I prayed for my team and that we would win, that kind of thing. But I began to feel like God was really listening to my prayer and that he was right there with me. I knew then my life needed to be lived according to a higher purpose and asked Him to reside in my heart. In contrast to how I was raised, I finally understood that good people don’t go to heaven, forgiven people do.

20 Note #4 in NET Bible, 2212.

21 Moo, 120.

22 Alexander Ross, The Epistles of James and John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954), 53.

Related Topics: Discipleship, Faith, Curriculum

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