One night a family’s house caught fire and they were forced to run outside. However, the fire blocked their path to the upstairs bedroom where their son was sleeping. The father yelled for the son to open his bedroom window.
On the ground below the boy’s father knew his son had to jump to save his life. “Jump!” hollered the frantic father, “Jump, I’ll catch you!”
All the frightened little fellow could see, however, was smoke, flames, and the darkness of the night. He was scared to jump.
His father kept pleading, “Jump! I’ll catch you.”
But his worried son protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.”
“That ok,” his father reassured, “I can see you. And that’s all that matters.”
This old illustration underscores an important axiom about faith. “Faith is not jumping to conclusions. It’s concluding to jump.”
Last night in our Bible class at West Citrus, Tom Quinn led us in a study of James 2:14-26. This text has been a source of controversy for decades among religious folks regarding the relationship between faith and works.
I once read that this text so perplexed Martin Luther and his theology of “salvation by faith alone” that he called James’ letter “an epistle of straw” and left it out of the canon of New Testament books.
Luther and more modern critics pit Paul and James against one another. Paul argues that Abraham was justified by faith (Rom. 4) by quoting Genesis 15:6. James rhetorically asks, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (Jas. 2:21). Some scholars see this, as one of my former college Bible teachers, Edgar Syrgley once called it, “a seemingly apparent contradiction.”
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there really a contradiction? No. The answer is that faith works.
Genesis 12 records God’s call to Abraham, He was instructed to leave his father’s house and his homeland, and go into a land that God would show him. The Bible says, “And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8).
Abraham had faith in God.
More incredibly, God promised to bless him. Make his name great. Produce from his descendants a great name. Give them a land. And from his seed would come One who would bless the entire world. What makes this so amazing is that at this point Abraham is unknown, obscure and childless. Oh, and he is 75 years old. It would be 25 years before Isaac was born.
No wonder Abraham is identified with the moniker “the father of faith.”
But Abraham didn’t just believe. He did. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham obeyed…” This text tells us that his faith worked.
Suppose Abraham said, “God, I believe you can do all of this, but I’m not going anywhere. This is my home. I’m staying. But I believe you can fulfill all these promises.” Would that have pleased God? Would his refusal to go where God commanded him be an expression of faith?
What if Abraham refused to offer Isaac? What if he decided to sacrifice a dog instead? Would that have been sufficient? Would God have been satisfied? Could his protection of and love for Isaac supersede God’s command? Would such dissent and defiance demonstrate his faith?
There’s no contradiction between Paul and James. One complements the other. Faith is active, not passive. Faith is not mere mental assent. Faith issues itself in physical effort. Faith is energetic. Enthusiastic. And on the go.
As one writer expressed it, “Paul and James are in perfect harmony in their teaching on this matter. Both make it clear that faith and obedience are not in opposition to each other. They are two sides of the same coin in God’s plan for the salvation of man.”
Hebrews 11 illustrates this fact with other great Believers.
And the list goes on of named and unnamed spiritual heroes and heroines who put their faith into practice.
What about salvation by faith only?
James leaves no doubt. He says, “talk is cheap.” No one is fed or clothed by words alone. Works are required. From Abraham to Rahab to even the demonic world, all proclaim that “faith without works is dead.”
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman