Courtney Doctor teaches at TGCW21 on James 2:14-26, and carefully examines the true meaning of “faith apart from works is dead.”
Are we justified by faith alone or justified by works along with faith? In her keynote address, Courtney Doctor explains that true and living faith transforms us and changes what we do, creating the good works to which James calls us. We should not muster up these good works to be right with God. Instead, we can follow the four examples of living faith James gives us in his letter:
1. Living faith shows itself in active compassion.
2. Living faith shows itself in a deep love for God.
3. Living faith shows itself in radical obedience to God.
4. Living faith shows itself in full identification with all of God’s people.
If we can simply love and abide in Christ, our good works will be a response from our hearts rather than a striving towards salvation.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Courtney Doctor: Good morning. Good morning to all of you that are in this room and good morning to all of you who are joining us online, virtually. It is good to be together and what a joy and a privilege it is to be here with you all this morning. And to open God’s Word together. We are going to be in James chapter two. So as you’re turning there, I want to tell you about a time when I was in grade school, and my family was preparing to move into a new house. Now my mom is a fantastic gardener. It’s it’s not a trait I inherited or a hobby that I picked up. But I remember as we were preparing to move into this new house, overhearing her on several phone calls with local nurseries, planning what she was going to plant in our new yard.
And one phone call in particular, I overheard really caught my attention because I heard her say that she was going to plant pear trees. And I thought to myself, I love pears. And so I could imagine just walking out in the yard during pear season whenever that was going to be and just reaching up onto the branch of this pear tree and plucking this right, juicy delicious pear from the trees. And so imagine my dismay and my sadness to discover that all of these trees, pear trees, mind you were never going to bear fruit. They were never going to produce pears. And my mom explained to me that they were considered ornamental pear trees. They looked good, but they never bore any fruit. What a thing.
Why would a tree have the audacity to be called a pear tree? If it was never going to bear fruit in keeping with its name? What good is a tree like that? I think James would agree with me, not with trees that never bear visible fruit even though they claim to be fruit trees, but with people who claim to have faith who claim to be Christians and never bear the visible fruit of good works. Because James knows, James knows that living faith, true faith, real faith, it always shows itself. It’s always visible. Read with me, James chapter two, starting in verse 14. What good is it? My brothers and sisters? If someone says or claims, he has faith but does not have works?
Can that that kind of faith? Can that faith? Save him? That’s the question Can that this professed faith that has no real works, no visible fruit? Can that be saving faith? And then he gives four examples. It’s not an exhaustive list, but the four examples he gives example one, he says If a brother or sister is poorly clothed, and lacking and daily food, and one of you says to them, Hey, Go in peace be warmed and filled without giving them the things needed for the body. What good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Example two, but someone will say well, you have faith and I have works.
Show me your faith apart from your works. And I’ll show you my faith by my works. He said, he said you believe that God is one you do well, even the demons beliefs and Schutter. Example three, do you want to be shown you foolish person that faith apart from works is useless? 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. 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. Verse 24, you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. We’ll come back to that one. Example For was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way For as the body apart from the spirit is dead. So also faith, apart from works, is dead.
Now if you’re familiar with your Bibles, James’s words might raise a few questions. What do you mean James that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone. That’s kind of the big elephant in the room with this text. And so let’s talk about that before we actually jump into the passage. So Paul, the man who wrote at least 13 of the books in the New Testament, he wrote in several places, what seems to be what appears to be exactly the opposite of what James wrote here. For instance, Galatians 216, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. So also, we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ, not by works of the law, because by works of the law, no one will be justified.
One of the ways that you and I confess and explain our faith to others is literally by saying that we are saved through faith alone, by grace alone in Christ alone. So did James just get it wrong? Or maybe Paul did? More importantly, does God’s word contradict itself? Absolutely not. But in order to understand, we have to know that in the verses we just read, James and Paul are speaking to different people. And they’re speaking about different timing, and they’re answering different questions. And so Paul is answering the question, how does a person get right with God? And his answer, by faith alone and not by works?
And James is answering the question, how does a person know that they’ve been made right with God? How do they know? And his answer is, by the work you do, by the fruit in your life, so this, this fruit of good works, it’s going to bear testimony to a living faith, those things they prove, or they justify that your faith is real. Because living faith, true faith, real faith, it changes us, doesn’t it? It transforms us, it changes the things we know it changes how we think it changes how we love and what we love, and it changes what we do. James and Paul are also talking about the timing of the works in a different way. Paul is talking about pre salvation works, the things that you and I might try to do to be saved. There is no such thing. There is no such thing, you and I add nothing to our salvation except the sin that necessitates it. That’s what we bring to the table. James is talking about post salvation works.
He means the things that you do the works that you perform, the way that you live, the fruit that you bear, it’s going to demonstrate or prove that you’ve been saved. Those things are going to justify that your faith is real. And Paul completely agrees with James and he said the same thing. Many times over. In Ephesians, two, Paul wrote, For by grace, you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It’s a gift. And it’s not by works, not a result of works. Those are pre salvation works. So that no one may boast. But verse 10, we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus, for what good works, post salvation works, that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them, that we should do them that we should live them. And so James and Paul know both know that we are saved by faith alone, but that faith does not remain alone. It’s always accompanied by good works.
And they’re speaking to different people. Paul is speaking to the person he’s addressing the woman who thinks that she needs to earn her salvation to the person who is hoping that God will just love them or save them if they just do enough good things. If they live a good enough life, being the best person that they can be, if the at the end of the day, if the good will outweigh the bad. If that’s you, if your hope for salvation, is if it lies in trying to be the best person that you can be trying to be nice enough trying to be good enough, trying to do enough good deeds, even the things that James is going to talk about.
Listen to what Paul said in Romans three. For all of sin falls short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It’s a gift. We don’t earn a gift, we receive a gift. You and I are not saved based on anything we do, we are saved based on what Jesus did. It is His righteousness, not yours. It is his obedience, not yours. You and I do nothing but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. And that belief Scripture tells us is then credited back to us as righteousness, and we are justified, we are saved, we are made right with God. And James agrees. James is not telling us to go out and muster up some good works, so that we can be right with God. He’s telling us what true faith looks like James is not telling unbelievers how to be saved. He’s telling believers what true faith looks like. So James is speaking to the person here who would say, I go to church. I’ve been baptized, I tied. I go to Bible study, I go to all the TGC women’s conferences. Of course, I’m a Christian. course I’m a Christian.
So for everyone in here and everyone at home, who would claim who would say who would profess faith, raise their hand that they’re a Christian James is addressing us. We are James’s audience and his question for us are read it again in verse 14 is what good is it? My brothers and sisters, if you and I say if we claim that we have faith, but we don’t have works, is that kind of faith, the profession of faith without the visible fruit of good works? Will that save you is that saving faith is that real faith is that living faith. And then he gives us a litmus test for real faith. He says that living faith, it’s always going to show it self you are going to be able to see your invisible faith through your visible life. And the four examples that he gives us and if you are a note taker and an outline writer, this is our outline.
The four examples that he gives us are this first living faith shows itself in active compassion for others. And living faith shows itself in a deep love for God. And living faith shows itself and radical obedience to God. And living faith shows itself in full identification with all of God’s people. Living Faith shows itself in active compassion for others. Look again at verses 15 through 17. If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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 is that? So also faith by itself, he says, if it does not have works is dead. So imagine walking a busy city sidewalk at Christmas time, maybe the snow is falling, the lights are up. Christmas magic is in the air and you’re in your warm and comfy coat and you’re in your cute winter boots and you’re strolling along and someone’s sitting on the side of the curb, and you walk past it, they’re shivering, they don’t have a coat, they don’t have any boots, and you walk past past and you say Hey, Merry Christmas, stay warm. James is saying no real believer can do that. Because your faith, if it’s living faith, it’s not going to compel you to just feel compassion. It’s going to compel you to show compassion by giving that person a coat, maybe giving them your coat, giving them some boots, your boots, giving them a meal.
But what James also wants us to see Did you hear it in the text? If a brother or sister is in need lacking, poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, so how much more so? Is that active compassion needed when the person is in your church? Now some of you might be thinking, you don’t know my church. No one in my church is hungry. No one in my church needs a coat. Well, first of all, I want to challenge you that there might be and you just don’t know it. But there are so many other types of needs. We had a small group that met in our house for years. And one Sunday evening we were discussing the sermon from that morning and the sermon had been on x two. And that’s where the new believers in Jerusalem were so filled with living faith that we read that they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need.
And it’s a beautiful picture of living faith. And I think the Spirit prompted my husband who is leading our small group to say this, but he challenged everyone in the room, there were about 20 of us men and women, young and old, financially secure, financially struggling, he said, I want everyone to come back next week with a need everyone. And we did. And the needs ranged from an older couple in our church needed help putting some patio furniture up for the winter. And a seminary couple needed some help paying for a pretty significant car repair. One woman needed someone to go with her to a doctor’s appointments. And within a week, within a week, every need that was shared was met completely.
It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen, it was living faith on full display in the life of the local church. No one asked if the person really needed it. No one asked if they deserved it or can’t someone else do it. As the needs were shared. They were met as everyone was able. It can be overwhelming though cancer. You and I, we look around we see so many needs. And the temptation is to shut down it’s to it’s to give less. So I find what my former Professor Dan torriani wrote to be really helpful on this. He says James doesn’t require believers to do everything. But we must do something when we see a brother or sister in need. So when you see someone in need, whether it’s the young women across the globe that you heard about last night that IgM is working to rescue or it’s someone in your church who needs a coat, or needs help paying for a car repair or a ride to an appointment.
The question is, do you show active compassion? What can you do this week, this week, to help someone in your church, in your city, across the globe? Because it’s that simple. It’s that simple. Does your living faith compel you to actively show compassion to those in need? Living Faith also shows itself in deep love for God Read with me in verses 18 and 19. But some of you will say, or someone will say you have faith and I have works as if they’re separable. Show me your faith apart from your works. And I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. James says great, because even the demons believe that and they shutter.
And so what James wants us to see is that right? Belief is not the same thing as true faith. Let me say that again. Right. Belief is not the same thing as true faith does right? Belief matter? Oh, absolutely. But you and I, we can understand and affirm all the right doctrine and not be saved. We can be catechized we can maybe you’ve memorized the entire book of James or maybe you can find a backup on your very first tribe. You and I might know, our soteriology, our ecclesiology, our eschatology our Christology and not know Jesus, not know Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, right. Belief matters. Good doctrine matters, but it is not what saves us.
It strengthens us, it grows us but it doesn’t save us. And if you’re someone who spends much time on social media, this lowercase g god of correct doctrine of right belief has in many cases become a lowercase g god that requires those who worship it to sacrifice kindness and gentleness and patience and love on its altar and to exchange the beautiful fruit of the Spirit for the sour fruit of mocking and arrogance and minimizing and it’s it’s the context in which Kancil culture is born. Just has no place in the life of one with living faith. Let me say it again doctrine matters right belief matters, but it’s not the end game. It’s not the end game. In fact, James shows us that the demons have this right belief of the Trinity.
They know that God is three in one, but their right belief does not lead to the right relationship of true faith. And so in order to understand what James was talking about, we need to know that any Jewish person reading His words, in the first century, hearing this verse, you believe that God is one, when they read that, they would immediately know what came next. Because if you were to turn back in your Bibles to Deuteronomy six, you would read this well known truth that the demons believe Deuteronomy six, verse four, Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the Lord is one.
But this great doctrine, this right belief, this great truth is immediately followed with what the right response of true faith should look like. Verse five, you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your minds. Loving God is the first fruit of our justification of being made right with God of our salvation, when God saves us, He changes us from enemies, into dearly loved children. And He changes us into children, who are now able to love him and return. And so first, John 419 says, we love God. But why? because he first loved us. And so the love that gives us living faith, it’s always going to result in this ever growing love back. And so as you and I, as we grow in our knowledge of God, and let me be clear, we should be growing in our knowledge of God, who he is and what he’s done, and how he’s saved us and how we follow him, how we obey Him, how we worship Him. But if that increased knowledge, is met with true faith, living faith, your love of the living God will naturally increase necessarily grow.
And so is it is your love of the living God growing as a result of your living faith? Because living faith shows itself in an ever deepening love of God. Living Faith also shows itself in radical obedience to God. Read with me in verses 20 through 24. He says, Do you want to be shown you foolish person, the faith apart from works is useless, Was not Abraham our father justified by works? When he offered up his son Isaac on the altar, says, you see that faith was active along with his works. And his faith was completed by as works 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. Verse 24, you see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
So these are at the heart of the provocative verses about faith and works, because James comes right out and says that Abraham was justified by works, and not by faith alone. So here’s where we need to remember that James is talking about post salvation works not pre salvation, he’s talking about the proof of living faith, not the acquisition of living faith. And so what Abraham did, particularly in this one act of radical obedience, the offering of Isaac, it proved, or it justified, that he really did possess a living faith. So Abraham story begins in Genesis 12, when God called this one man Abram to follow him to leave everything and follow Him and Abraham did. And God promised Abraham different things.
And one thing that he promised me promised him a child, they promised him offspring. And then he said, This offspring, this child is going to be the beginning of a great nation, and it will be the nation that God is going to work through to bring salvation to the whole world. And in Genesis 15, we’re told that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness, Genesis 15. But Abraham waited decades for the promise to be fulfilled for the child to be to arrive. Isaac didn’t arrive until Abraham was 100 years old, and then at least a decade later, probably more. Abraham would have been at least 110 years old, long after there being any possibility of him having more children. God did the unimaginable. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son that he loved, take this child of promise, and offer him as a sacrifice.
And at this moment in Abraham’s life, this moment that James is referring to, when God asked Abraham to show radical obedience, Abraham obeyed. And Abraham’s obedience, what he did, it proved or it justified, that he really truly had living faith. So the faith we read, He possessed in Genesis 15, is now completed, or fulfilled or proven to be true by what he did in Genesis 22. And so Abraham trusted that God, even when Abraham couldn’t see how, even when it made no sense to Abraham, at all, he trusted that God would be faithful, Abraham trusted God’s character, he trusted that he was trustworthy. And as a result, he obeyed radically. Now, Hebrews 11 tells us what Abraham believed he believed that God was powerful enough, that God was faithful enough that he was trustworthy enough that he could raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham had never seen or heard of a resurrection. ever listen to how Nancy Guthrie put it, Abraham had no idea how it would happen. But he knew the life that had been given to the dead parts of his own body.
And he knew that God had promised it would be through Isaac that his offspring would become as numerous as the stars in the sky. And putting two and two together, he reasoned that the same God who brought Adam to life from the dust of the ground could bring Isaac back to life from the ashes of his own body. And after three days of thinking it through his calm conclusion was that God would raise Isaac from the dead. You and I are not Abraham, we will never face such an unimaginable dilemma. But we all face situations where Oh, obedience to God’s word seems to make no sense. Or it feels too hard, or it’s going to cost too much. But you and I know so much more about the character of God than Abraham did. Or Abraham had never seen or heard of a resurrection from the dead you and I know that God can and has and will raise the dead. We believe that one day God is going to take our bodies of ash and dust and raise it to immortality and glory. We believe in resurrection life that is our Sure hope in resurrection life, not just eternally. But now. Because God gives us new life. Now he raises our dead souls and He enables our stony hearts to love Him and to obey Him.
And so the question is, will you allow what you know to be true of God? Will you allow the trustworthiness of God the faithfulness of God, to cultivate deep trust and radical obedience in you? What might God be asking you to obey? today? Do you need to forgive someone? Just out of sheer obedience to God? Do you need to tell a friend or coworker about Jesus? Do you need to change the types of shows or that you watch or the types of books that you read?
Do you need to stop striving? And rest out of sheer obedience to God? Is there something you need to say yes to or something you need to say no to? Is there something you need to start doing or something you need to stop doing? What might God be asking you to obey today? Will you will you that’s what living faith does. It allows us to trust God to obey God even when that obedience doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, even when that obedience is hard, or that obedience costs too much. Because you and I we know the character of our God, we know that he has faith We know that he is trustworthy and he is worthy of radical obedience. James’s last example is that living faith shows itself in full identification with all of God’s people. Verse 25, and then the same way was not also Rahab, the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way for us, the body apart from the spirit is dead. So also faith, apart from works, is dead.
Rahab was a pagan prostitute, not only a non Israelites, she was a Canaanite an enemy of Israel. But what we read is that she had heard about all that God had done Joshua to says, Rahab said to the men, I know that the Lord has given you the land. So she knew the promises of God, she knew the word of God. She said, and we’ve heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt. So she knew they were God’s people. She knew that Yahweh was their God, for the Lord your God. She said to them, He is God in the heavens above and on earth beneath. And so Ray habit heard his word and she believed it. She realized that he was the Sovereign LORD, the God of heaven and earth. And she confessed with her mouth that she had come to believe in her heart. And God counted it to her as righteousness, He justified her. How do we know he justified her?
By her actions by what she did, because Rahab based on the promises and power of God, she realized that God was worth leaving everything for, to be counted with God and His people to be identified as part of the people of God. And what she did cost her she risked her life, to be identified with the people of God, she lost her home, she lost her country. And for some of us, the living faith that compels us, that shows itself by our identification with the people of God, it can cost us you might have friends or family members that they don’t understand and are hostile, maybe coworkers that ostracize you. I think of our many, many Muslim brothers and sisters around the world, who are identifying themselves with God and His people, and at great expense. They’re risking their lives and are following Jesus. Or I think about our brothers and sisters who struggle with same sex attraction, and they’re walking away from the communities that accept this lifestyle, and at great personal cost to themselves. They are throwing their lot in with the people of God and following Jesus. What about the college student who has to intentionally invest more time in a friend group that cultivates her faith?
And I can’t help but think of the pain that we have caused our brothers and sisters in Christ, by our lack of fully identifying with all of God’s people. I think of my African American brothers and sisters and the pain that they steward every single day, or I think about my Asian American brothers and sisters and the fear that they are currently experiencing, are you so fully identified with the people of God that you weep with those who weep that you are willing to learn from and listen to and believe, brothers and sisters who lives his life experience is different than yours. Because of the presence of living faith, it’s always going to show itself in this ever increasing love for all of your brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is not like any social club. It’s a family. We don’t choose our family. We just belong to each other. Like how Megan Hill set it in a place to belong. Loving God’s people requires us to lay down our lives. In the local church, we will regularly give up time, emotional resources, money, respect from the world physical comfort and personal preferences, but we commit to loving the people God loves, even at great cost to ourselves.
How fully Do you throw yourself into and identify with all of God’s people? How committed are you to loving the people? God loves. Because in the same way that living faith will always show itself in this ever increasing love of God, it’s going to show itself in an ever increasing love of all of God’s people. Now, I realize it would be easy to walk out of here and think I’m going to work harder to do all of these things. I’m going to work harder to show active compassion to others. I’m going to work harder to love God more deeply and obey Him more radically. We’re going to work harder to love the people at church more, but that’s not what James is telling us to do. He’s not saying do these things, so that You Can Have Living Faith. He’s saying, If You Have Living Faith, these things will be part of your life. So what James does want us to do is honestly assess our lives and look and see, look and see, as Karen said, last night, does your do match your say, Does your do match your say?
Do you see the fruit of good works? And if you don’t, don’t try to muster them up on your own. Run to Jesus, run to Jesus, Jesus told His disciples, He said, As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, he says, neither can you unless you abide in Me. Jesus said, I am the vine, you are the branches, Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. So abide in Jesus, rest in his work. All of these things that James lays out for us to do. They’re just a response to the works that have been done for us. Because it was Jesus. When we were poor, and needy, and helpless. He’s the one that showed great and active compassion. And he gave to us he gave us everything he had even his very life.
Jesus is the one who’s lavished the deep love of the Father on us because it was the love of the father, his love for us, his enemies, remember, that compelled him to send his son where Abraham was stopped from sacrificing Isaac, your heavenly Father gave to the very end his one and only son, the son that he loved that whosoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. And it’s because Jesus showed radical obedience to the Father that we are saved. Jesus asked the father in the garden if there is any other way.
The father said, No, you are the way. You are the truth. You are the life and Jesus replied, not my will. but yours be done because he trusted his father Jesus radically obeyed. Isaac was spared Jesus was not. And Jesus left the glories of heaven, in order to fully identify with us. Philippians two tells us that though he was in the very form of God, he did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, he became like us in order to redeem us. And so that’s how living faith is born. We believe in what Jesus has done for us. So if you have not been justified freely as a gift, if his righteousness is not yours, run to Jesus. It’s why he was sent. It’s why the Father sent the Son and His act of compassion, his deep love of the father, his radical obedience, his full identification with us. That’s what’s paved the way for your justification and mine. But if you have been justified, if you have received the gift of righteousness in Christ, then abide in Jesus. Let your living faith show itself.
Don’t be like my mom’s pear trees. But let the fruit of good works. be produced in you, be visible in you for the good of others. unto the glory of God, let’s pray. King of Glory, we bow before you and we love you and we praise You and we know that it is what you have done for us, not what we do for you. We rest in your finished and completed work. Thank you for coming to us. Thank you for rescuing us. Thank you for justifying us, oh Father, let our faith in you be alive. Let it show itself, produce in us works, that you have prepared beforehand that we would walk in them produce those in us that we would be a visible witness to the watching world of what it feels like and looks like to belong to such a good God. In the mighty name of Jesus, I pray Amen.