James Chapter 2
Let’s begin chapter 2 by reading the first nine verses.
James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal Law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the Law as transgressors.
At the end of chapter one, James tells us how we are to visit, or we could say take care of, orphans and widows who are in trouble. Some will say James is starting a new topic in chapter 2, but I can see him building on the thought of these orphans and widows because he is elaborating on the idea of not showing partiality between the rich and the poor. We also need to remember that this principle of not showing partiality can apply across the board, especially in the first century between the Jews, Gentiles, and others. Of course, this was not just a first-century problem, we still have that problem with partiality based on social status, skin color, culture, and whether one is rich or poor. Since we struggle with this issue, before I break down out text, I am going to deal with this topic of showing partiality on a broader scale.
In one form or another, everyone has experienced partiality and has shown partiality in one way or another. I can say this with confidence because there are many ways we can show partiality. I like how Thayer defines our word partiality:
The fault of one who when called on to requite or to give judgment has respect to the outward circumstances of men and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high-born, or powerful, to another who is destitute of such gifts (Thayer).
So, to show partiality is to make a biased judgment based on the outward circumstance or we could add the outward appearance of the person instead of making a good judgment based on the person’s merits. Some translations use the word prejudice instead of partiality.
The word prejudice has a similar meaning as it can mean:
1. A partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.
2. An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
3. Any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
4. Unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
As you can see, there are many ways a person can show partiality or be prejudice, but a simple way to not show partiality comes from a saying I have heard all my life, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” If you do, you are showing partiality because you have prejudged it by its appearance alone. So, anytime you prejudge something without knowing if your judgment is true, you are show partiality.
For example, when I was growing up, I wouldn’t eat very many foods because if I didn’t think it looked good, then I assumed it tasted bad. So, I was being prejudiced against certain foods, and I am sure some of you have done the same thing. I could list a host of things from inanimate objects, insects, or animals, and I guarantee I can find more than one thing that you have prejudged or shown partiality for or against. This is why I said that everyone has shown partiality in their lives. While there are many things we can show partiality towards, I want to focus on how people can show partiality towards other people and how God views this. I will also point out how we should deal with partiality or being prejudice as Christians.
Our first example comes from Gen. 43. In this chapter, Joseph is 2nd in command over Egypt, and when his brothers came to Egypt to get some food because of the famine, he makes them go back and bring his younger brother Benjamin, and they do. He then treats them all to a meal, but they still don’t know this powerful man is their brother they sold into slavery. Notice what it says in:
Genesis 43:32 So they set him a place by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.
This is what you call national partiality. The Egyptians would not eat with the Hebrews or any other person that wasn’t an Egyptian. Many people today also show partiality against other nations. We tend to think bad things about certain nations and good things about others. If we meet people from those nations, we tend to prejudge them based on what we have labeled their nation. So, this makes us judge them before we ever get to know the person.
Another example of showing partiality comes from the Jews of Judea and the Samaritans of Samaria, who were part Jew and part Gentile. These two groups of people lived next to each other, but because of the Jew’s prejudice toward them, they despised them and wouldn’t even set foot into their land because they were taught it would make them unclean.
The Samaritans were not the only ones the Jews looked down on. They also were prejudice against all Gentiles. In other words, if you were not a Jew, then they did not like you, and you couldn’t convince them otherwise.
Well, we have a similar type of prejudice in America. Statistically, this problem has improved over the years, but it is not gone all the way because of stereotypes and because of what we were taught as we grew up. Yes, I know some would argue that it hasn’t improved, especially if they feel they are discriminated against or if you turn on your T.V. and see all the protests, riots, and looting. However, just because there are big demonstrations and emotional responses to what it is going on at the time, I am saying things have improved according to statistical data and by how the mindset has changed for many people in America.
Now, I am not going to list all the preconceived ideas that we have heard about different ethnic groups, but I do want to mention some of them.
· For instance, what do people think about when they think about an Indian sometimes? Well, they think about how they scalped people in the past, how they can do a rain dance, and how they cannot hold their liquor. More recently, people think about smoke shops and gambling casinos.
· White people are sometimes viewed as being arrogant and thinking there better than everyone else. However, if a white person lives in a trailer park, people call them white trash and consider them to be poor, ignorant, and willing to do anything for a buck.
· Some think that people from India will either own a convenience store or a motel.
· Others think that Asians are all mathematical wizards and only eat rice.
· Some people think that African Americans, or anyone with dark skin color, can’t resist certain kinds of food, and they believe that they will most likely commit a crime and are usually poor and violent.
· Some people think that all Jews are tightwads.
· Finally, when some people think of Mexicans, they think none of them can speak English and that there are probably here illegally, and they think they are all willing to work for pennies on the dollar.
I know there are more ethnic groups I could mention and more stereotypes, but I think you get the idea. It is because of these preconceived ideas that are pounded into our heads is why we show partiality against people based on stereotypes like these. When you grow up being taught these things, it becomes difficult for you not to prejudge these ethnic groups with whatever you have been taught about them.
Now, some people will claim that they don’t show partiality, but some in this world will show prejudice in this next example.
Numbers 12:1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.
Miriam and Aaron are speaking against Moses because he married this Ethiopian woman, or some versions say, Cushite woman. Some believe this is referring to Moses’ 1st wife, Zipporah, while others believe that Moses’ first wife died, and he took this second wife, who was probably one of the many strangers that came along with the children of Israel on their journey. In either case, Aaron and Miriam were not happy with Moses’ decision, and they were using his Gentile wife to try and bring him down and make themselves as equals with Moses.
Here is where a lot of people will draw the line. In their minds, they think it is wrong to marry someone from another ethnic group. The greater the contrast in their skin color, the more wrong it is thought to be. I have heard people say that they think you should stick to your own kind. In other words, someone that looks like them and has a similar skin color. When we make statements like this and think this way, we are showing partiality. It is like it doesn’t matter how smart, kind, or God-fearing a person is. All that matters is the color of their skin and where they are from.
Well, when you continue in this chapter, you will see that God punishes Miriam by making her have leprosy for speaking against Moses. This should make us think twice about showing partiality in this area because it is wrong.
Now, someone might point out that in the O.T., God commanded the Jews not to marry foreigners, and this is true. However, He did not make this command to discriminate against a person’s skin color. Instead, His reason was that these other nations didn’t believe in Him, and they worshipped false gods, and He knew this would corrupt the Jews’ way of thinking. Besides, God did permit those who became proselytes to become part of the Jews. As the Book of Esther points out:
Esther 8:17 And in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.
For instance, we know that Rahab, who helped the two spies escape from Jericho, was a Gentile, and yet she ends up being part of the lineage of Christ. Also, Ruth, who was a Moabite, becomes a proselyte and becomes part of the lineage of Christ as well. So, let’s never let the pigment color of one’s skin define who can marry who because it is wrong to do so.
Another way people show partiality is by other people’s physical size. If they are overweight, they assume that person is overeating, and while that can be true, it is not always true because some people can eat the same amounts as other people do, but their body sucks every calorie and fat gram it can from the food and stores it as fat. When people look at a thin person, they might think they are starving themselves, but that is not always the case because some people’s bodies just pass the food right on through, and some of them have to eat twice as much food that is recommended just so they can keep from getting skinnier.
Another thing that some show partiality comes from our text in James.
James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
From a worldly perspective, this happens all the time. The rich and the famous almost always receive preferential treatment. They get the best seats in restaurants and the best service. Companies will give them stuff for free just because they are rich and famous. If someone commits a crime against them, the police will work hard to find the criminal. Amusement parks have opened just for a celebrity while the general public is kept out.
Just the opposite is true with the poor. They tend to get the worst seats and worst service. Some people look down on them, and when they walk into a store, and they are watched closely because they think they might try and steal something. If someone commits a crime against them, many times, it is treated as a low priority.
Sadly, this happens within the church sometimes as well. If someone comes to the service and they look really nice and have on a brand-new suit, people are quick to greet them and shake their hand, but if someone comes in that has clothes that are worn out, and they smell kind of funky, many times they will avoid them, but this should not be the case as James has said, Christians are not supposed to show partiality.
Just because a person has money doesn’t mean they are a good person, and it doesn’t make them better than a poor person. God certainly doesn’t see any difference between the poor and the rich.
Job 34:19 Yet He is not partial to princes, Nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; For they are all the work of His hands.
Since God doesn’t show them partiality, neither should we. There are certainly more ways that can be mentioned of how people show partiality, but now I want to show how being prejudice can be harmful to you.
In Acts 17, Paul gained an audience with the Athenians, who were always ready to hear something new. But notice what happens in,
Acts 17:32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them.
Paul had their attention until he mentioned the resurrection of the dead. Since the people had a preconceived idea that the resurrection was not true, most of them were not willing to listen anymore, and they mocked him.
This is what showing partiality, or I could say being prejudice, can do. It can cause you to close your mind to learning new things. In this case, most of the Athenians would not be saved because of their prejudice. I have run across this type of partiality when I have tried to study with those who belong to a denomination. I don’t ask them to believe me based on my opinions, but to believe what the Bible says about different topics, but because they prejudge me for being a member of the church of Christ, they will not listen.
I remember one instance here in Lone Grove when Don and I had done some door-knocking when a lady was happy to see us and was glad that we were trying to set up Bible studies. She took the worksheet we were handing out, and she said she would fill it out. Now, I didn’t know this at the time, but her husband is a deacon in a denominational church. So, I was excited that we had found someone interested in studying the Bible, and the worksheet we gave her only pointed out that the Bible is our authority and that we are under the new covenant and not the old. Well, we went back the next week to give her the second worksheet. When she came to the door, she had a frown on her face, and she told us she was not interested in studying with us or going through another worksheet.
I could be wrong, but I think what happened was she told her husband that a church of Christ member gave her the worksheet, and then he must have told her not to study with us any further. Now, I realize that I am assuming here, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me of why this woman’s attitude changed because there was nothing in that first worksheet that those of her denomination would disagree with.
We also must be careful not to allow our prejudices to keep us from growing in Christ as we should. We must be careful that we don’t take our opinions and make them binding like Scripture. We should also not be scared to restudy some topics that we thought were true because sometimes, we can be wrong, and if we find that the Scriptures show that we are wrong, then we must be willing to change.
Sometimes, this happens the same way as we learn about stereotypes because you can grow up in the church, and your parents and grandparents can pass down some teaching they were taught even if it is not true, and then generation after generation will consider that teaching as being fact when it is not. So, never be afraid to test all things against Scripture because God is who we want to align ourselves with, not man.
Another thing we learn about partiality is that our partiality can influence others to be prejudice as well. A great example of this comes from:
Galatians 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
Once again, we can see the partiality between the Jews and Gentiles. Peter was the first apostle that God used to show that both Jew and Gentile could be saved. In Acts 10, God gave Peter a vision about some animals the Jews were not supposed to eat under Moses’ Law, and He was told to eat, but Peter said he would not. Then a voice told him, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” While he was trying to figure this vision out, some Gentiles were coming to him, and the Spirit tells him to go with them doubting nothing, so he and some other Jews go to Cornelius’ household, and he begins to preach to them.
Acts 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
Peter has figured out that God doesn’t show partiality between the Jew or the Gentile, and then this is confirmed further when God baptizes these Gentiles with the Holy Spirit, just as Peter starts preaching to them. When Peter sees this, he immediately commands them to be baptized, and now, we have the first Gentile Christians.
You would think this event would have done away with Peter’s prejudice towards Gentiles, but he had a moment of weakness, and now he wasn’t eating with them when other Jews were around, and his actions even caused Barnabas to show partiality as well. So, we have to be careful that we don’t cause others to be influenced by our partiality.
We have also learned from Peter that God doesn’t show partiality. Not only is this taught throughout the N.T., it was also taught in the O.T. as well. For instance, look at,
Deuteronomy 10:17 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 “Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
So, this leads to my last point that you and I need to consider as we think about partiality.
1. Since God is our Master and doesn’t show partiality, then neither should we.
2. I want you to consider the word racist – which is a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others. This is a manmade definition because the Bible does not teach us that there are different races. Instead, it teaches us that there is only one race, the human race.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
It doesn’t matter what your skin color is or what language you speak. We are all made in the image of God. That is why God doesn’t show partiality, and that is why God doesn’t look at the outer appearance. He looks at our hearts.
Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at
the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not
see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD
looks at the heart.”
Luke records this for us:
Acts 17:26 “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
We all come from one blood regardless of what our outer appearance looks like.
3. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
This tells us that God loves everyone no matter who they are or what they may look like because Jesus died on the cross for everyone.
4. Since Jesus died for everyone, this means that everyone can be saved that will obey God’s plan of salvation. Please notice what Paul says about this in,
Galatians 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Paul makes it clear that when you become a child of God by having an obedient faith and you are baptized into Christ that you become adopted sons and daughters of Christ. All Christians, whether they are Jew, Gentile, male, or female, become one in Christ. We are now brothers and sisters in Christ, and we should treat each other as such no matter what a person looks like.
This means we must do our best not to prejudge anyone by their appearance alone. Instead, we need to take the time to get to know a person first. When we do that, then we can know if that person is good, bad, or somewhere in between, but in either case, we are still told to love them.
5. We need to remind ourselves that if we do show partiality that it is a sin.
James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal Law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the Law as transgressors.
The last thing I want to share with you is what you and I can do to try and get others to overcome showing partiality. A great example of this is found in,
John 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Philip is being evangelistic, and he invites Nathanael to come and see Jesus. At first, Nathaniel’s prejudice almost keeps him from going to see Jesus because he had the preconceived idea that the people of Nazareth were no good. However, Philip encourages him to come and see.
This is what you and I can do to help others overcome their prejudice. We can encourage them to investigate and find out if their preconceived ideas are right or wrong. Many times, they will find out that their preconceived ideas were wrong.
We have learned that many of our preconceived ideas have come from our upbringing, society, and stereotypes. We can show partiality towards things and toward other humans. We learned that God does not show partiality and that we should not show partiality because we are all made in His image. We learned that we should never judge a book by its cover, but instead, we should investigate by getting to know people to really find out what they are like. We also found out that we can either be a good influence or a bad influence in the way that we handle our prejudices. Finally, we learned that showing partiality is a sin and that we should do our best to love those around us and treat them all the same. I think the best advice on how not to show partiality comes from the apostle Paul.
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
If you are esteeming others better than yourself and you are looking out for their interests, it would be almost impossible for you to show partiality towards another person.
With all that being said, let’s get back to our text and what it is saying.
James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
Basically, James is saying, don’t pretend to have the same faith as our Lord Jesus Christ if you are showing partiality. Then James gives us an example of what he is talking about.
James 2:2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
The assembly mentioned by James comes from the Greek word used for the synagogue. Some even suggest that James may have been referring to Jews meeting in a synagogue. While the word can refer to a synagogue, the word is also used to refer to any assembly. Therefore, since James is writing to Jewish Christians and all Christians in general, I believe he is referring to the assembly of the saints.
He gives this example that could happen
between a rich man who dressed nicely and is wearing gold rings to that of a
poor man. The rich man is treated with great honor and is offered the best seat,
which today might be considered the back row. However, the poor man is not
given a seat and is asked to sit on the floor since he is used to being beneath
everyone like a footstool.
In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:19-31), Jesus makes it clear that just being rich as your only quality is not going to make God show you any favoritism because the rich man ended up in the place of torment. However, the poor man, Lazarus, went to a place of comfort. Also, the parable of the rich farmer (Lk. 12:16-21) found that just being rich didn’t make him great in God’s eyes either because all the farmer thought about was himself.
James tells them if they make such a distinction between this rich and poor man, then they have made themselves into judges with evil thoughts because they are putting the rich man on a pedestal and making the poor man no better than a footstool.
James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man.
James is being affectioned here because he calls them beloved brethren, and he really wants them to listen to what he is about to say. He points them back to God and how He chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. Of course, we know that when we love God, we will keep His commandments and His ways (Jn. 14:15). Now, James is not teaching the idea that God only chooses the poor of the world because every person, rich or poor, can become a child of God. However, it is true that that most of those who serve God and do the most for His kingdom are not among the rich.
Why do you suppose this is true? Could it be that many times the rich tend to make their possessions their god? Could it be that since they can provide for themselves and live a life of luxury, they have a hard time humbling themselves before God? However, the poor don’t have such luxury and can see the importance of relying on God and the hope that He offers. It was Jesus who said:
Luke 18:25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Regarding the poor Jesus said:
Luke 6:20 … “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom that James was referring to is the eternal kingdom where all Christians will be after the Day of Judgement. Sometimes it is called the heavenly kingdom as opposed to the church/kingdom that was established on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The reason I make this distinction is because those Christians James was writing to were already the kingdom/church of God (Col. 1:13). One of the reasons Jesus came to this earth was to make us spiritually rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
So, James wants them to know that they should not dishonor a man just because he is poor. James continues his thought.
James 2:6 Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
James is describing what was happening during his time and what happens during our time. However, I must point out that James is not describing every rich person as there were no doubt rich people who didn’t do these kinds of things. However, it is interesting how those who try to cater to the rich end up being oppressed by them and even drug to court. Even though Jesus is Lord, some of these rich people would be bold enough to blaspheme Jesus as if they were better than God. So, why in the world would you want to elevate and bow down to a man just because he is rich.
James 2:8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal Law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. 12 So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the Law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
This section of Scripture can be a bit confusing because James refers to the ten commandments and parts of the Law of Moses, yet He also refers to the Law of liberty, which is the Law of Christ. However, we need to keep in mind that a big portion of his audience was Jewish. So, it makes sense for him to refer to the Law of Moses and to the Law of Christ. However, we have already seen in chapter 1 that James wants these Christians and all Christians to obey the Law of Christ.
In verse 8, James talks about fulfilling the royal Law according to Scripture. The word royal can refer to that belonging to a king or befitting a king, but it also carries the idea of chief Law. This idea of loving your neighbor as yourself was part of the old covenant and is part of the new covenant.
Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Then Jesus made this statement regarding this idea.
Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him,” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Paul also wrote:
Galatians 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
No doubt, loving God and also loving your neighbor is part of the royal Law or, could say, chief Law because it is key. So, if you love your neighbor as your love yourself, then you are doing well, but if you show partiality, then you are sinning and will be convicted by the Law as a transgressor. James explains why you are considered a transgressor of the Law even though you have broken what many would consider a minor infraction.
10 For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
We need to understand that God’s Law has many parts to it. While some things might seem minor and other things major, all of God’s Law is important. If you break one Law, whether it is perceived as minor or major, you sin. Think of it this way. If you have a fenced yard made with a chain-link fence, each link represents the many parts of God’s Word. If a dog jumps over the fence, digs under it or breaks through the fence, the dog is now outside the fence no matter what part of the fence this happened.
People are quick to justify certain sins as small ones or big ones. For example, a man that yells at his wife all the time might say, “at least I am not a drunk or a drug dealer.” An abusive mom might claim, “at least I make sure my kids have plenty to eat.”
Consider the principle Jesus teaches in one of His rebukes of the Pharisees and Scribes:
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
The first thing that stands out to me is that Jesus says there are weightier provisions of the Law, which means that tithing mint, dill, and cumin were not. However, notice how Jesus says that they should have been keeping the laws that are considered weightier, but also these less weightier laws are not to be neglected either. In other words, all of God’s Word is to be kept whether parts of it are weightier than other parts.
11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. 12 So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the Law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
James refers to the ten commandments, but the same laws were also commanded under the new covenant. However, the point is that God has created the Law that we are to go by. If we don’t commit adultery, that is great, but if we commit murder, which God says is sin, then we still sin even though we didn’t commit adultery.
This is a simple concept that we can see with our laws in our country. If you don’t steal anything, that is great, but if you break the speed limit, then you have broken the Law, and if you are caught doing it, there are consequences. Since we know that all of God’s Law applies to us and that we are going to be judged by it, that should motivate us to speak and act in such a way that we will not be guilty of transgressing the Law by showing partiality or any other practice we might view as a minor offense.
We can see in verse 12 that James circles back to the new covenant because he said we are judged by the Law of liberty. We know that the New Testament shows that we will be judged by the new covenant and not the old (Jn. 12:48). Verse 13 should get our attention because James is saying that if we show no mercy and we treat the poor with disdain, then we will not receive mercy on the judgment day. However, if we do show mercy, then God will show mercy. I think the best illustration of this comes from the parable of the unforgiving servant.
Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
In this parable, the king represents God, and the servant represents us. The parable is historically accurate because, during that time, a person who did not pay his debt would be thrown into jail. If he could not pay his debt, they would sell his belongings and even his family to try to get their money back. The logic behind this Law was that a person would take his debt seriously and would do whatever it took to pay his debt. Imagine how many people would be in jail in our society if that Law was in place today. Most Americans do not give a second thought about their huge debt because many think they can just file bankruptcy if things get out of hand, and our government is certainly not a good role model in this area.
We learn that the king is ready to collect his money from this servant who owes him 10,000 talents. Whether these talents were silver or gold, it is an enormous amount of money. Of course, the servant had no way of paying this debt and was at the mercy of the king. He knew the Law, and he knew the king would throw him into prison and sell his family and his belongings to recover part of his money. We must remember the standard pay back then was one denarius a day. If all he made was a denarius a day, it would take this man over 175,000 years to pay back 10,000 talents of silver alone, which means this man was doomed.
In a similar way, we can see how this servant relates to us because on the Day of Judgment, we will have to stand before Jesus and give an account of our lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Our sins are a debt that we cannot pay. Like the servant, we are helpless on our own as we stand before God (Mk. 10:26-27).
I wonder if this servant kept telling himself that he would take care of his debt to the king later, but later never came. There are many Christians and nonChristians who have the attitude that they think they can live in sin now and obtain forgiveness later. However, just like the servant, later may be too late because we don’t have any guarantees of another day. Many people have died instantly in car wrecks and in natural disasters who had no idea that their lives would end that day. Unfortunately, many of them died in their sins, and it is too late for them because they put off obtaining the forgiveness of their sins. There will not be any second chances because once we die, we cannot escape our fate if we chose to neglect our salvation. However, while we are still breathing, we have the opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins.
In verse 26, out of desperation, the servant falls down before his king and pleads and begs him to have mercy on him and to allow him to have more time to pay his debt. Again, this teaches us that we are at the mercy of God, and without Him, we are hopelessly lost.
In verse 27, we learn that the king was “moved with compassion.” This is a strong expression that shows the king felt a deep pain for the suffering of his servant. Not only did the king exercise great patience with his servant, but he also forgave him his whole debt. This represents the great love and mercy God has for us and how He has provided us a way to have our debt of sin forgiven by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:8-10).
Peter also expresses how patient God is in:
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
It should encourage us to know that our Father understands that we struggle with sin and will have mercy on us when He sees us suffering from our sin. When He sees us repent from the heart, He will forgive and forget our debt of sin just as the king forgave the debt of his servant. Since God forgives us when we repent, we should show the same mercy and forgiveness to others when they repent. But, notice what our servant does:
Matthew 18: 28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
Sometimes we lose sight of the forgiveness we received from God, and we don’t extend that forgiveness to others. When Jesus sent out His disciples on a limited commission, He told them, “freely you have received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8). Unfortunately, this servant did not do this. Instead, we find out he had a servant that owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded that he pay. But the servant did not have the money, and in the same manner, he fell on the ground before him and begged for mercy. It should have been easy for this servant to have forgiven this man of his small debt after having been forgiven his enormous debt, but he didn’t show him any mercy or forgive him. Instead, he had the man put in jail. People love to receive the mercy and forgiveness of others, but sometimes they do not want to return the favor. This servant’s behavior did not go unnoticed:
Matthew 18:31 “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
These other servants understood that this man should have shown mercy and forgiven his fellow servant. So, they brought the matter before the king and the king was furious and had the man brought before him. Since he did not show compassion for his fellow servant when he begged for mercy as the king gave him, the king sent him to the torturers until his debt was paid. The tortures represent hell. Since this servant was unwilling to show mercy and forgive as he was shown mercy and forgiven, he would be in the horrible place for eternity because there was no way for Him to ever pay his debt.
Jesus’ point is that if we are not willing to forgive others when they repent, then God will not forgive us either. As James has taught us, if we don’t show mercy to others, God will not show us any mercy. As Christians, we must learn to show mercy and to forgive people, or it can cost us our souls.
Next, James talks about faith and works in verses 14 – 26. Let’s begin by reading the text.
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus 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 without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe-- and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
This section of Scripture is considered controversial among some religious groups because it teaches against the doctrine of faith only. As I pointed out in the introduction of this series, Martin Luther, a 16th-century reformer, had a problem with what James wrote in these verses because he believed James contradicted Paul’s writings.
The reason he was confused about this is that he was diabolical opposed to the meritorious works that the Roman Catholics taught. Though he had good intentions and was right about there not being works of merit, in which we earn our salvation, he failed to understand that the Bible teaches we are to have works of obedience, which James proves. He also misunderstood what Paul wrote in Romans about salvation being by faith alone, which Paul never taught. Instead, Paul taught that we must have an obedient faith and work out our own salvation (Phi. 2:12).
What James wrote in this section goes perfectly with what he taught earlier in James 1:22-25 because James clearly stated that we could not just hear the Word of God because we must also be doers of God’s Word. So, James asks two probing questions.
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
There are two parts to these questions that revolve around
faith alone. The first one is asking if it will profit a person to have faith
but no works. Second, he wants to know if a person can be saved by faith, which
James will point out later that he is talking about faith alone. Of course, the
answer to these two questions is that it will not profit you if you have no
works, and you cannot be saved by faith alone. So, you can begin to understand
why this is such a controversial teaching to some in the religious world
because many of them teach that you are saved by faith alone.
Now it is true that faith plays a crucial role in salvation, but faith alone will never save us because we must also have works of obedience. Before we move on to James’s excellent example of what he is talking about, I think this will be a great place to do a topical study about having an obedient faith.
Many religious groups will say that you are saved by grace alone and all you have to do is believe, and you will receive God’s blessings and salvation. I wish these statements were true because it would mean that I could become a Christian by merely believing I was saved, and then I could do whatever I wanted because if there is nothing more to salvation and making it to heaven than believing in God and believing I’m saved, then it wouldn’t matter how many sins I commit. It wouldn’t matter whether I go to church or read my Bible because I will be saved if I am saved by grace alone by merely believing in God. Those who teach this view would say you can’t do these things, but if you are going to be consistent with this teaching, that is exactly what it would mean you can do. Sometimes the easiest way to disprove a teaching is by applying it across the board so you can see if it makes sense or is utterly ridiculous.
While following this teaching would be the easiest thing for a person to do to make it to heaven, it becomes clear that it is not true when you study the Scriptures. I find it strange that those who teach this particular doctrine will also claim that you are supposed to keep sin out of your life, and many of them emphasize that you must give 10% of your money to them to continue their work. But my question would be, why? Why should I? If I am saved by grace alone through belief in God, then I don’t need to waste my time avoiding sin or giving away my money because I will make it to heaven anyway.
Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach this concept at all, but people get confused about this topic, and preachers take verses out of context to try and teach that a person has absolutely nothing to do with their salvation. They get this idea from several passages where Paul teaches that we are not saved by works but by grace through faith.
For example, note:
Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the Law.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
When people look at the verses out of context, they can conclude that a person cannot add one wit to their salvation because if they did, it would be considered a work, and therefore, one can only be saved by grace alone by merely believing on God. This kind of confusion is what happens when you read part of God’s Word out of context instead of using the whole counsel of God.
If we ever hope to understand what God’s word says, we must keep things in context because when we do, we will see that Paul is teaching that a person cannot be saved by the works of the Law of Moses because it was no longer in effect. There are different types of works. There are works of the old Law, and there are works of merit in which we earn something. Neither one of these is going to add one wit to your salvation. However, there is another kind of work mentioned in the Bible that every Christian must do in order to accept God’s grace and His blessings, and that work is an obedient faith. This is why you see Jesus saying things such as,
John 14:15” If you love Me, keep My commandments.
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
Jesus expects something out of us in order to be saved and to make it to heaven. Now, let me be clear, grace is God’s part in our salvation, and we can never earn or merit our salvation. However, God demands that we accept His salvation and keep his salvation by having an obedient faith, and this is not a new concept because we have many examples of God demanding action on our part to accept His gift. To prove this, I want to show several examples through the three different periods of biblical time, which will show that God has not changed His mind about His people accepting His blessing and salvation through an obedient faith.
Our first example comes from Noah and his family.
Genesis 6:5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
This is a sad section of Scripture because all mankind was doing things for their own pleasure, and God was not part of any of their lives. So, God was sorry that He had made us, and He wanted to destroy us. However, there was one exception in our next verse.
Genesis 6:8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. 9 This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Here we have one man and his family who were faithful to the Lord. Since they were faithful, God was going to spare them from His wrath.
Genesis 6:11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 “And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 “You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 “And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark -- you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 “And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 “Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 “And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.
I want you to think about this. God gave Noah and his family an opportunity to be spared from the flood, but God didn’t have to do this. However, Noah couldn’t just believe that God was going to save him. No, he had to have an obedient faith and work with his own two hands to accept God’s gift of life. God gave Noah a specific pattern on how to build the ark, and he had to use specific materials.
Now, it took Noah many years to build this life-saving vessel, and verse 22 makes it clear that Noah did all that God asked him to do. We can see the simple pattern. God provided Noah with grace by giving him the means to save himself and his family, but for him to accept this grace and enter this new covenant with the Lord, he had to build the ark and follow God’s instructions. If he hadn’t had an obedient faith, then this event would have turned out in a different way.
Now let’s move up to the time of Abram.
Genesis 12:1 Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abram had been living in this country for 75 years. Anytime you live anywhere for a long time, it is hard to leave that place. However, God calls Abram out and promises to make him a great nation if he obeys. Again, God didn’t have to do this, but he has offered this blessing to Abram, but again, this blessing requires Abram to do something to accept it, which is to follow God’s instructions.
Genesis 12:4 So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.
Abram decided to have an obedient faith and went where God told him to go, and we know the rest of the story. God did what He told Abram he would because he had an obedient faith.
Now, let’s move up to the time of Moses. The Bible teaches us that Moses’ life was in jeopardy as the Pharaoh was having all the male babies put to death. But because of his mother’s faith, she saved her son by putting him on the river so that the Pharaoh’s daughter would find him. When she found him floating in the water, she fell in love with him and raised him. For 40 years, Moses was raised as an Egyptian and was possibly an heir to the throne. But at the age of 40, he didn’t like how an Egyptian was treating one of his Hebrew brethren, so he struck him dead, which led to him fleeing for his life. He then became a husband and a father and worked as a shepherd for another 40 years. At the age of 80, he sees a strange sight. He sees a bush on fire, but it is not being consumed, and God speaks to Moses from this bush.
God had big plans for Moses. He wanted Moses to be the leader of the children of Israel. He wanted Moses to go and talk to the Pharaoh and tell him to let his people go. God heard the cries and prayers of His people and was going to give them their gift of freedom, but it would require action on Moses' part, and later, it would require action on the people’s part to follow God’s instruction.
But in this instance, Moses does what some Christians do today. He starts making excuses of why he can’t obey God’s commands. Let’s take a look at how begins to try to avoid having an obedient faith.
Exodus 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
How many times have we used this excuse as Christians? We like to convince ourselves and others that we are not good enough or talented enough to do certain things when in fact, we are.
13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “
Again, this sounds like another excuse that we might use in that we might say, “well, I would teach a Bible class or even teach a person, but I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Now look at:
Exodus 4:1 Then Moses answered and said, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’ “
Once again, Moses is looking for a way out, but God takes Moses’ rod and turns it into a serpent, and he causes Moses’ hand to become leprous, and he says he can use these two signs to prove that his message is from God.
This is another thing that Christians sometimes say to keep them from reaching out to the lost because they are concerned about how people will react to what they have to say about God, which is a poor excuse.
Exodus 4:10 Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? 12 “Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”
We know this was an excuse because Acts 7:22 tells us that Moses was strong in his words. God doesn’t let him get away with this excuse and tells him that He will be with him and help him say the right things. We need to stop making excuses along lines as well because our God is with us all the way. While He will not give us the words to say directly as He promised Moses, He has taught us the Words we can use and teach through His Word.
13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.”
We finally see Moses reveal the truth, which is that he didn’t want to obey God’s will because he wanted someone else to do it. So, God allows his brother Aaron to help be a speaker for him. There are plenty of Christians today who also would rather someone else do the work of the kingdom, but we shouldn’t have this kind of attitude.
Well, after all the excuses, Moses finally obeys God’s will, and sure enough, he ends up leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. The people also had to have an obedient faith to follow Moses across the Red Sea. Again, we can see that it took an active faith to receive God’s salvation and blessing.
There are many more examples we could look at from the Old Testament, such as Joshua and how God gave him Jericho as a gift. However, Joshua still had his part, as he had to follow God’s instruction and walk around Jericho for seven days and then shout and blow the trumpet. Even after God made the wall fall, they still had to overpower their enemies, which once again shows God giving a gift, but Joshua and the people had to do something to accept it.
The last example I want to look at from the Old Testament is Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was an honorable man, and he was the commander of his army. He had been victorious in his battles, but he was a man of leprosy. Well, he finds out that there is a prophet who could heal him, so a letter is sent to the king of Israel requesting Naaman be cured, and Elisha, the prophet, agrees to do this.
2 Kings 5:9 Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12 “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar,) the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.
Naaman probably thought he deserved to be cleansed from his leprosy. So, when he arrived at Elisha’s house, I can imagine he expected Elisha to greet him, but he didn’t. Instead, he sent a servant to give him instruction to dip in the Jordan River. That made Naaman mad because he didn’t get what he expected and couldn’t understand why he should go dip in the dirty Jordan river, so he left in a huff.
This same thing happens to people who want to become Christians. They might know that God can save them, but they think it should be done on their terms, such as saying the sinner’s prayer or asking Jesus into your heart, even though these teaching are not found anywhere in Scripture. However, when they find out that God’s Word teaches that one must be baptized to be saved and then you have to live a faithful life to God for the rest of your days, they too will get mad and walk away.
13 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Fortunately for Naaman, his servant talked some sense into him, and he realized that doing what the prophet said was necessary for him to receive his gift of cleansing. So, he obeys and goes to the Jordan. Just as promised, after the seventh time of dipping in the Jordan, his leprosy was gone. This is another great example of where God provided a free gift, but Naaman had to accept that gift by having an obedient faith.
At this point, it should be easy to see that from the pre-flood time to the Law of Moses, God required an obedient faith. But let’s turn our attention to the New Testament. Did God change His way of thinking and make it to where He gave us the free gift of grace without us having to have an obedient faith or any kind of work to do? Are many in the religious world correct when they say faith alone through grace saves you?
Well, I already answered this question when I showed where Jesus said if we love him, we will obey Him (Jn. 14:15). Of course, He also said that only those who do the will of His Farther will be saved and be allowed into heaven (Mt. 7:21). Now, one thing I pointed out was how some people get confused when they start reading the book of Romans and see Paul saying that we are justified by faith and not by works. As I said earlier, he was talking about works of the old Law, which don’t apply to Christians today. However, Paul was not in any way ruling out works of obedience. To help show this in the same book, I want you to notice what the Roman church was known for.
Romans 16:19 For your obedience has become known to all.
This tells us that the Roman church had no problem understanding what Paul meant when he said that they were not justified by the works of the old Law. Let’s examine a few more passages that clearly show that we must have an obedient faith to have salvation from the pen of Paul.
Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
We can see that these people had obeyed the gospel, and Paul commanded them to continue to work out their own salvation. Friends, it doesn’t get much clearer than that. We must have an obedient faith to have salvation. The writer of Hebrews, who some say was Paul, tells us that Jesus was obedient and that we must be obedient.
Hebrews 5:9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,
Obviously, the word ‘obey’ is an action word and cannot and will not ever mean belief alone. Also, in Romans 6, Paul talks about what happens when a person submits to baptism. Paul says we are buried with Christ, we die with Him, and we are raised with Him. Paul says:
Romans 6:16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
What does a slave do? He obeys the master. A person is either a slave of sin or a slave of righteousness. Part of the obeying included being baptized, as Paul proclaimed. So, in order to become saved and have your sins washed away, it includes water baptism. Much more could be said about baptism, but let’s come back to our text in James, in which James gives us one of the clearest teachings against the faith-only doctrine.
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Sticking with the theme of the poor he started with, James gives an example of a person who is naked, which can mean without any clothing at all, or one who is poorly dressed or partially naked. Also, this person has not been getting to eat every day. So, if you tell this person to leave in peace and to be warmed and filled, how is saying those words, no matter how kind you said them, going to help that person have proper clothing and a full belly? It’s not going to help at all.
Any of his Jewish audience would know that the example he gave came from the Scriptures. Let’s look at a few of them.
Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.
Isaiah 58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:10 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
Also, Paul wrote:
Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
It would be easy for everyone to understand, especially the Jewish Christians, that paying lip service to this poor person would not profit him or her.
In this same way, one cannot just have faith or just say the right things because they must have works. Otherwise, their faith is dead. Jesus also gives a good example of this in:
Matthew 21:28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said,`Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 “He answered and said,`I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 “Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said,`I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.”
While this section of Scripture is a different context, we can certainly see this idea of what James was talking about because the second son said the right thing, but his words meant nothing because he didn’t do what he said. Of course, this can apply in many ways. It could apply to a person who says he wants to become a Christian, but then he never obeys the gospel. It could also apply to someone who becomes a Christian but doesn’t do anything else for the Lord or His kingdom. Either situation would be a dead faith.
James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe-- and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
James presents an argument that one might make, such as, “you have faith, and I have works.” This would be the classic argument that some people make about how things they do their way, and what we do our way will be acceptable to God as long as Jesus is our Savior. However, James quickly shows that this argument will not work because no one can see your faith alone. You can believe and feel faithful all day long. You can even believe that you would do good deeds, but none of that can be seen or be proven without works.
However, one can prove that they have faith through their works because people can see you taking action based on your faith. People can read about Jesus and all that He did and know that He had complete trust in the Father because He did and said everything His Father told Him to do, including suffering all the pain and anguish He had to suffer that led to His cruel death on the cross. Do you think anyone could have known how faithful Jesus was to the Father had He only believed in the Father, and His plan yet did nothing? Of course not.
James makes a strong argument against the idea of faith only that no one could deny because he uses demons to make his point. Since James mentions demons, and we usually associate demons with Satan, I am going to do a topical study about these two, but I am going to do that after we finish this chapter.
James is emphasizing how faith and works work together and not apart. He says if you believe in one God, that is great. That is exactly what you should believe. However, even the demons believe in one God. In fact, the demons that Jesus ran across knew who He was and what He represented. For example, notice what the demon says to Jesus in:
Mark 5:6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.
So, if all that is required is believing in the one God, then even demons are saved. Since no one who is honest would believe this, James asks that obvious question.
James 2:20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
This is a simple yet powerful argument that shows one cannot be saved or be pleasing to God by faith alone because we must have an active, obedient faith. James could have stopped here, but he is not done yet.
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
James uses a powerful example to make his point about how faith and works go together because he uses Abraham as an example. I am sure we are all familiar with how Abraham obeyed God when he told him to sacrifice his son. When you read the account of this in the Old Testament, you never read where Abraham questioned God about this, nor did he hesitate. His faith in God was strong, that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, whom he had in his old age. The only thing that kept him from slaying his son was the Angel of the Lord.
However, it was through his obedient faith that he was justified by works, and the promise to multiply his descendants was confirmed. Not only did Abram have many physical descendants, but he also had many spiritual descendants. The spiritual descendants, which is every Christian, are the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise.
Some think the physical descendants of Abraham have an advantage over everyone else, but the truth is everyone is equal in the sight of God. It does not matter if a person is a Jew or a Gentile because both have to obey the gospel to become a child of God (Galatians 3:27-29; Romans 2:28-29; 9:7-9; 2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
James makes his point by asking a probing question: Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? It wasn’t enough for Abraham to believe in God. No, he proved his faith through his works, and it was through his faith that he was made perfect. Abraham’s faith was so strong that we learn from the Hebrew writer that he was confident that God would raise Isaac from the dead after he was sacrificed (Heb. 11:17-19).
Now, some in the religious world will say, “wait a minute, James also says that Abraham was considered righteous by faith, as can be seen in verse 23. And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”
First, I would point out the context because James is telling us when Abraham's faith was accounted to him for righteousness, which is when he was going to sacrifice his son. Both Paul and James quote this verse about Abraham from:
Genesis 15:6 - And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
The first time it is quoted is in Romans 4. In that chapter, Paul’s goal is to teach that salvation and justification are available to everyone by an obedient faith to God and not by perfect law-keeping. Many of the Jewish Christians were having a hard time letting go of the Law of Moses. We learn more about the background of Romans 4 by reading Romans 3:29-31.
Romans 3:29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
Many of the Jews wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised, which was a problem Paul dealt with during his first missionary journey (Acts 15:1-2). Paul is teaching them that justification is obtained through faith and not through circumcision. He uses Abraham to prove his point in:
Romans 4:1 - What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
Abraham was not under the Law of Moses, and before he was circumcised, he was counted righteous by his faith.
Romans 4:9 Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. 13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
When it says by his faith, it does not mean he just believed, but that he had an obedient faith. For example, it took an obedient faith for him to listen to God and go to a place he had never been before. As the writer of Hebrews records:
Hebrews 11:8 - By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;
Paul is not teaching that we are justified by faith alone or by perfect law-keeping, but He does point out the necessity of an obedient faith throughout his letters (Romans 1:5; 2:8; 6:17; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 2 Corinthians 2:9; Galatians 3:1; 5:7; Philippians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 3:14; Philemon 1:21).
The second place our passage is quoted is in Galatians 3. Again, Paul uses this verse about Abraham to prove that we are not justified under the Law of Moses or by works of merit.
Galatians 3:5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?-- 6 just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith."
Paul was doing his best to teach these Christians that they should not go back to the Law of Moses because a person cannot be justified under it. He also taught them that if they try to be justified by the Law of Moses, they will fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). Again, Paul is not saying we have no part in our salvation because we must have an obedient faith to accept God’s grace, but we cannot earn our salvation, be justified by the works of the Law of Moses or be justified by works of merit.
The third time our passage about Abraham is quoted is in James 2, which we have already read. Again, James clearly shows that Abraham was not justified by belief alone but that it takes an obedient faith. Using the same verse Paul quoted, James proves that justification comes from an obedient faith and not by faith alone.
James also says that Abraham was called the friend of God. That is a great honor, but guess what? Every Christians who obey the commands of God is considered a friend of God as well. Jesus said:
John 15:14 "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
If there was any doubt of what James was saying, he clearly teaches that we can never ever be saved or justified by faith only because he says:
24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Again, James could have stopped here to make his point, but he gives us one last example.
James 2:25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
So, James uses Rahab the harlot as an example. She was part of a pagan culture around 1500 b.c. during the time of Joshua. I find it interesting how James uses Abraham, a rich, faithful Hebrew man, who is well respected by the Jews and then uses Rahab the pagan harlot, who is not wealthy, nor was she a Hebrew, yet she becomes part of the lineage of Christ (Mt. 1:5). It seems that James wants to cover the gamut between the greatest to least to show that no matter who you are or what your status is, God requires an obedient faith. Anyone who doesn’t have works has a dead faith.
Let’s look at the event that has made Rahab a worthy example of one who had an active faith. Of course, her story begins as the children of Israel are figuring out what Jericho is all about so they can attack it.
Joshua 2:1 Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. 2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, "Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country." 3 So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country." 4 Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 "And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them." 6 (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) 7 Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate.
The first thing I find interesting is that Joshua only sends out two spies, and they only talk to him. I can’t help but think that Joshua had learned a lesson from what happened when the 12 spies were sent out the first time and how 10 of the spies corrupted all of the children of Israel because of their faithless report. Joshua prevents history from repeating itself by just sending out two and having them talk to him directly. Notice, they were to spy out the promised land but especially Jericho.
Now they enter a harlot’s house, which can mean she was either an innkeeper or prostitute. Most commentators think that she was a prostitute. Well, somehow, the king finds out they are there, and he goes and has a talk with Rahab. Well, we learn that Rahab lies, and she hides these two spies. This brings two questions to mind.
The first question is, why was Rahab willing to protect these two spies? The answer is found in the following verses.
Joshua 2:8 Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, 9 and said to the men: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. 10 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 "And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 12 "Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token, 13 "and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death."
Rahab and the people of Jericho had heard about how God had parted the Red Sea and how the children of Israel had defeated the two kings of the Amorites, and this news had scared the people of Jericho and made a believer out of Rahab. She was confident that the Lord was going to give Jericho to the children of Israel. So, she was willing to protect these men because she believed in the power of their God, and she was hoping she could bargain with these men so that she and her family would be spared from the pending doom.
The 2nd question is, was it ok for Rahab to lie to protect these men of God in this situation? I would say absolutely not. First, we must realize that the only thing Rahab knew was that the Children of Israel had a powerful God, and I don’t think she would have known what God thought about lying. Rahab lived in an immoral place, and it wasn’t a big deal for her to lie about these men. I certainly do not believe that God used Rahab’s lie to save these men because God could have easily saved these by many other means. Besides, Titus 1:2 tells us that God cannot lie. Since God cannot lie, He certainly would not use a lie to protect his people.
Notice our text in James again:
James 2:25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also
justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out
Rahab is only commended for her faith in receiving the spies and for sending them out another way. Not once is she commended for her lie. John makes it clear in Revelation 21:8 that liars will be cast into hell. So, the answer to my question is no, Rahab was not justified or praised for lying in this situation, just as we will not be justified in lying in certain situations.
Now let's look at the two spies’ response to Rahab’s request.
Joshua 2:14 So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you." 15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. 16 And she said to them, "Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way."
These men agree to spare their lives, and Rahab lets them down the wall with her rope. That was the only way out of the city because the Gates were closed. She even gives them instructions on how to avoid getting caught.
Joshua 2:17 So the men said to her: "We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, 18 "unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household to your own home. 19 "So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 "And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear." 21 Then she said, "According to your words, so be it." And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window.
So, there were three things Rahab had to do to save her family. First was tying the rope to the window. Second, her family had to remain in the house. Third, they were not allowed to tell anyone about what these spies were doing. So, they had to abide by all three of these rules unless they wanted to die when they came to defeat Jericho. She agrees to do this, and the men leave.
Joshua 2: 22 They departed and went to the mountain, and stayed there three days until the pursuers returned. The pursuers sought them all along the way, but did not find them. 23 So the two men returned, descended from the mountain, and crossed over; and they came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all that had befallen them. 24 And they said to Joshua, "Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us."
These spies followed Rahab’s advice and managed to keep from being captured. They returned to camp and gave Joshua the news. The news they gave was encouraging because they knew that when people are already scared of you that they won't be difficult to defeat. Half of winning a battle is having the right mindset. With this in mind, we need to realize that the devil does not have any power over us, and we can easily defeat him.
Finally, Rahab is even mentioned in the hall of
faith of Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11:31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
So, Rahab was justified by her works, just as Abraham was. James adds one more zinger.
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
It is one’s spirit that makes us alive. If you remove that spirit from our physical bodies, the body dies. Just as a body by itself is dead without the spirit, faith without works is dead. Since James makes this point so clear, we can understand why it causes such a problem for those who want to teach that we are saved by faith alone.
As promised, I said I would do a quick topical study regarding satan and demons since James talked about demons in this chapter.
Though we lack many details about Satan and demons, we do know some details. For example, we know God created Satan and demons:
Exodus 20:11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.
Nehemiah 9:6 You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all.
Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Also: Isa. 24:44; Jn. 1:3; Eph. 3:9).
No matter how you classify Satan or demons, these verses prove they were created by God and did not exist until Jesus created them. Some claim that Satan was Jesus’ brother, and others say he has always existed, but these verses prove otherwise. The only way Satan could be classed as being Deity is if he had the characteristics of Deity, but he does not. In fact, his power was limited:
· In the book of Job, Satan had to gain permission for what he could do to Job (Job 1:6-10, 2:1-6).
· He had to ask if he could test Peter and sift him like wheat (Lk. 22:31).
· Jesus and His disciples were able to cast out Satan’s demons from people (Lk. 10:17-18).
· Satan and his angels could not prevail against Michael and his angels (Rev. 12:7-9).
· An angel from heaven was able to bound Satan and cast him into the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-3).
· If a Christian resists him, he will flee (Jam. 4:7).
· In the end, Satan will be cast into hell with his angels (Mt. 25:41).
God created everything and called it very good (Gen. 1:31).
1 John 1:5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
God would never create anything evil because it would go against His nature. However, God did create mankind and those in heaven with a free will, but God does not tempt anyone to sin (Jas. 1:13-14). Just as Adam and Eve sinned by their own choice, Satan sinned by his own choice. Satan was the first created being that sinned:
1 John 3:8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
What was his sin?
John 8:44 "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
Satan was guilty of three sins: murder, not standing in the truth, and being the father of lies. What caused him to turn from God and sin? Most scholars believe pride was his downfall, as indicated by Paul when he was giving the qualifications of elders:
1 Timothy 3:6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
Some speculate that Satan had a prominent position in heaven that went to his head and led to his rebellion, but those details cannot be found in Scripture. One thing we know for sure is that Satan has consistently fought against the way of righteousness and continues to do what he can to win over as many humans as he can. As Peter said:
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Satan’s first appears in Scripture as a serpent that talked Eve into eating fruit from the forbidden tree (Gen. 3:1-7). We know this event was not a myth because Paul confirms Eve’s encounter with the serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). John tells us that serpent was the devil (Rev. 12:9; 20:2).
Let’s look at a few more examples of Satan’s work throughout history:
· He influenced David to number Israel (1 Chr. 21:1).
· He contended with God about Job (Job 1).
· He is pictured as opposing the Angel of the Lord (Zech. 3:1).
· He tempted Jesus to sin (Mt. 4).
· He influenced Judas to betray Jesus (Jn. 13:2).
· He influenced Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3).
· He disputed with Michael over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9).
· He and his angels fought with Michael and his angels (Rev. 12:7-9).
Though not an exhaustive list, it shows the rebellious nature of Satan and how effective he can be.
Satan is called several names in the Bible:
· Satan - adversary (Job 2:1).
· Devil - false accuser or slanderer because he speaks against men (Rev. 12:10) and God (Gen. 3:1-5).
· Beelzebub - lord of the house (Mt. 12:24).
· Serpent (Rev. 12:9).
· Prince of the powers of the air (Eph. 2:2).
· Abaddon (Hebrew) - destruction and Apollyon (Greek) - destroyer (Rev 9:11). Most likely referring to Satan.
· Belial - good for nothing (2 Cor. 6:15).
· Murderer and liar (Jn. 8:44).
· Prince of this world (Jn. 12:31).
· God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).
· The dragon. (Rev 12:7).
Traditionally, most believe Satan was one of God’s angels like Gabriel, Michael, or one of the many other angels that served God, but the Bible does not clearly state that he was one of these angels. However, there are several reasons one may conclude that Satan is an angel. For instance:
· Since he is not flesh and blood, he is a spiritual being, just as angels are.
· We find Satan meeting with the sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1), which most believe is referring to angels in the book of Job. (Sons of God can refer to men or angels)
· Though Satan opposes the righteous way, his power is limited by God (Job 1, 2), just like an angel’s power is limited (1 Chr. 21:27).
· Satan had powers he could use when God allowed him (Job 1:11-12, 2:5-7):
o He was able to direct the Sabeans and Chaldeans to Job’s home to raid his animals and kill his servants (1:14-15, 17).
o He was able to call down fire from heaven to kill some more animals and servants (1:16).
o He was able to cause a strong wind to blow the house down Job’s children were in, and it killed them (1:18-19).
o He was able to cause Job to have boils form all over his body (2:7).
o The angels of God were able to use powers as well, such as the two angels that struck the men at Lot’s house blind (Gen. 19:11).
· Satan has his angels, and Michael has his angels (Rev. 12:7-9; Mt. 25:41).
· Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), which may imply that he is an angel of darkness.
· If Revelation 9:11 is talking about Satan, which most scholars conclude, then Satan is called the angel of the Abyss. Since this angel is found in a symbolic text, I would not use it as a proof text that Satan is an angel.
All these points show that it is possible that Satan is an angel, but we cannot say that he is one with certainty. Some would say there is no way he could be an angel because of the following two verses:
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;
Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;
Peter and Jude confirm that those angels who sinned by not keeping their proper domain have been delivered to hell. Now, this is not talking about hell as in the final abode of sinners at the end of time, but the place the rich man was in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16). They are pictured as being in this waiting place, awaiting their final judgment on judgment day. The argument is, how could Satan be an angel and not be in this same holding place? After all, he was allowed to roam free on the earth, and he is still considered a dangerous foe today (1 Pet. 5:8).
This argument has merit, and it is possible that Satan is not one of the angels. However, some would argue that these verses are not saying that these angels are chained up in darkness with literal chains, but that it means they were limited to what they could do. While Satan is not specifically mentioned in these verses, we learn from Revelation 20:1-3 that Satan was also cast into the bottomless pit, which most believe refers to the same place Peter and Jude are talking about.
In Revelation 20:1-3, an angel has a chain in his hand, and he binds Satan up and shuts him up in this place for 1000 years so he cannot deceive the nations. Of course, this is all being described with symbolic language, but most interpret this to mean that Satan is not locked up to where he cannot do anything, but it describes how he has been limited to work within the realm of natural law (1 Cor. 10:13). Though he is pictured as being bound, we know that he is still active and dangerous because we are warned about him in several places:
· Jesus tells us to pray so we can be delivered from the evil one (Mt. 6:13).
· We are warned about the snare of the devil (1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
· Satan can take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11).
· Satan is a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8).
· Satan has his wiles or schemes (Eph. 6:11).
There are at least three ways that Satan can tempt us to sin within natural law (1 Jn. 2:16):
· The lust of the flesh
· The lust of the eyes
· The pride of life
What can we conclude from the above? If Peter and Jude are saying that these fallen angels are restricted to the holding place the rich man is in, then Satan is not an angel. However, if Peter and Jude are describing them as being severely limited in what they can do, then it is possible that Satan is one of the fallen angels.
We cannot dogmatically say that Satan is a fallen angel. However, we can say that he was created by God (Col. 1:16), he was a spiritual being, he was cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:9), and he and his angels will be cast into hell at the day of judgment (Mt. 25:41).
Now let’s take a closer look at demons. We know that whoever these demons are, they were created by God (Col. 1:16), and they were created good in the beginning (Gen. 1:31). I wish I could say that I know who these demons are for sure, but I cannot because the Bible does not specifically state their identity. However, we can look at some possibilities of whom they are. First, let’s look at how Thayer defines the word demon:
“a spirit, a being inferior to God, superior to men. Evil spirits or the messengers and ministers of the devil”
Some believe these demons were those fallen angels mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. The idea is that they were temporally released from their literal bondage or from their limited abilities (depending on how you view 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6) during the first century. We also know that they did not want to go back to their bondage (Lk. 8:31). One possible purpose for their release was to show that Jesus was the Son of God in that He could destroy the works of Satan even with his demons being allowed to have power (Jn. 5:36; 1 Jn. 3:8).
There are at least three reasons the angel theory is possible:
1. Angels share similar characteristics as demons in that they are both spirits (Heb. 1:14).
2. Satan had angels that were cast out of heaven with him (Rev. 12:9), and he is called the ruler of the demons (Mt. 12:24). Since he rules the angels and demons with him without any distinction being made between the two, it is possible that the words angels and demons are being used synonymously.
3. These demons knew Jesus just as angels know Him (Mk. 1:24; Acts 19:15).
Others identify these demons as being the spirits of the wicked dead. When we die, we are no longer in bodily form. Instead, we are in a spiritual form, which is one of the characteristics of a demon. Some believe that God allowed those wicked souls of Hades to be emptied out temporarily during the 1st century. Historically both the Greeks and Jews thought demons were spirits from those who had died. In fact, the Greek word used for a demon in the first century and in other books around that time described a demon as a departed spirit of a wicked person.
Some take this a step further and say that these demons came from the children produced from angels and certain women during the pre-flood time (Gen. 6:1-6), but this is a ridiculous notion because the Scriptures do not teach that angels are capable of reproducing, much less reproducing with human females. For example:
· Angels do not die (Lk. 20:36).
· They cannot be counted (Heb. 12:22).
· They do not marry (Mk 12:25).
· They are always described in the masculine sense, and when they made themselves visible, they always appeared as men.
These points show there is no need for angels to reproduce in the first place. Obviously, the offspring of angels and these pre-flood women cannot be the demons because it never happened. I also have a problem with the wicked dead, in general, being demons because the demons could possess people and give them super strength (Mk. 5:3) and other abilities (Acts 16:16). However, there is nothing in the Scriptures telling us that a departed human spirit can do these things, but there are many things that have not been revealed to us in Scripture regarding demons. While the wicked dead might be the identity of demons, I doubt they are.
My best guess would be the fallen angel theory, but they could easily be some other spiritual being that God created that was corrupted by Satan. While we cannot say with certainty that demons are fallen angels, we know they are servants of Satan and are no match for God.
Now, let’s talk about the characteristics of demons. Demons were spirit beings, as can be seen in:
Matthew 8:16 When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick,
Notice how demons and spirits are used interchangeably. Also, consider what Jesus says about spirits.
Luke 24:39 "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."
From this, we can see that demons are spiritual in nature and don’t have physical bodies. We also learn that during the first century, they had the ability to possess someone, and more than one could enter a person’s body.
Luke 8:2 and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities -- Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons,
Mary had seven demons. Demons are also rational beings. For example, note what Mark records for us.
Mark 5:1 Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me." 8 For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!" 9 Then He asked him, "What is your name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many." 10 Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. 11 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. 12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them." 13 And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. See also Mat. 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39.
Both Mark and Luke focus on one man. However, Matthew informs us that there was a second man possessed. We can learn a great deal about a demon's characteristics from these verses. When a demon possesses a person, it can give him superhuman strength. We see this from the fact that no one could keep this man bound, and he even had the strength to tear apart the shackles they tried to keep on him. We also learn that the demons controlled this man. Notice, he didn’t wear any clothes, isolated himself in the tombs, cried out, and cut himself with stones day and night, which possibly means he never slept.
As you look at the other accounts of demon possession, they always seem like they want to harm their hosts, like the boy in Mark 9, where the demon caused the boy to fall in the fire and water. It caused him to foam at the mouth and gnash his teeth, and it made his body as stiff as a board.
When demons encountered Jesus, they knew He was the Son of God and had authority over them. These demons would submit to Jesus and beg Him not to torment them. In Luke’s account, the demons beg Jesus not to send them to the abyss. This shows us two things:
1. Jesus had power over these demons.
2. These demons could experience the emotion of fear, which is further emphasized in:
James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble!
The word tremble carries the idea of being struck with extreme fear or to be horrified. No doubt, these demons should be scared as they will face torment day in night in hell. They also seem to know that their time was limited. Notice what else we learn about demons from Matthew.
Matthew 12:43 " When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 "Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 "Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation."
These verses teach that demons can leave their hosts and come back again. Also, they can communicate with other demons and get them to come along with them to reinvade a person. We learn that some demons are more wicked than others.
One last characteristic I want to examine is somewhat humorous to me. When Paul was at Ephesus, it says he worked unusual miracles in Acts 19:11. Well, seven supposed Jewish exorcists heard about how Paul could cast out demons using Jesus' name, so they decided they would give it a try, but notice what happens when they do.
Acts 19:15 And the evil spirit answered and said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" 16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
They were using the right name, but they themselves were not Christians, so this is why we see the demon causing this one man to beat up and strip the clothes off these seven men. Again, we see a demon causing a person to have superhuman strength.
Now that we have examined the characteristics, let's consider the question, what was their purpose? Why were these demons allowed to possess people? This is another question I cannot direct you to a specific Scripture that states their purpose with clarity. However, I believe we can surmise what their purpose was. Demon possession was prevalent during the New Testament time and didn’t seem to happen during the Old Testament. There are a few places in the Old Testament that might have some kind of association with demons or something evil, but these places are not clear-cut to me. The only place in the Old Testament that remotely sounds like demon possession and has to do with King Saul.
1 Samuel 16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him. 15 And Saul's servants said to him, "Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. 16 "Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well."
When you think about these verses, they don’t sound anything like demon possession. First, demons are not going to come from God. Second, all it took was David playing his harp to make him feel better. In the New Testament, it took miraculous power to cast out a demon. As one commentator said,
The evil spirit which afflicted Saul was not a living demon sent by God, but rather a sinister attitude brought on by his rejection of God.
I feel confident that demon possession, as we read about in the New Testament, only happened during that time. I believe this is important when we consider what Jesus says.
1 John 3:8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
We also know that Jesus said He came to seek and save the lost, but for Him to do that, He had to destroy the works of the devil. This is also taught in:
Hebrews 2:14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
By destroying the works of the devil, Jesus would prove that He was the Son of God.
John 5:36 "But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish -- the very works that I do -- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.
Since Jesus was establishing His authority, He would not want to leave any rock unturned, so we see Him demonstrate His authority in several ways:
1. He healed diseases and physical deformities (Mt. 9:20-22, John 4:46-54.)
2. He calmed a storm showing His control over nature (Mat. 8:23-37).
3. He had the power to multiply food (Mt. 14: 15-21)
4. He had power over gravity as He walked across the water (Mt. 14:22-23)
5. He had power over death as He raised some from the dead (Mt. 9:18-26, John 11)
Not only did Jesus show his authority over these things. He also showed His authority over the devil because He had the power to cast out demons.
It makes logical sense to me that the purpose of these demons was to show that Jesus had power over the spiritual world, which further confirmed that He was the Son of God. Since one of Jesus’ purposes for coming to the earth was to destroy the devil and his works, it makes perfect sense why we don’t read about demons until the first century.
These demons continued to exist for a short time after Jesus’ death so that the apostles, or whoever was revealing God’s Word, could prove that what they were speaking was coming from God by them working miracles and casting out demons. We can see this in:
Mark 16:17 "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 "they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." 19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
According to 1 Cor 13: 8 -10, once the Word of God was fully revealed, there would be no more purpose more for miracles, so they would cease. Well, in the same way, there would be no more reason for demon possession to occur. Since casting out demons was a sign to prove that God’s Word being spoken was true, it certainly wouldn’t make sense for God to allow demon possession to continue, which brings us to our final question, which I have already answered in part.
Is demon possession here today?
Some think this is a silly question, but there are some who teach that demon possession is alive and well. Now, I am not trying to make fun of those who teach this, but I find it funny how many of these people who say that demon possession still happens always seem to say it happens in 3rd world countries. It’s like the demons are afraid of modern society, so they only hang out in places like Africa. Now, there is a reason that some may claim demon possession in places like Africa because many of these places believe in evil spirits and in Voodoo. So, it would be easy for someone acting out of their minds to be labeled as demon-possessed.
Let me give you some reasons demon possession is not here today.
1. As I already mentioned, it wouldn’t make much sense for God to end miracles and leave us stuck with demons since casting out demons was one of the signs that an apostle or Christian inspired by the Holy Spirit could prove the word he was speaking was from God.
2. Think about the characteristics that demons had in the New Testament and compare them to the supposed demon possession of today. I can guarantee they will not compare. For instance, when have you heard of someone having superhuman strength and not being able to be bound? You haven’t because demon possession is not happening today. When we honestly compare today’s supposed demon possession with what we read in the New Testament, we can clearly see that they don’t match up.
3. I want you to think about the following passage:
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
We need to remember that demons could take over a person and cause them to do things that they normally would not do. Well, according to Paul, we have a free will, and when we do something wrong, it is of our own doing. The temptations that we experience are common to man. This means we cannot say the devil made me do it. If demon possession is alive and well today, it would mean that they could overtake our free will, and this goes beyond the realm of what is common to man.
Finally, I want to look at a prophecy that shows that both miracles and demon possession would cease at the spreading of the gospel.
Zechariah 13:1 "In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness. 2 " It shall be in that day," says the LORD of hosts, "that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land. 3 "It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, 'You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the LORD.' And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies. 4 " And it shall be in that day that every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive. 5 "But he will say, 'I am no prophet, I am a farmer; for a man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.'
Zechariah is foretelling the time of when Jesus would be here and the blessings that would occur from the spreading of God’s Word. Verse 2 indicates that there will be no more prophecies and that the unclean spirits will depart from the land. I believe this is pointing to 1 Cor. 13:8-10, which shows that the miracles would cease once the Word of God was fully revealed. Once God’s Word was fully revealed, there would be no more prophets because there would be no more prophecies. Daniel 9:24 also talks about how visions and prophecies would be sealed up during this time. So, from Zechariah’s prophecy, we can conclude that when miracles ended, so did demonic possession. I think it's sad that people believe in demonic possession today because it gives people a fear that they should not have.
While I wish we had more information on Satan and demons, we do not. We must keep in mind that we have been given all the information we need to resist Satan and be confident in our salvation. We just have to accept the fact that there are some things we do not know for sure, as Moses wrote:
Deuteronomy 29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
James, Truth For Today Commentary (2020)
Gospel Advocate’s commentary on James.