Justified by Faith Only … But Not By a Faith that Is Alone
James 2:14-26 for Sunday Worship 5/20/2018
If a man goes into J.C. Penny’s to their men’s department, takes one of their suits off the rack and then walks over to pay for it, so far so good.
But when the cash he puts down to pay for the suit is Monopoly money, they are not going to give him the suit.
Not because the price of the suit has changed. But because the money offered to pay for it was phony—play money. Such money can never buy that suit.
That’s what James is getting at when he says that faith without works is dead. That’s all that James means when he says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Nothing more; that’s it.
When James asks us, can a dead faith justify us, he’s pointing out that if our faith in Jesus is living and real, it will result in good deeds. If no good deeds happen down the line, then it is clear our Christian faith is as phony as Monopoly money. The price of justification in Jesus has not changed for James. It remains for James the same as for Paul: that price is faith alone in Christ alone. James is not denying that in the least. He is simply telling us that if that faith never resulted in any change or any fruit or any evidence whatsoever, then it was counterfeit or dead from the get-go. It was as phony as Monopoly money.
The Bible teaches throughout that our justification is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Justification is a one time act of our being accepted completely and forever in God’s sight on the basis of our sins forgiven by Christ’s death and Christ’s own righteousness charged to our account, credited to our souls, imputed to our being. To repeat: that happens by your faith alone in Jesus Christ alone plus nothing.
But what James is pushing hard for us to understand is that if that “by faith alone” is alive, and not phony, dead or counterfeit, it will not be a lonely faith, but will inevitably produce some fruit.
So here is the key point: any fruit, any good work, produced is a result of our justification, not a cause of our justification.
Good works, good fruit, will and must follow our justification, but they never precede it or join with our faith in receiving or meriting or earning justification as the one time act that sets our right standing before God for the rest of our lives and eternity. For it is our empty hand of faith alone that receives all of Christ, and all of His merits as our own, when we believe in Him. So the consequent fruit of good works is the evidence of an alive faith in Jesus that will produce observable differences in our lives as a consequence of a real faith.
If for clarity’s sake, we set this up as a mathematical formula it would look like this:
Our Faith in Jesus Christ + 0 (zero, nothing) = Our Being Justified in God’s Sight + Our Resulting Good works.
Please observe on which side the good works are placed in the above equation. They come only after we are justified by Christ alone by faith alone. They are on the other side of the equal sign, indicating that they are a result, not a cause, of our justification in the sight of God. This is critical, and James never denies this.
To put it another way, what if you were asked this question: “Your faith in Jesus Christ plus what equals your justification in the sight of God?”
That’s kind of a tricky question, isn’t it?
So what do you think?
The Biblically correct answer would have to be “My faith in Jesus plus nothing!” That’s right! Your faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing, plus zero, plus nada, plus a big goose egg, equals the forgiveness of your sins and your being justified forever in the eyes of God.”
That is the correct answer.
Because any citing of your good works or good behavior or your deepening holiness would have to be understood always and only as a result and never as a cause of your justification in the sight of God.
Hugh Latimer, the great English Preacher to the royalty of England in the 16th century put it this way, Queen Faith alone justifies us in the sight of God, but she will inevitably, always have and must have her retinue that attends her; without such a retinue of servants, she is no Queen. Please note that her attendants walk behind her, not beside her or ahead of her.
What sweet comfort this gives!
Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
Please come to worship God, this Sunday with reverent believing hearts in Jesus Christ, and let us attend to the truth of God with sacred ardor and holy passion within our strong loving hearts in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit and celebrate that “We are together for the Gospel glorifying God in ministry and mission”—it’s what allows us to enjoy Him greatly as His Roslyn Presbyterian Church. God is most glorified in us when we are most delighted in Him.
We are justified by faith alone, by grace alone—which is shorthand for simply saying, we are justified by Jesus Christ alone—to the glory of God alone. He has done it all; paid it all; we can earn nothing since He has earned it all.
So this Sunday, we will sing it; we will pray it; we will preach it; we will rejoice that we are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone—in Jesus Christ our risen Lord and to our deepening joy in His glory.
And that’s the gospel truth.
Blessings in Jesus Christ our Savior,
Transitional Pastor Geoffrey