James Lesson 7


Opening Discussion:  Read Mark 11:12-14.  In this passage Jesus examined a fig tree, which had leaves, but no fruit.  Because the tree was not productive, he cursed it.  What was Jesus teaching us about bearing fruit?  Does God expect every Christian to bear fruit for the kingdom?  How can we know if our lives are bearing fruit?

1.  Read the scripture text, James 2:14-26.  (As with all Bible studies, it is wise to look at every verse or passage in light of its overall context, so we can get a feel for what the writer intended, when the passage was written.)  James is continuing his series of self-tests, whereby we can determine whether our faith is living or dead.  If our faith is living, we will be involved in good works.  This righteous behavior is a manifestation of our desire to obey God's word.

a.  James is not at odds with Paul in Romans 3:28 or Galatians 2:16, where he says that we are justified by faith and not by works.  Rather, James is saying that we prove the validity of our faith by the quality or excellence of our deeds.  Let me use a practical illustration.  Our granddaughter is a certified lifeguard.  She has a document with her name on it, which attests to her qualifications.  Yet she cannot prove her qualifications until someone needs to be rescued and she puts her training into action.  That is exactly what James is saying.  A Christian proves the validity of their faith, when they act upon their profession of faith by responding to a need.  God will give each of us many opportunities to prove the authenticity of our faith.  The real question is, "do we (or will we) use these opportunities?"

Q1.  If we don't respond to the needs of others, and those of the church, what does that say about our faith?  Name some opportunities of service, in your church or your neighborhood, through which you could demonstrate your faith.

b.  We can conclude that God expects our Christianity to be active, and done with pure motives, as we live out our faith.  James is simply saying, "I am a man who wants his life to show what he believes."  (James 2:18)  To that end, James and Paul are in agreement.

c.  Paul argues that God's forgiveness is something that no man can earn or boast about.  (Eph. 2:8, 9)  James would say, "Now that you are forgiven, and you know it, what are you going to do to show it?"

d.  Faith without works is dead.  An empty profession of faith, without action to back it up, is phony, and not a genuine saving faith.  (James 2:17)

Q2.  What are the basic expressions of the faith that is within us (eg., confessing that Jesus is the Son of God)?  Read Acts 2:38 for others.  What are some of the actions or deeds of a Christian, which validate that we have a living faith?

2.  James approaches this passage in much the same way as the parent of a college graduate.  After each of our two precious children had graduated, we wondered, "What will they do with that diploma?  After all, that diploma will only be valuable when they get a job, and put what they have learned into action."  In like manner, God is saying to us, "Now that you have taken the first steps of faith, what are you going to do for Me?"

3.  James uses two examples from the Old Testament of people who were justified by their works, and not by faith alone:  (James 2:21-25)

a.  Abraham demonstrated the genuineness of his faith when he offered Isaac, his only son, on the altar of sacrifice to his God.  (Gen. 22:9-12)  In Gen. 15:6, we saw that God had previously credited righteousness to Abraham solely on the basis of his faith.  Thus even though Abraham's salvation was determined by his faith in God, (Eph. 2:8, 9) he demonstrated that faith through his willingness to sacrifice his only son, in obedience to God's command.  (Gen. 22:2; Eph. 2:10)

b.  Likewise, Rahab, the harlot, professed her faith in the God of Israel and proclaimed Him to be the God in heaven above and on the earth.  (Josh. 2:9-11)  She further demonstrated that her faith was real, when she protected the spies who had come to Jericho, at great risk to herself and her family.  (Josh. 2:1-11)

4.  So, what actions identify a balanced Christian life:

a.  A strong prayer life is essential.  (I Thess. 5:17, 18)

b.  A life that includes a diligent and consistent study of the word is also important.  (Col. 3:16; Eph. 6:17; Rom. 10:17)

c.  We need to be sharing our faith with those who don't know Him.  (Matt. 28:19, 20)

d.  And, as we have learned in this lesson, we need to be exercising our faith by acts of compassion and service to others.  (James 2:14-17)

Q3.  Is it necessary that we always enjoy the things we do in God's service?  Can we find fulfillment and gratification in serving, even when we do those things that some may perceive as menial?  Can anyone give an example from their own experiences?

Q4.  Should we only volunteer for tasks we feel qualified for, or should we seek to learn other tasks that we have never done before?  How might learning new ways of service benefit us?