You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. – James 2:19
Last week I spent some time with a man who is reading through John’s gospel and as we discussed Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and the need to believe in God’s only Son, we discussed the verse above as an example that belief is more than mental assent to the facts of Jesus’ life. Belief is followed by obedience.
Consider this quote from A.W. Tozer:
“In the New Testament there is no contradiction between faith and obedience; between faith and law-works, yes; between law and grace, yes; but between faith and obedience, not at all. The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. Faith as Paul saw it, was a living flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ. Faith in our day often means no more than a meek assent to a doctrine.”
Tozer’s observations express the point James makes by demonstrating the obedience of the patriarch Abraham and the prostitute Rahab.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2: 21-26).
For some, these are difficult words because many have heard a Gospel of belief without obedience for generations. But isn’t this what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount?
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7: 24-27).
It was true in James’ day during the first century and in Tozer’s who died in 1963 and it is true today.