Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 6: "Faith That Works"
What is genuine faith? James deals with this million-dollar question in the latter part of chapter 2. The 1888 message helps us see in the Scripture the true motive for faith. It is hinted at in our Wednesday's (Nov. 5) Lesson, but left undeveloped: "True faith is 'faith working through love' (Gal. 5:6)."
Let's begin at the end. It's there that we find James' illustration that explains the relationship between faith and works. A corpse without breath produces nothing (James 2:26). So "faith" without "works" is dead. Obviously, the breath of life is the animating principle of the human body. The Life-giver is God Himself. Likewise, Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). James is not pitting faith against works or vice versa; he pits a living faith against a dead faith.
James engages in conversation with a "vain man" (James 2:20). This empty man is a self-proclaimed Christian who argues for a separation between faith and works. He says, "Believe 'there is one God' (James 2:19), and that is sufficient for salvation."
But James counters the vacuous Christian's orthodoxy saying, "Don't 'the devils also believe, and tremble?'"
Isn't the essence of faith to believe in God? Doesn't Hebrews say that the one who comes to God must "believe that He is"? (Heb. 12:6). But believing that God exists doesn't go far enough, because when the devils think of God it causes them to shudder, says James. The devils' faith doesn't change their behavior at all. They continue to hate God and war against Him and His followers.
So what is James' point? You can talk all you want about how much you believe there is one God, but if all you can do is proclaim your orthodoxy, you're nothing more than an empty windbag. In reality, you're no better than the devils.
In James' view genuine faith works. Faith is the primary cause of the secondary evidence seen in works. He cites two illustrations from the Old Testament to support his conclusion: Abraham and Rahab. On the surface you couldn't have two more polar opposites than Abraham, the Friend of God, and Rahab the harlot; but both had the faith which works. They are examples of justification by works.
Take Abraham for example. Since James takes for granted that his Jewish readers will know the circumstances of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, he simply goes straight to the point. Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac on the altar (James 2:21).
God had told Abraham to do this. What Abraham didn't know was that God needed Abraham to do this. In the great controversy, Satan accused Abraham of worshipping God out of self-serving, ulterior motives. Abraham found himself suddenly projected onto the stage of the universe for all intelligent beings to see. Was he willing to sacrifice his only unique son whom God had given him? Abraham was put on the spot like God Himself, who gave His only begotten Son because He loves the world.
Abraham's faith was sorely tested, but without hesitation, faith triumphed because God's loving sacrifice motivated him. He saw through the immediate horror of human sacrifice, and perceived God's great paradox of either saving His Son and losing the world, or loving the world of sinners, and losing His Son. The Father made the decision to sacrifice His love for the Son and forever give Him to the world. God proclaimed this gospel to Abraham, and he chose to exercise this gift of faith by sacrificing Isaac. This Divine, self-sacrificing love, exhibited in the father of the Hebrews, was the cornerstone of the ancient church.
We recognize that James' point is that faith works. Abraham was "justified by works." But the 1888 message asks, why did Abraham's faith work? The answer, Because the primary cause was the Father's self-denying, self-sacrificing love in giving His only begotten Son. In fact, John 3:16, the best-loved verse in all the Bible, is based upon Abraham's decision to sacrifice his only, unique, God-promised son, Isaac. This "present truth" is missing in the Lesson.
But many are probably missing another story that is part of the picture—how "the harlot Rahab" of pagan Jericho has a significant role in the story. Many scholars have concluded that the evidence suggests that Salmon fits into the picture as one of the "spies" who stayed at Rahab's place before the destruction of Jericho.
In his genealogy, Matthew tells us that someone named "Salmon" married Rahab and became the father of Boaz, who married Ruth, and thus Rahab came into the genealogical line behind Jesus of Nazareth, the world's "nearest of kin" who alone could "redeem" us from sin (cf. Matt. 1:4, 5).
Rahab was a most unusual character; she would interest and appeal to any Israelite whose heart was sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Rahab had thought through the issues of the day; her heart was convicted: the one true God, the Lord, was with Israel; the truth was there. She experienced a corporate repentance for paganism. Rahab was converted; she yielded her heart to the Holy Spirit.
One popular book by Ellen G. White is entitled Faith and Works, the title having been added by editors long after the author's death. Yet inside the book covers, she repeatedly speaks of the correct formula as being "faith which works." 
James' view and the 1888 message go beyond the so-called Reformation view that justification by faith is merely a legal transaction taking place millions of light-years away, without respect to the heart of the believer himself. It also goes far beyond the usual current "historic" Adventist understanding that regards justification by faith as pardon or forgiveness for past sins, while a life of present obedience is labeled as "sanctification." However much justification by faith depends upon the legal substitutionary work of Christ outside of the believer, its very essence is a change within the believer. The merit on which justification by faith rests is never within the believer, but justification by faith itself is evident in the believer: Self is "crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20). This is why justification by faith is dependent upon the justification achieved for mankind at the cross. And genuine sanctification is the experience of extended, on-going justification by faith, separated unto God.
The believer's faith is counted for righteousness. Faith embraces the whole of Christ's righteousness. All the Lord asks from the sinner is true faith; He credits him with all the perfect righteousness of Christ.
Yes, the Bible is true; there is only one Savior, Jesus; none of us is a co-savior. It's not a 50/50 salvation trip; it's 100% salvation by Christ, received by faith. But the faith is not the "dead faith" that the apostle James decries (James 2:20). A "dead faith" can produce nothing except self-righteousness (which doesn't have a very nice fragrance!). A living faith works; it has to work; it will work; it always works by agape.
—Paul E. Penno
 "The faith essential for salvation is not mere nominal faith, but an abiding principle, deriving vital power from Christ. It will lead the soul to feel the love of Christ to such a degree that the character will be refined, purified, ennobled. This faith in Christ is not merely an impulse, but a power that works by love and purifies the soul" (Review and Herald, Aug. 18, 1891; emphasis added).
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org