As we finish our study of this spiritual pearl from the book of James, we will examine one more facet of the Hebraic concept of faith and doing that is central to both the Old and New Testament. According to the Hebraic mindset, knowing God’s word is not just understanding and gaining knowledge of Biblical principles and theological doctrines. That is a Greek-Western idea. The Hebrew word yada, “to know,” means to “have an intimate encounter, experience, or sharing with another person.” Knowledge embraces the whole person and not just the mind. Knowledge to the Hebraic mind was not just the accumulation of data, facts, information, and ideas, as the Western thought belief system declares. It is about meeting and interacting with the living God and obeying Him. All social action, good works, and good moral character are the end result of “knowing” God by His revealing Himself to us.
And where can this encounter with God be found. To an earnest seeker, this encounter with the living God can always be found in a book, and that book is the Bible. Martin Luther diligently studied the Bible throughout his lifetime. He preached the words and the revelation of God he found there. These words were responsible for the whole transformation of Western Civilization moving individuals from dead works such as jumping up and down with rocks in their shoes for penance, saying matins, wearing scratchy clothing, extended fasting and mourning, making pilgrimages to pray before the bones of saints, or paying enormous sums of money to decorate chapels all in a hope of obtaining forgiveness from sins, to trusting in the finished work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In the year before he died, Luther said this, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”
According to the Hebraic mindset, the “doing” of God’s word in direct response to our relationship and encounter with Him was all wrapped up in their concept of “faith.” “Faith” in Hebrew is not a noun, it is a verb and signifies “action.” To the Hebraic mind, faith means confidence and trust in God and His word that requires each person to step out into life and to act on that trust or belief. The word that God makes alive to a believer by prophecy, dream, or from the written scriptures is to be affirmed by that person’s actions in life. A person who believes in God can venture into the unknown in full assurance and expectation that God will be there.
Doers of the Word
All the great men and women of faith who pleased God did just that. They were all “doers” of the word and not “hearers” only. The book of Hebrews tells us that Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain because he offered what God had prescribed. Noah built an ark and saved his household. He worked on it for a hundred years and preached to the people about the coming flood, calling them to repentance because God told him to do it. Abraham went out from the city of Ur not knowing where he was going because God told him to. Moses led the children of Israel miraculously through the Red Sea because he acted on God’s command to stretch out the rod in his hand over the Red Sea. He obeyed, the path that was hidden in the sea appeared, and the children of Israel walked across on dry land.
Joseph received a revelation from God in a dream to take Jesus to Egypt because Herod was seeking to kill him. In obedience to the message he received from the angel in his dream, Joseph took Mary and Jesus and left Bethlehem for Egypt. Jesus told his disciples after His resurrection to go to Jerusalem and wait for power from on high. They went and waited there for ten days and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Paul gave his testimony about how the Lord had appeared to him and spoken to him on the road to Damascus, Paul said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” When Paul had determined to go to a certain place to preach the Gospel, that night in a dream he saw a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us. ” After pondering the dream, he concluded that God had called him to go to Macedonia. So he went.
Faith Without Works is Dead
James points out several other examples of those who showed their faith by their works – “Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did – by his actions. So you see, we are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone”(James 2: 23). And what was Abraham believing that caused him to do the work of God by offering up Issac on the altar? The author of Hebrews tells us that “God had promised him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead ” (Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham expressed his faith by telling his servant, “Stay
here with the donkey. The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back” (Gen. 22:5). Regardless of what the circumstances looked like – which was the certain death of Isaac - Abraham believed the promise that God had given him. He believed that God would make His everlasting covenant through Isaac and his seed, just as God had promised. He believed that God’s purpose for Isaac would not fail. This absolute trust and faith in God’s word is what made Abraham the Father of Faith to all those who believe.
Faith That Won the Heart of God
James points out what many would consider as an unusual example of a demonstration of faith by works. James writes, “Rahab the prostitute is another example of this. She was made right with God by her actions – when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road” (James 2:25). When the Hebrew spies came to spy out the city of Jericho, the prostitute Rahab took them in to hide them. She confessed her faith in God. She said, “I know the LORD has given you this land. We are all afraid of you. Everyone is living in terror” (Joshua 2:9). She asked the spies for protection for her and her family when Israel conquered Jericho.
The men told her to hang a scarlet rope from the window of her house, and she and all those in her house would be protected. Because of Rahab’s faith in God and her work of hiding the spies in cooperation with the plans and purposes of God, Jesus was one of her descendants (Matt. 1:5).
Faith Always Requires Action
Faith in God’s word always required action in the New Covenant as well as the Old. Jesus affirms this concept in His Great Commission to His disciples. He told them, “Go and preach the gospel, teach all nations to observe everything I have taught you and I will always be with you! ” We can step into tomorrow knowing that not only will God be there to lead us, to guide us, and protect us, we have His living presence within our hearts. This is the good news of the New Covenant.
James reminds us that doing God’s word should follow hearing God’s word. We must be a doer of the word and not a hearer only. If we are a hearer only, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing God’s will when really we are only giving mental agreement to it. the Hebraic mindset taught that to “know” God will result not only in hearing what His will is, it will result in our faithfulness to do – to obey God’s directive and to live out the terms of that covenant. There is no such thing as being a Christian who is in rebellion against God. That is an oxymoron. To become a Christian, in the true sense of the word, means to give up your rebellion. It means to not only internalize truth, but to also walk it out in our actions on a daily basis. This will be reflected in our reaction and interaction with other people.
We see this understanding in the life of Abraham. What he did that was successful came as a result of his encounter and interaction with God and obedience to God’s directives. When Abraham acted on his own to try to bring forth the son that God had promised him without being directed to do so by God, his actions produced Ishmael. There are a lot of well meaning Christians who are out trying to produce the life and do the works of God on the basis of their own self-effort, apart from any real true knowledge and heart felt intimate relationship with Jesus. This inevitably will produce Ishmaels, drudgery, and death.
Acting from the Leading of God’s Spirit Within
According to the Hebrew action language of verbal root words, to know was to do! But it was not a doing without the knowing. Jesus corrected the Pharisees for approaching the Scriptures and the good works they were doing to fulfill the law in just this manner. They were trying to obey the Scriptures to the letter but had no intimate relationship with God. One day they were harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules and healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus corrected this misplaced zeal and talked to them about good and evil deeds and the Hebraic concept of knowing God. He told them, “The time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment. The Father himself has also testified about Me. You have never heard His voice or seen Him face to face, and you do not have His message in your hearts, because you do not believe Me – the One He sent to you. You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to Me! Yet you refuse to come to Me so that I can give you this eternal life”(John 5: 28-29, 37-40).
Jesus explained hearing and doing this way, “I do nothing without consulting the Father. I judge as I am told. And my judgment is absolutely just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of God who sent Me; it is not merely my own, I do nothing on my own, but I speak what the Father taught Me. I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 5:30; 8:28,48,14:10). Jesus, the Second Adam, set the example for us to follow. He explained how we as a new creation are to live and work – and we can conclude that this cannot be done without a living, vital relationship with God.
The Results of Disobedience
According to both the Old and New Covenants, by your doing - your acts, you will be judged. But not just any kind of “doing” is acceptable to God. Jesus explained good works this way: “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; you are a worker of iniquity – your works were unauthorized.” Anyone who listens to My teaching and obeys Me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. The rain comes in torrents and the flood waters rise, and the winds beat against that house. It won’t collapse, because it is built on rock. But anyone who hears My teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash.”(John 7:21-27 NLT)
St. John communicated this principle to the early church saying, “And how can we be sure that we belong to Him? By obeying His commandments. If someone says, ‘I belong to God,’ but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. But those who obey God’s word really do love Him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in Him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did. If anyone says, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Those who have been born into God’s family do not sin, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they have been born of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God” (1 John 2:3-6,9; 3:9-10 NLT).
Spiritual Transformation Through Obedience to God’s Word
James reminds us, “If you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” (James 1:22-24) We must walk away from the word of God believing what it says about us as a new creation and act like it is so. James calls the Gospel, the Law of Liberty. James tells us how to grow in this faith that results in doing: “Look into the Perfect Law of Liberty, continue to study God’s perfect teachings that make free. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law – the law that sets you free – and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (James 1:25 NAS, Amplified, NLT).
Paul reminded the Corinthian Church of this. “As we behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into His image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord”(2 Cor. 3:18).
The Gospel makes us free from the law of sin and death. As we look into this glorious Gospel and meditate on it day and night, make it the rule of all our behavior, and meet the Living Christ in His word, James reminds us that we will be blessed in all that we do.
So go ahead, jump into our study on James, How to Live a Life of Excellence, and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.