I once had a testimony that the Mormon Church was true. When I discovered that my testimony was false I went searching to find the true church. I spent almost nine years between Mormonism and Christianity and met people from all different kinds of faiths. I discovered many people with a strong testimony in their church. I even met Atheists, Shamans and Agnostics with a strongly held “faith” that what they believed was true. What I quickly realized is that the sincerity of a person’s “testimony” doesn’t necessarily mean that what they believe in is true. It just means they have “faith” in something.
Through all my searching there was one thing I clearly believed: every person has to do some level of good works in order to live eternally with God. In the back of my head I guess I always remembered what I had been taught as a Mormon—that “faith without works was dead”. What I never realized is that the Biblical teaching that “faith without works is dead” has nothing to do with where we spend eternity and why.
After the Holy Spirit brought me to faith in the true Jesus, it was exciting to read the book of James with new eyes. I discovered that James’ point isn’t “how” we are saved, but how to identify real faith when we see it. He claims that what uniquely identifies a “faith” in the one true God is that it is alive!
Faith is a gift from God placed in a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit. At the moment a person is brought to faith, that person crosses over from being spiritualy dead to being spiritually alive—truly “born-again” (John 5:24). Just as a newborn baby can’t help but take breathe in and out, and to cry out for food; when someone is “born-again” spiritually, they will do good works—they can’t help it! James emphasizes this point by saying that faith without works is like a dead body without a spirit. Even if someone claims to have a testimony of faith, if works are absent, that faith isn’t really a living faith, its dead.
James uses three witnesses to make his point—himself, Abraham and Rahab. He uses the actions of these three witnesses as proof that a living faith always produces works. His first witness is himself. He contrasts his own life of both faith and works with that of a man who claims to have faith, yet has no works. His outward visible actions prove his testimony of faith.
Through Abraham’s witness, James gives us the vital key that faith comes first, and then works automatically follow. Because faith is living, like a living creature; it naturally produces the “fruit” of works. Similar to an apple tree bearing the fruit of an apple, a living faith will bear the fruit of good works, naturally and without being forced. Good works are merely proof that faith is present. Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac on the altar was one of many actions that evidenced his faith. His actions were the “fruit” of his faith and proved that his faith was true. Because his faith was alive, good works followed. It was not his works that made his faith alive.
We read that Abraham’s actions fulfilled a scripture from Genesis: “Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him as righteousness”. Here James clarifies a very important point—that a person’s faith gains him righteousness and not his works. Abraham had been declared righteous by God many years before he proved his faith by his works, even long before Isaac was born! Abraham’s works did not make him righteous; his faith had already done that. Abraham’s works were merely evidence that he had already been made righteous by God.
The third witness is Rahab the harlot (who hid the spies at Jericho). Her strong faith and written testimony are found in Joshua: “for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath”. Her life is a vivid example of how a woman had faith and then acted on it. Not only did she risk her life by rescuing Joshua’s spies, she lived the remainder of her life in Israel; got married and became the mother of Boaz, Jesse’s Grandfather and King David’s Great Grandmother.
Now let’s contrast these testimonies with those of a different group of three witnesses, written about in the Book of Mormon (Ether). These men were prophesied to one day declare to the world the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. But these three men all left Mormonism. Their lack of action is evidence that their faith was dead, their testimony false.
Interestingly, this was not all they claimed in their testimony. They also declared that one day they could be found spotless because of their own works. They testified:
“And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ.”
This testimony shows that they didn’t know what James knew and taught about Abraham: a person is found spotless in Gods eyes through their faith, and not their works!
The Apostle Paul taught the same thing as Moses and James. He revealed that God’s promise to Abraham was not written merely for Abraham’s sake, but also for yours:
“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 4:20-5:1)