James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
In the midst of misconceptions regarding the justifying role of works in James writing, it is easy to overlook four small words. Note how James says: "the Scripture was fulfilled." It is easy to rush past these words and on to the imputation of righteousness and the calling of Abraham the "Friend of God."
What does James mean that Scripture was fulfilled? James means that Scripture's truth was verified, that Scripture's claim that Abraham was justified by faith and that Abraham was considered God's friend were proved by Abraham's obedience: by the works that Abraham did.
It may seem like a strange claim, for the two Scriptural records of Abraham being God's friend are long after Abraham's life. 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8 recall God's friendship toward Abraham.
Even the account in Genesis 15, where it is written:
Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
was penned by the hand of Moses long after the event.
It is even more strange if we will examine the chronology of Abraham's own life: for the promise mentioned was that God would give Abraham more children than the number of stars Abraham could see in the sky - but Abraham was childless and was asking that God would bless Abraham's favorite slave. Yet it is said at the moment that Abraham believed God: and that it was counted to Abraham for righteousness.
So then, if we are to ask when Abraham was justified before God, we would say then, before Isaac was born. Yet, James refers us not to the moment, but later:
21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
In other words you could see Abraham's trust in God demonstrated by the works that Abraham did. A man who did not trust God like this:
10And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. 12And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. 14And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. 15And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
could not sacrifice his only son.
But in virtue of these promises:
1After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. 2And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 2And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
Abraham believed, and his trust in God was confirmed ("perfected") by his obedience.
For Scripture tells us:
17By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
God brought forth Isaac from the dead, 99 year old loins of Abraham, and Abraham trusted God so much that Abraham even believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead - though God had not previously done so in the history of man. Thus, Abraham obeyed - and by obedience demonstrated his faith on account of which righteousness was imputed to him, and he was called God's friend.
This then is what we should learn from those four small words (three in Greek): "επληρωθη η γραφη" (the Scripture was fulfilled), that Abraham's justification was made manifest by His works: not so much so that God might know, for God knows the heart, but that we might know. Thus, Abraham is part of that "great cloud of witnesses" that testify to us of their faith on the pages of Scripture: one of those people who faith in God is demonstrated in acts performed by faith, namely by works.
They are justified by faith, and they are justified by works: the former to God and the latter to us. Justification by faith is judicial, but by works is practical.
Thus James writes:
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
And James compares faith that is unaccompanied by works to a corpse:
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Just as he said before:
14What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James point is that an indemonstrable faith is not faith. Faith is demonstrated in works - a faith of mere assertion ("be warmed and filled") without demonstration ("ye give them not [food and shelter]") is worthless.
Thus, John says the same thing:
1 John 3:14-19
14We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. 15Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. 16Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
1 John 4:20 - 5:3
20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. 5:1Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
Our deeds of love show our heart of love. Hypocrisy is possible: we can pretend to be good while hating our brethren; nevertheless, it is our works that confirm our heart.
The apostles did not invent this principle, though, it is Jesus' own teaching:
Matthew 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Thus, works justify us in the eyes of man, and Christ's work in which we trust justifies us before God.
Great is Our Lord, and Worthy to be Praised, Let us Praise Him!