Sabbath School Lesson for November 1-7, 2014

The conflict of faith vs. works has been employed by Satan since the beginning of earth’s history. Eve ate of the fruit because the serpent convinced her that this action did not constitute a lack of faith, but a desire to be like God. In other words, her faith was strong enough. Cain brought the wrong offering to God, believing that God would honor his gift, that his works were strong enough, but which in fact led to the murder of his brother.

When the early Christian church began to stray from God’s word, it involved attempts to justify one’s self by good works. This issue started the Protestant Reformation, when the Reformers had their eyes opened to the theme in much of Paul’s writings, that faith is the only thing that saves us.

A study of Adventist history also reveals a struggle in the beginning with this question of faith and works. The Seventh-day Adventist General Conference of 1888 in Minneapolis brought out this controversy and it very nearly tore our church apart.

A Spirit-led study of James’ writings are essential then, especially when many people are leaning on the side of liberalism, when they rely solely on their beliefs to save them. James gives us a refreshing look at the “how-to”s of Christian living, an appreciation of the works that are part of our faith and beliefs.

Key Text: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26 JKJV

This verse is a stunning picture of faith without works. Comparing it with death gives us an idea of how serious the matter is. Paul repeatedly shows us a picture of faith bringing us life. But even Galatians 3:11, a verse that Martin Luther often referred to, says “…the just shall live by faith.” Think about this statement a moment. Paul says we shall LIVE by faith. And this is precisely what James is to trying to explain to his readers–how to LIVE by faith.

Sunday: Dead Faith

James illustrates what dead faith looks like in James 2:14-17:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” NKJV

It would instantly indicate to me, if I were the needy one waiting for some tangible help, that the person sending me off with a kiss and a prayer, but without the things I really needed to survive, was lacking something in their Christian experience.

Is it perhaps then the outside world who notices first that our profession of faith does not match the acts of kindness expected of a Christian? A sobering thought, which should lead us to a renewed commitment to act out our faith.

Discussion Questions: It seems obvious that we can’t meet all the physical needs in the world. Explain what “the power of one” principle means. Read Mark 5:21-34. Discuss how Jesus used one-on-one ministry while on earth.

What was different about  when Jesus’ told the woman who touched His garment to “go in peace” and the person who said “depart [or go] in peace” in James, chapter 2 (see above)?

When we recognize a need and do nothing about it, does our faith get weaker or does it indicate that it’s already dead? What happens when we commit any sin? When does the punishment for sin start? Are we dead right away?

Monday: Saving Faith

Let’s explore what James means when he uses this rhetorical question:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” James 2:18 NKJV

Since he was obviously referring to the previous situation of turning away someone in need, we can see that the faith exhibited was not genuine or the result would have been to help the poor man or woman.

But suppose PAUL had asked this question. It might have sounded like this:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has  WORKS but does not have FAITH? Can WORKS save him?

Since Paul was dealing with a situation where some legalistic Jews were requiring the Gentiles, among other things, to be circumcised in order to be saved, we can see that the works he was talking about were not good works.

Can you understand better now how faith and works are both sides of the same coin? You can’t have one without the other. You can’t mention one without the other:

  1. genuine faith = saving faith that is characterized by good works
  2. good works = works that spring from faith


Paul was against works, without faith, as a means of salvation. And James was against faith, without works, as a means of salvation.

Listen to what Paul says about works:

  • “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 NKJV
  • “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,” I Thessalonians 1:3 NKJV
  • “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:14 NKJV

A thorough look at Scriptures therefore reveals that Paul was not against works, and James certainly was not against genuine, saving faith.

Discussion Questions: Since faith and works seem to be two sides of the same coin, which might you say would be heads and which would be tails? In other words, which preferably comes first? Or does it matter?

How can we learn to better express our faith through our works while protecting ourselves from the deception that our works save us? How could church attendance and tithe paying, for example, guard us against legalism rather than lead us to it? [going to church connects us with God’s people who can minister to us spiritually and paying tithe may lead to more trust in God–the key is doing these things without thought of making them our means of salvation, which would be legalism]

Tuesday: The “Faith” of Demons

How far does orthodoxy, or conventional doctrine, get us in the religious world? How important is it that we know the truth about God?

James curiously mentions a group of followers that we seldom think of as believers:

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons [devils] believe–and tremble!” James 2:19 NKJV

This belief that there is one God is referred to as Shema and is the most fundamental truth in the Old Testament. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4 which says, ” ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!’ “ NKJV

James discusses dead faith, saving faith, and now he brings to us the faith of demons. Just what constitutes this curious observation? What is the faith of demons?

Could this demonic doctrine be what Paul was trying to describe in this passage?

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” I Timothy 4:1-3 NKJV

It sounds like the faith of demons could lead to doctrines of demons. These doctrines of demons must look similar to true doctrines or people wouldn’t be departing from their true faith and giving heed to them.

Let’s see some other texts that will help us to see the role of truth in our quest for faith, so we won’t as likely be deceived by these demonic doctrines:

  • “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:4 NKJV
  • “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” I Peter 1:22 NKJV
  • “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” I John 3:18, 19 NKJV

Discussion Questions: James said that the demons tremble. What do you suppose causes them to tremble?

Consider I John 3:18 which said we should love in deed AND in truth. If our lifestyles, our deeds, don’t match our faith, what difference does it make if we have true doctrines?

Think about the tread on your car’s tires and the traction they give you in getting where you need to go. The better the tread, the safer you are on the road. How would that tread illustrate the truth of our doctrines? What other examples might illustrate the need of true faith and works in our life? [having the right fertilizer on your garden, etc.?]

Wednesday: Abraham’s Faith

A comparison of James’ and Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith must be prayerfully made in order to see faith and works for what they really are.

  • James 2:21-24 (James) “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” NKJV
  • Romans 4:1-5 (Paul) “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” NKJV

The question must come to mind…are we justified by faith or works then? Notice that James says that a man is justified by works, and not faith only. We might have reason to be alarmed if he said that man was justified by works only, and not by faith. But some people instantly jump to this conclusion.

We have to admit that James was right in understanding that Abraham already had faith when he offered up Isaac, so this act helped perfect his faith.

Paul comes to our rescue here when he says in Galatians 5:6 that “faith works through love.” Then perhaps we can say that works are more than an outward sign of faith, they might be more accurately described as an outworking of faith.
They are more than the result of faith, they are part of it.

Discussion Questions: What does James mean when he says “by works faith was made perfect” in James 2:22? Why is it important to note and remember what is made perfect by our works? How are we made perfect?

Read Titus 3:5-7, 8. This passage mentions being justified by grace. How can remembering that works and faith are both gifts of grace keep us from boasting about either of them?

Thursday: The Faith of Rahab

It’s amazing that James spoke of Rahab right after his example of Abraham’s act of faith in sacrificing his son.

“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” James 2:25 NKJV

We see her in Hebrews 11:31 also. “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.” NKJV

As a matter of fact, in looking over Hebrews 11 again, in addition to being a great chapter on faith, we also read here a list of good works by these faith giants. They not only had faith, but they used that faith to seek a heavenly country, to bless their children, to free slaves, to subdue kingdoms, to be valiant in battle, and to suffer persecution.

Rahab’s action of saving the spies may not at first sound like a great act of faith, but we must remember that it was at risk of her life that she protected their lives. When all others around her failed to believe, she exercised her faith and God honored His promise to save her by hanging out a scarlet cord, another act of faith.

Discussion Questions: How does Rahab’s faith and works differ from Abraham’s? Why are we given both examples?

Which is more important: practicing the truth or being guided by the Holy Spirit, and which would better describe Abraham and Rahab? Is one more important than the other? What happens when one becomes more dominant than the other though?


  • Genuine, saving faith is characterized by good works.
  • Faith without works is dead.
  • It’s important to base our faith upon the truths in God’s word, or we may only believe “like the devil”.
  • Abraham and Rahab both exhibited not only faith, but works, as part of their salvation.

In other words, it’s not faith OR works, faith AND works, but faith THAT works. Works are an outworking of our faith. Not just the result of faith, but an integral part of it.


Show acts of faith this week, not just thoughts and feelings about it, by asking yourself:

  • Who could I WALK with this week?
  • Who needs to be TAUGHT about Jesus this week?
  • Who could I FEED OR CLOTHE this week?
  • Who needs me to VISIT them this week?
  • Who needs a phone CALL OR CARD this week?
  • Who should I PRAY for this week?

In other words, bring your faith to life by being a blessing to someone else.

Next week: Taming the Tongue

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