These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
We are in a series of lessons on real faith vs imitation faith. We have been going through the book of James and James is in a section where he is trying to help us understand the difference between the two and why this is important. To get us started let’s look at James 2 beginning with verse 14.
James 2:14 says, What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” 19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? 21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. 25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. (NLT)
In this series we have taken a hard look at two imitations of faith from James. I called them intellectual faith and emotional faith.
- Intellectual faith says they have faith and gives the right answers but there is no evidence that their faith has changed them or produced any good works.
- Emotional faith says the right things about God and has an emotional reaction to it, but brings no transformation. We looked at both of them in detail in the first two sessions of this series.
Today we are going to look at what James calls complete faith or whole faith. It involves the mind, the will, and the emotions. Whole faith is real faith. This is the faith that knows the truth, feels the truth, and behaves and makes decision based on God’s truth. This faith produces good works. This faith responds in obedience to God. This is what we are looking at today.
If you casually read this you will think that it takes faith and good works to get to heaven, but with a closer examination you will discover that’s not what this is saying. What James is saying is, if you place your faith in Christ (a real faith) then eventually your faith will be seen in how you react to God’s Word, God’s promises, and to those in your life. Real faith will produce actions of faith over time.
To help us understand real faith, the kind of faith that saves and transforms we are given three illustrations: Abraham, Rahab, and a dead body. Last week we looked at Abraham and saw how his faith eventually showed up in obeying God all the way to the point of sacrifice. That act of obedience was an example of what real faith looks like. Today, we see that James gives us another example in a woman named Rahab.
Let me be real clear here. Abraham, Rahab and the dead body are not examples of how to get saved, but are illustrations of how real faith is revealed through our actions.
Real faith produces actions of faith
Here is the main point: real faith produces actions of faith. James gives us three illustrations of what real faith looks like to help us understand what real faith is. Let me repeat myself, James is not trying to teach us what salvation looks like, but what faith looks like. Even though it takes faith to be saved, these examples are about real faith producing actions of faith.
Example #2 is Rahab. James says in verse 25, “Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road” (NLT). In a crowd this size I realize that some of you know the story of Rahab and some of you don’t. I’m going to pretend like you have never heard this story and I’m going to tell you the story of Rahab. It’s important that you understand the story of Rahab or the point James is trying to make will not make any since to you. As I tell you the story of Rahab, you are going to have questions about her and what she did or didn’t do. I don’t have time to address all the questions or concerns, but I am going to tell you her story, make some comments along the way and bring us back to why James uses her as an example of real faith.
- If you want to read the story in greater detail you can find her story in Joshua 2-6.
- Her story begins with this statement in Joshua 2:1, “Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia [A-kay-sha] Grove. He instructed them, ‘Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho’” (NLT). God is moving His people forward and giving them the land He promised them. The next obstacle was Jericho.
- Jericho was a fortified city with soldiers and two walls: an outer wall and an inner wall both about 30 feet high. The outer wall was 6 feet thick, and the inner wall was 12 feet thick. Between the two walls you could find homes and business that were built into the outer wall. Some of these homes actually had windows built into the outer wall. Rahab’s home was built on this outer wall.
- This was a Canaanite city. The Canaanite’s were bad people engaging in all types of immorality. One of the main gods they worshipped was Ashtoreth. The worship of this god included sexual immorality that included priest and priestess who were temple prostitutes to help carrying out these forms of worship. It’s possible that Rahab may have been one of these.
- When the two spies arrived at Jericho we are told they “came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night” (Joshua 2:1, NLT). Rahab is identified as a prostitute five times in the Bible (three times in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament). That is five times in all, when you think one would be enough. It seems that God wants us to think “prostitute” when we think about Rahab. But its not to shame or embarrass Rahab, but to demonstrate the potential of what God can do with a person of faith regardless of where they started.
- But we are told that these two spies “came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab” (Joshua 2:1, NLT). Why would two spies from the Israelites, who were the people of God, and represented God to the nations go to a prostitute’s house on this military scouting mission? There are several tactical reasons why they may have done this:
- As we will see later, her house was near the main gate and positioned on the outer wall. This was a fortified city. So these two spies went through the first gate/wall and approached the most unlikely and less suspicious building to go into. A prostitute’s house. I’m assuming her house was identified as one of these types of houses.
- No matter how you look at, this is a divine appointment. God had already been working in Rahab’s life and God had a plan for Rahab and for His people. What might look like a normal scouting mission, was something all together different and much bigger than anyone could have imaged.
- While they were at Rahab’s house, someone told the King of Jericho that some Israelites had snuck in to spy out the land. So the king sent some men to Rahab’s house to get the men (2:3). Rahab and these two spies must have had a conversation about what was really going on because we are told “Rahab had hidden the two men” and told the King’s men, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them” (2:4-5). Rahab just lied to these two men. The Bible does not encourage lying, but it does allow it. This reminds me of those who lied to protect Jews from the Nazis during WWII and those who lied to help slaves escape through the underground railroad. The Bible does not encourage lying, but it does allow it (That is a good discussion for your Life Group).
- However, what Rahab had actually done was to take the two spies up to the roof and hide them “beneath bundles of flax she had laid out” (2:6). This makes since because her roof was flat. “Flax” was used to make linen and other clothing items. To turn flax into linen you had to pile it up and let it rot for awhile and it would stink to high heaven. She had piles of this on her roof and the two spies hid in this flax.
- The king’s men took her at her word and they immediately went looking for the spies. But we are told something significant because the Bible says “as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut” (2:7). No one could come in and no one could leave. The two spies seemed to be trapped inside Jericho.
- Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk to them. In that conversation she says something very significant. She says, “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror.10 For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. 11 No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. 12 Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that 13 when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families” (2:9-12, NLT).
- She had family in town and because of her business knew a lot of people. She had heard these stories about the Israelites and their God. She didn’t see these events happen, she only heard about them. But somewhere within her life these stories began to mean something. This is how it is for all of us. We hear God’s truth and in hearts we know it’s true and begin to believe. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing” the word of God (NLT). She had heard these truths about God and God’s people and it resonated with her and it began to grow.
- She had heard enough, thought enough, and began to believe that what she was hearing was true. Especially, what she was hearing about the Israelites’ God. She had come to the point where she could say by faith, “I know the Lord has given you this land” and “For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.” She had already reached that point.
- I think something was happening in Rahab’s heart. I think she was ready to be somewhere else. I think she was ready to be someone else. Her life and her gods had become empty and meaningless and she heard something that she wanted in the stories of the one true God and His people.
- Rahab had apparently heard the stories about God leading the Hebrews out of slavery, how he parted the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army. She heard of the other victories God had done for His people. She didn’t really know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but she knew enough to recognize that He was the real deal – that Joshua’s God was the God of heaven and earth. She didn’t know very much about this God, but what little she knew was enough to ignite a spark of faith within her heart.
- Rahab certainly had a long way to go spiritually, but she had just taken a very significant step in a life-long journey with the God of the universe who was about to change her life completely.
- The two spies agreed to her request. They made her a solemn oath based on their lives they would rescue her and her family.
- Rahab’s house was “built into the town wall” (2:15). The way the spies would escape would be through her window that was on the outside of the wall. She had this red rope that they let out the window and the spies climbed down this red rope to safety (2:16).
- The two spies told her something significant before they left. They said, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions.18 When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down.”
- Let’s talk about this “scarlet rope.” There was only one rope they wanted her to hang out that window, the red one. Not a white one, not a brown one, not a yellow one, or some other color. There is only one rope that signaled her salvation when God brought His judgement onto Jericho and it was the red rope. That red rope points to the blood of Jesus. That red rope is an illustration of what Jesus does for His people. When Jesus returns He is looking for those who red rope of Jesus hanging from the window of their heart. This is a picture of pure grace and mercy.
- But the spies go on to say something else. They tell Rahab, “And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house.19 If they go out into the street and are killed, it will not be our fault. But if anyone lays a hand on people inside this house, we will accept the responsibility for their death. 20 If you betray us, however, we are not bound by this oath in any way” (NLT).
- She didn’t ask for that, but they gave her an opportunity to influence others. You can tell others about what God is doing and you can invite them into your house and the same red rope that will deliver you, will deliver them. But you have to talk to them and do this before we come back. She had good news, there was a way to be protected and rescued. If anyone found out she was doing this it would be considered treason and she could be put to death. We will find out later that God used her to influence her family and her house was full of people when God showed up to Jericho.
- So after they left she immediately pulled up the rope a little bit and left it hanging out the window (2:21).
- Let’s set the scene. Rahab declared verbally her faith in this one God. She then demonstrated that faith by helping the spies escape through her window. She is expecting the Israelites to attack any day. That red rope is still hanging outside her window. Now she waited. She didn’t know when or how long it would be before they attacked. So she waited.
- What was happening while she waited? The spies went back to Joshua and gave their report. Joshua began to move the Israelites across the Jordan river. This is where the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant step into the Jordan River and God creates a supernatural damn upstream, dries up the river bed, and all the Israelites cross the Jordan River to the other side. As soon as the priests with the Ark of the Covenant step out of the river on the other side the river returns. They built this memorial of large stones to remind them of what God had done that day.
- Then Joshua had all the men circumcised and they camped there until all the men were healed. And while they were camped on the plains of Jericho, Joshua had them celebrate the Passover.
- Several weeks had passed and Joshua was approaching Jericho and an angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua and told him he to tell the Israelites to march around the walls of Jericho once a day for six days blowing their horns and on the seventh day walk around it seven times but this time after the horns had stopped blowing, the people were to give a loud shout.
- When Joshua was telling the people the plan he included this statement, “Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and the others in her house will be spared, for she protected our spies” (6:17, NLT).
- God knew the whole time He was going to do this incredible miracle with Jericho. But at the beginning God had Joshua send two spies to survey the land, why? These spies made it just inside the gate of Jericho and stayed only one night. If God was going to do this marching miracle why did God send the spies into the city? I think there was only one reason and one reason only: God had a divine plan for Rahab. From a human perspective it looked like spies were doing their job and surveying the land, but in reality God was up to something in the life of Rahab and those in her family. You may go from one job to another for a very different reason than you think. You may not be at the school of your choice but you may be there for a completely different reason than you think. You may be the two spies who have entered into another world, though briefly, to reach a Rahab and her family.
- So they marched around the walls seven times blowing the horns and then gave a loud shout and the Bible says, “Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it” (6:20, NLT). The most dangerous place to be at that moment was anywhere near the wall, let alone in a house that was built into the wall. The entire wall around Jericho collapsed except for one tiny little spot. That place where the red cord hung outside the window. Her house was left standing. From a human perspective it seemed to be the most dangerous place to be, but from God’s perspective it was the safest place to be.
- Then we are told, “The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel” (6:23, NLT).
- Then Rahab leaves her life of prostitution, leaves all her past gods, becomes an Israelite who believes in the one true God, marries a godly man named Salmon, they have a son named Boaz, and from this family tree you get King David and eventually Jesus.
This takes us back to James 2:24 which says, “So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. 25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (NLT).
- This statement begins with a phrase that most people overlook. James says, “So you see.” Most people read that little phrase simply as a transition statement like the word therefore. Therefore we are shown to be right with God. That’s not how the phrase “so you see” is being used. It’s being used literally, referring to something you can see. For example, I was opening a bottle of ketchup and it splattered on my shirt and “so you see” this is why I have this ketchup stain on my shirt. James is saying that you can eventually see faith in action. When someone claims to have faith in God (salvation) they will eventually be given the opportunity to demonstrate that faith to others through their actions of faith.
- So James says, “So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” Who are you showing this faith too? Who is it being shown too? If you have real faith, God already knows that… but the people in your life can’t see you have real faith until your real faith produces actions of faith. So you see, you are shown and proven to be right with God in the eyes of others by what you do, not simply saying you have faith alone.
One of the reasons why God will test your faith is so others can see what real faith looks like.
Rahab had become an example that real faith will produce actions of faith. She had real faith. She believed what she had heard about this one true God. She believed in the people of God to keep their word. Because of her faith in God she protected the spies, left the red cord hanging out the window for weeks, and told her family what was happening. Left her old lifestyle behind, left her old gods behind. Began a new life as a follower of God. Overtime real faith will produce actions of faith.
Again the main point is real faith produces actions of faith. This is why it says in Hebrews 11:31, “It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (NLT).
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. (NLT)
- Do I have a hunger for God’s word? (1 Peter 2:2)
- Do I apply God’s word? (1 John 2:3-6)
- Do I love other followers of Jesus? (1 John 3:14-15)
- Do I have affirmation from the Holy Spirit? (Romans 8:16)