Mark Twain famously quipped, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.”
I’m not sure exactly how he meant that, but in some ways I agree with him.
There’s a lot about the Bible I don’t grasp, but I’ve got plenty to do just to work on the parts I get.
Here’s one of the parts I understand: God wants us to do what he says.
You already knew that, of course, but it doesn’t hurt us to be reminded.
It’s easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency and forget some of the basics.
James emphasizes this point here, and his in-your-face approach shows how serious he is about making himself clear:
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:20-26).
It jumped out at me recently how often God tests people’s faith by telling them to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all.
In Abraham’s case, what God commanded him not only didn’t make sense, but it was also completely contrary to God’s nature.
Did Abraham trust him enough to do something sinful?
Did he believe in God strongly enough to offer a child sacrifice, a horrible practice he’d turned his back on when he began walking with God?
Yes he did.
By this point in his life he’d learned just to trust God . . . to do whatever he said.
And that’s a pretty good lesson for all of us.
It’s not hard to do right when it’s relatively low sacrifice.
It’s easy to follow Jesus when the road is smooth.
But I think God is interested in something more substantial than that.
He wants to know if our faith will lead us to do something more significant than attend church services, smile pretty, and act Christianly.
I think he wants to know if we have real faith—genuine, life-changing, God-honoring trust.
The kind that obeys even when what God said doesn’t make sense.
Even when it’s different from what we want to do.
Even when it hurts.
James’ major point in this section is that there’s no such thing as a faith that doesn’t obey.
That’s a faith that’s dead, which isn’t faith at all.