Who is a true Christian? James 2:21-26

Complete sermon series on James

Points Covered: Who is a true Christian? Are all Christians truly Christians? How can you be a true Christian? A wonderful sermon on how we can be a true living Christian.


Christianity is one of the largest religions of the world. Worldwide 6.9 billon people are Christians which constitute 31% of the world population. I am sure they believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and a majority of them go to church and are baptized. Do all Christians go to heaven? Is there is a fake Christian and a true Christian?

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! When a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ he/she has been redeemed out of the world and brought into the family of God. We have been born again, given a new life. In the natural when a baby is born, life is shown. He cries, smiles, eventually walk and grow big. Likewise true Christian life should be evident in our growth and spiritual maturity.

Open your Bibles to James 2. James is emphasizing in his writings that it is possible for a person to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, believe what Christ did, die on the cross and rise again but and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life. That is what James would call dead or fake Christian or a dead faith.

James 2:17 Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:20 Faith without deeds is useless.

James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. 

Here a dead Christian is compared with a corpse without life, dressed up but no breath, nothing but a mannequin with a painted smile. James then gives us the nature of a true living Christian.

I. Nature of a true Christian.

1. Christian life evident with deeds.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? If there are no works and no righteous deeds, you cannot demonstrate a changed life. What are the deeds that James is talking about? James is talking about how a Christian behaves, talks, perseverance, overcoming temptations, control of the tongue, purity of life, obedience to the word, humility and prayer.

2. Christian life evident with compassion.

James 2:15-17 15Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

3. Christian life evident with conviction.

James 2:19-20 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? They are the people who know things about God, you know the theology but your really do not believe God. There is no passion to follow him.

Our spiritual life must be evident in our deeds, compassion, and the passion to live for the truth that we have received even if it hurts or if it is difficult.

James further gives us examples of two people who lived such living Christian lives.

II. Examples of a living Christian faith.

1. Abraham.

James 2:21-24 21Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

Now James is asking us to learn from our father, Abraham. Galatians 3:7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. There is a spiritual sense in which all who believe are somehow connected to Abraham.

Mahatma Gandhi is the father of our country. Now we don’t mean by that Gandhiji fathered every person in India. He is the one who gave principle, destiny, and future to this nation. So Abraham in that sense is the father of the faithful. He set the model and the example of believing in God. Now the believers who have real living Christian life has to be like Abraham.

Now wait a minute. Listen carefully. James says Abraham was justified by works. James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Paul says Abraham was justified by his faith. Galatians 3:6 Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Galatians 3:8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the gentiles by faith.

So pastor, are we justified by works or justified by faith or by his grace? Does our Christian life need faith and grace or we need works?

Let’s look at Abraham and his faith in God. We can find that in Abraham’s life he was both justified by faith as well as by works. Genesis 15:1-6 1After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” 2But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Here the Bible says Abraham is justified by believing God, by faith. When was that in his life? That takes us all the way back to the beginning back in Genesis 12 when God called him in Ur of the Chaldees and said, “Get out of this land, leave your people and go to a land that I’ll show you. He was probably about 75 years old at the time of his calling. And he believed God. He picked up everything, left a pagan land, followed his faith in the true God.

God had sovereignly worked on his heart. There was a response of faith. He started the walk of faith, the life of faith and he was granted righteousness.

Isaiah puts it this way: Isaiah 61:10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. God gave Isaiah his righteousness as a gift.

Now, when you believe in Jesus Christ, God justifies you by your faith and righteousness is imputed, deposited to you. You don’t earn it. You receive it as a gift from God. That’s the marvel of salvation by grace through faith.

The OT salvation or the NT salvation is the very same thing. Whether it’s Abraham or you, it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same. Whether it’s on that side of the cross or this side of the cross, you believe God and that moment you are justified, made righteous with God and are born again.

Romans 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.

James 2:23 Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Abraham was justified by faith before God the moment he put his trust in God but the evidence of that faith was seen in his action in Genesis 22 in the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice. Do you see the difference? Paul is telling when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you do not have to bring anything to the Lord, just believe and you are justified. Whereas James is telling, now that you have been justified by faith freely, it should be seen in the fruit of your life, by your actions so that the people around can see the faith in you and you be justified by works or deeds.

When Abraham offered his Isaac his son on the altar, that’s when the whole world could see the reality of his faith. Let’s go to Genesis 22:1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. This is a test. A test of what? It’s a test of Abraham’s faith or Christian life in order to demonstrate whether it is a faith with works or not. He said to him, “Abraham. said, ‘Here I am.’ God said, “Take now your son, your only son whom you love, go to the land of Moriah and, offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I’ll tell you about.” Absolutely unbelievable!

By this time Isaac is 15 years old. Abraham for years has believed God for the promise. Finally God gives him a child when he’s a 100 years old. Now 15 years later God comes to him and says take that kid to Mount Moriah and kill him. And everything he knows about the covenant keeping character of God is violated in his mind. How can God ask this of me?

How many times we go through a trial in life – Maybe a sickness, lost job or problems in life. All of a sudden we lose our perspective and get so discouraged, we talk the wrong thing and get bitter with God. God is expecting us to trust in him and produce works of righteousness at such times. God knows the end. He has called us to bless us. He will never leave us nor forsakes us. Why don’t you trust in God like Abraham and produce the right deeds in your trials?

What does Abraham do? Does he argue with God? No. Here is the evidence of his faith; a living Christian. Genesis 22:3-5 3Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” There’s his faith. God says go kill the son. He says I’ll be back and so will he, we’ll come back.

Genesis 22:6-8 6Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.  He believed in his heart that whatever the sacrifice would ultimately be, God would provide it.

Genesis 22:9-14 9When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” 

Hebrews 11:17-19 17By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

I think Abraham was a bit disappointed that the angel didn’t let him take the life of his son. I think he was ready to see the first resurrection in history. The closest thing that Abraham ever got to a resurrection was the birth of Isaac out of a dead womb. Now, his faith was so strong he believed that God would resurrect Isaac and they would come back again and go home. He believed in the God of resurrection to the degree that he was willing to sacrifice the life of his son because he was so strong in faith that God would raise him from the dead.

And James says that is where Abraham was justified by works. Now mark this. He wasn’t a perfect man. His faith was so weak he lied about Sarah when he was in Egypt to protect her. Abraham had a baby with his maid Hagar, committed adultery and produced Ishmael. He wasn’t a perfect man but as he walked with God, as he grew in his faith, he believed God to the point of killing him and believed that God could raise him. His faith grew, it produced the works in trials. So Paul is saying yes he was justified by grace through faith as recorded in Genesis 15. And James is saying and yes he was justified by works in Genesis 22 some 40 plus years later.

James 2:22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. Brought to its end, brought to its fullness, that’s the idea of the “made perfect.”

Christian life is like a tree, a tree that is alive and it has all the principles of life but it isn’t perfected until it bears fruit. And so a man is redeemed and he has pulsing in him the life of God, but that’s not brought to its goal until he produces the fruit.

And a wonderful result came about: James 2:23 He was called God’s friend.

You say, “Who are the friends of God?” Jesus put it this way in John 15:14 You are My friends if you do what I command. That’s a title reserved for people who obey God, who obey His Word.

How do you know a true Christian? You look at their life and you say, “He is a friend of God.” How do you know? “I can tell the way he lives, I can tell the way he acts, I can tell the way he thinks, I can tell the way he speaks. I can tell the way he behaves.”

So Abraham is a classic illustration of salvation by faith before God and salvation made evident before men.

2. Rahab.

James 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did. James chooses another person because she is so remarkably unlike Abraham. Abraham was a Jew, Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham’s a man, Rahab is a woman. Abraham is a good man. Rahab is an evil woman. Abraham at the top of the social order, Rahab at the bottom. Abraham received direct revelation from God, Rahab received very indirect revelation about God. And yet when you come to Hebrews 11 and the list of the heroes of faith, Abraham is there and so is Rahab. And when you go to Matthew chapter 1 and you read the genealogy of Jesus, Abraham is there and so is Rahab. Believe it or not, the Messiah came through the loins of Rahab the harlot.

James 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did. Just like Abraham this woman of the worst kind demonstrated her true salvation by her deeds.

Now look at Rahab’s life. Rahab was a harlot living in Jericho. She ran a brothel and she had women in her inn to sleep with men. That was her living. So into the land came the children of Israel. They arrive at Jericho. They send some spies in to spy out the city and see what’s there.

The spies go in. They stay in an inn. The inn is owned by Rahab. They’re not there for those purposes, they’re simply there to lodge. When she gets the spies there, Rahab finds out who they are and she says: Joshua 2:9-11 9I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 

Here was a woman basically who sold her body for sexual favors. Now, she believes in the true God. She believed that God was the God of miracles who had led His people out of Egypt. God was the God of victory and power. When she believed God, she was justified before God.

Now, James 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

Now watch this. After believing God when she had the opportunity to do something to demonstrate her faith in God, she did it. She gave lodging for the spies, hid them spies in the flax on the roof. She let them escape and she told them how to escape. If she had been found out, it would have cost her life. She took risk and saved the spies and said “When you come back save me and my family, we want to be a part of the community of people that worship the true God.” She demonstrated her faith by works.

Now I want to conclude these two illustrations, listen carefully. What kind of works show true salvation? Who is a true Christian? In both cases the, the true Christian is characterized by putting their life and their dreams and their hopes on the line for the sake of God. That is the kind of work that I believe God wants us to understand is demonstrated in true faith. It isn’t that you went to church, read a Bible, sang a song, it is more than that. It is that you are so supremely committed to God that you would sacrifice your hopes and dreams and ambitions and yes, you would risk your own life to be true to your faith.

Jesus put it this way, if you’re not willing to take up your cross. And what was that? An emblem of painful death, and follow Me, you’re not worthy to be My disciple.

The issue is when it comes down to the crux of why you live and what is valuable, your faith in God is more valuable to you than everything you hold most dear and you’ll put your own life on the line, you’ll put all your dreams and hopes on the line because you have such implicit and total trust in Him.

And James then concludes with a final analogy. James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

If the spirit is missing from the body, all you have is a dead body. If works are missing from a Christian, all you have is a dead Christian.


What about you this morning? Are you a dead Christian or a living Christian? Do you believe but not obey is words? But do you love sin? Does your deed say you are a Christian? Are you compassionate? God is looking

That’s the question James wants to ask. The test of living faith is in the direst moment of life’s exigencies when everything is at the crossroads, do you choose to honor God no matter what the cost? Abraham did. Rahab did. Do you do it in your life? Let’s pray.

Complete sermon series on James