THE EXAMPLE OF RAHAB’S JUSTIFICATION
James was afraid that we would not be clear about the case of Abraham, so in verse 25 we see another illustration. He mentions the case of a prostitute. Rahab was not an honorable woman. There was nothing of merit in her works. Therefore, we see that justification is not a matter of good works, but of works of faith. I have repeated this a few times already. At issue is works of faith, not works of morality. "And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works in that she received the messengers and sent them out by a different way?" What kind of good works is this? The Israelites were crossing the Jordan River to attack Jericho. If Rahab had been even slightly patriotic, she would have handed over the two spies. But when the king of Jericho sent men to look for them, Rahab hid them upstairs. Later she let them get away. James tells us that this woman’s work justified her. What work did she have? Her work was to lie. The men were obviously there, but she said that they were not. Is lying a good work? Every Christian knows that lying is not good. Yet Rahab was justified by her work of lying. If some say that this is justification by works, it is something that they themselves are saying; it is not what James is saying. They are merely saying in the name of James what they want to say. But what does James himself say? He says that when Rahab let the two men who spied out Jericho get away, it was reckoned to her as righteousness.
What does James mean? When the Israelites left Egypt and went into the wilderness, they could not settle down anywhere, but had to wander for forty years. What good is such a nation? At least there was a wall around Rahab’s Jericho. All that the Israelites had was sand under their feet. At least there were houses in Jericho. All that the Israelites had were tents. Even their God had to dwell in a tent. What was so special about such a nation? However, when the two spies came and told her how God had cared for them, performed miracles for them, and had promised that Jericho, and even the whole land of Canaan, would be delivered to them, their words caused Rahab to believe. She put her own future, her life, and even her whole family in their trust. She was even willing to do something against her own country. God does not say that this was a good work; He says that this work was the expression of her faith. If the walls of Jericho had been made of straw or chicken feathers, we might think that the walls could have indeed fallen. But the walls of Jericho were as high as heaven. Its gates were fortified with brass bars. How could it have been taken easily? How could Rahab have committed herself to the two spies? This was a work out of faith, and God says that what justifies a person is this kind of work. It is not a question of good or bad. To have good works is not the issue at all. To have bad works is neither the issue. The flesh is absolutely useless before God. It has no place at all. Every work in Adam, whether good or bad, is rejected by God. If a man tells others that only good works save, such a person does not know what the flesh is. Hence, it is not an issue of works. Good works cannot justify. Neither can bad works.
Hence, James 2 is on works of faith. It is not on anything else. Rahab was there risking her life. If the men sent by the king of Jericho had found the spies in her house, immediately she would have lost her life. But her hope was to be saved through the spies of Israel. She committed her own life and future into their hands. Hence, at issue is not good works or bad works, but having faith or not having faith. It is faith that justifies. Although James says that Rahab was justified by works, her works were but a manifestation of her faith.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)