v. 21. Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he had offered Isaac, his son, upon the altar?
v. 22. Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
v. 23. And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.
v. 24. Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
v. 25. Likewise also, was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works when she had received the messengers and had sent them out another way?
v. 26. Far as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
In bringing examples from the Old Testament to illustrate his argument, the apostle first refers to an incident in the life of Abraham: Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he sacrificed his son Isaac upon the altar? Gen_22:9. Abraham had received the command from God to take his only son, Isaac, to make a three days' journey with him to a certain mountain, and there to offer him up as a sacrifice upon an altar to be built by him. The fact that Abraham carried out the commandment of God without remonstrance was a proof of his faith, Heb_11:17; in other words, his work in sacrificing his son was evidence that justifying, saving faith was living in his heart. It follows, then: Thou seest that his faith was manifested as being one with his works, and that out of works faith was completed. Abraham's faith was active in his works, in all the matters connected with this sacrifice, the two being thus joined in their efficacy, and his faith receiving its final, definite proof by his works. That is, any one seeing Abraham perform this work as he was commanded to do by the Lord could not doubt for as much as a minute that true faith lived in his heart.
That this is the argument of the writer is shown in the next verse: And there was fulfilled the scripture which says, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to Him for righteousness, and he was called a friend of God. The order to be observed in estimating faith is this: Abraham performed the very difficult task which was assigned to him; this work he could perform only by faith; by virtue of this saving faith the righteousness of the Messiah was imputed to him, or, his faith was accounted to him for righteousness, Gen_15:6; Rom_4:3. Moreover, on the strength of this evidence of faith the Old Testament ascribed to Abraham the honoring title of the friend of God, 2Ch_20:7; Isa_41:8. From this standpoint, also, the conclusion is correct: You see that out of works a man is justified, and not out of faith alone. Good works are not necessary to earn salvation, but they are necessary for evidence as to the existence of faith in the heart of a man; for where they are to be found, there one may conclude that true faith lives in the heart, and so the works indirectly justify a person.
The example of Rahab is also adduced: So likewise Rahab, the harlot: was she not justified out of works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different way? The act of Rahab in hiding the spies that came to her house was an act of faith, Heb_11:31. It was this faith that prompted her to hide the messengers and to aid them in escaping from the city. This good work proved the existence of saving faith in her heart, and she was thus justified on the basis of the deed which manifested the condition of her heart. Thus the apostle, from the standpoint which he here desires to impress upon his readers, is right in concluding: For just as the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead. A corpse may have the appearance of a live human being in every way, all the members and organs being present and apparently able to function. But while the breath of life, the soul, is lacking, that body is dead and will remain dead. Thus also a person may boast that he possesses faith, and he may even be among those that hear the Word of God. But if the evidence of good works is lacking, such faith is spurious, hypocritical, valueless. Genuine faith is never without good works.
The apostle warns his readers against an unchristian partiality, asserting that the will of God demands charity toward all men alike; he shows that faith requires the correlate of brotherly love and adduces the example of Abraham and Rahab to indicate how faith gave evidence of its existence in good works.