Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ produces an inward change, which in turn is shown to others by outward actions. The question being asked here by James is if there is no evidence of this inward change by the outward actions is then the faith in Christ real and more importantly is then, salvation sure. James in his message is often misunderstood and seen as contradictory in light of the rest of the New Testament but that is truly not the case. James is trying to relate a very real and timely assessment of salvation as it relates to faith and the action of those proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ. In other words are they walking the walk of the faith the claim to be talking?
Looking first to James 1:18 we see who is actually responsible for our salvation. James answers the question, “Was it God or was it me?” The answer of course is that it is always God. One hundred percent of the time God is responsible for our salvation by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ or as James states it “fulfillment of his own purpose.” Based on that then, through faith in God and trust in the purpose, it is that we receive salvation. Only God can give us new birth by knowing the true condition of the heart that makes the salvation real and true. Allowing us to become born again, regenerated, and the first fruits of His harvest.
John MacArthur states in his commentary “The most beautiful and graphic explanation of regeneration is in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, a devout and highly respected Pharisee and teacher.” (chapter 5, section 2, para. 6) MacArthur goes on to say that “The leader only made a statement about Jesus and did not say anything about himself or ask the Lord a question. But the Lord knew what was really on his mind and said to him, “Truly, Truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We know that a conversation takes place about the physical impossibility of a re-birth. The reality however is that “The new birth is a sovereign gift of God, implanted by the Holy Spirit in those who have come to Him by faith in His Son.” (Chapter5, Section 2, para 8.) MacArther explains further that “the new birth results from God’s sovereignly coming down to a sinner and by His grace cleansing him, planting His Spirit within him, and giving him a completely new spiritual nature.” (Chapter 5, Section 2, Para 12.)
So once the regeneration has happened, it should be said then if we are “new creations” as Paul puts it (2 Cor. 5:17) we then should have the actions that reflect the change. In the same respect others could have easily gone around acting as though they had been reborn but the heart was still in the same disarray it had always been. James is asking those who are proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ not only to be honest but authentic in what they are doing and saying. Those who believed that it was by works that they would obtain salvation have missed the importance in that it is God...