By faith we are saved, not by good works. It’s the cry of the Reformation, and it makes a lot of sense. If we are able to save ourselves through works, Jesus died in vain.
But in the book of James, it sounds like Rahab’s deed saved her. Let’s look a little closer.
Faith and works are intertwined. Lively faith produces good works. James, the New Testament epistle writer, pounds this truth home. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26.
James, a dour leader of the early church in Jerusalem and probably our Lord’s brother, points to Rahab as an example. James 2:25: “…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?”
Sounds like her deeds saved her. Or did they?
Rahab is a prostitute in Jericho, a woman of some consequence—she owns a house. She belongs to a people, the Canaanites, whose practices the Lord finds detestable, including sacrificing their children to the god Molech and holding orgies as a mode of worship of their fertility gods. The time for their judgment has come. Earlier, God had declared to Abram that the children of Israel would not reenter the promised land for four generations yet, “for the sin of the Amorites (Canaanites) has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:16) Now the full measure has been reached. The Lord decrees destruction for the Canaanites, using the children of Israel as his instrument.
But not for Rahab. The conversion where she is given faith is not described in the Bible but is alluded to in Hebrews 11:31: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Surely the Lord meets Rahab and offers her salvation. He surely tells her that he is Lord of heaven and earth, and that he is going to destroy her people. But he has chosen her, if she will dare to answer the call.
While still living in Jericho, she must act on what she now knows to be true and real. She is risking her life (if the king finds out) but if she doesn’t do it, she knows she and her family will die, along with all the others in Jericho. And so she offers help to the spies and asks in return that they would spare her and her family in the conquest.
Her daring faith AND the resulting deed earn her righteousness and a place in the family tree of the Messiah.Illustration by Allessandro Allori http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_e_la_cananea_di_Alessandro_Allori_detail.jpg