I guess everyone knows the exciting story of Rahab, the prostitute, who sheltered the Israelite spies when they entered Jericho; who lied to the city authorities; and who helped the spies escape safely back to Joshua. (If you don’t, read about it in Joshua Chapter 2). However, have you ever thought about the pivotal role she plays in the argument between those who insist on salvation by faith alone and those who argue for salvation by works.
In the great chapter in Hebrews which tells of the heroes of the faith, she is only woman mentioned by name as such a hero (Hebrews Ch 11 v 31). By faith the prostitute Rahab …was not killed with those who were disobedient. She was certainly a believer. “I know,” she says, ”I know that the LORD has given you this land.” (Joshua Ch 2 v 9).
But in that famous ‘epistle of straw’ (Martin Luther’s words) James uses her as an example of salvation by works. You see a person is justified by what he does, and not by faith alone. In the same way was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did? (James Ch 2 vv24-25).
Of course the conflict is not a real one. Suppose Rahab, having given the spies the assurance that they wanted had immediately ratted on them and betrayed them to the authorities. How then would we have regarded her faith?