"You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"and he was called God's friend. You see that 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 when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2: 20-26
James uses two very disparate examples to illustrate the same truth and then summarizes with a significant statement that "deeds are the spirit of faith".
Let's examine the two examples: Abraham, the hero and patriarch of all Jews. The words "Abraham" and "faith" are almost interchangeable! Every Jew wanted their boys to grow up and be like Abraham. No problem there!
But Rahab? A prostitute? What is she doing in the same sentence with an icon like Abraham?
There is one huge common denominator! FAITH! Each of them acted in a way that proved their faith in God. Each of them put something at risk. Abraham risk the very future of the legacy God had promised him and Rahab risked her life!
In addition, I think James is communicating the vital truth that faith is a growing and ongoing experience. Abraham had been on a long faith journey with God. He had walked with God and followed God for decades. He had demonstrated his faith time after time. The crowning achievement of his faith was his son, Isaac. It had taken a series of faith decisions to receive this son of promise. Now God tested his faith once more by asking him to sacrifice this precious son. This was no entry level faith! This is faith 501 or 601! But Abraham passed the test!
In contrast, there was Rahab. While there is some dispute over the exact nature of her profession, some say prostitute, some say innkeeper, and some say she ran a restaurant. But of no dispute is her kindness to the Israelite spies that preserved their lives and allowed them to complete their crucial mission into Jericho. She would have been dragged into the street and publicly executed had she been discovered hiding the spies. It was risky what she did but she understood it was her chance at salvation and she took it.
As far as we can tell, this was her intial act of faith. This was Faith 101 and she passed with flying colors. You can be sure their were many other tests to follow.
So in Rahab we have demonstrated that we enter into salvation by an act of faith. And in Abraham we learn that faith is always being tested. Our faith grows as the tests grow because the spirit of faith is our obedient actions!
Whether you are at the Rahab level or the Abraham level there will never be a time when faith is easy or unnecessary! You please God because He has become pleasing to you!