James 2:14-26 (Faith and Works)

James 2:14-26 is a theological minefield and we must be careful to interpret it properly. There are six distinctions we need to understand in order to think clearly through the issues.First let us look at the fundamental problem. James seems to be contradicting Paul, who taught that justification and salvation is by grace alone received through faith alone. James, on the other hand, seems to teach justification and salvation by faith + works!

James: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can (his) faith save him?” (v14) 
“But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is useless?” (v20). 
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (v21) 
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) 
by faith” (v24) 
“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works” (v25). 

Paul: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28)“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:6). 
“by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8,9)

 Justification or vindication is OBJECTIVE (legal) - to be declared righteous or in the right by another who is judging you (whether God or man).  Salvation is SUBJECTIVE (experiential), it is the transformation of our lives through God’s life within us.

When we trusted in Christ we were justified by God and the eternal life of God was imparted to our spirit (REGENERATION). This is the salvation of the spirit which is by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). James also teaches such a salvation: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (1:18). This is an accomplished, past tense salvation. However James also talks about an ongoing present tense salvation of the soul (mind/life):“Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to SAVE your SOULS” (1:21).

3. DEAD WORKS (Works of the law) v GOOD WORKS ( Works of faith).
Dead works are done by sinners in order to earn their salvation. Paul proves that these are futile (Gal 2:6,7), for no one is good enough, and God’s salvation is by grace received through faith. The Christian life starts with ‘repentance from dead works and faith toward God’ (Hebrews 6:1) 

Good Works are done by the saved because they are saved. They are works of faith that the believer does, not to get into heaven, but out of gratitude to God for His free gift of eternal life. They are expressions of the new life and nature that Christ has worked within by the New Birth.  Paul who discounted the value of (dead) works to gain salvation, does magnify the value of producing (good) works now that we are saved: 

“by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). 

“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but FAITH WORKING through love”(Galatians 5:6).   

“For the grace of God that brings salvation (by grace apart from works) has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (good works), looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people,zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

 “When the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace (through faith alone) we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God (and are now justified) should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:4-8).

 Some try to reconcile Paul and James by incorporating works into their very definition of faith, saying that faith and works are so enmeshed they cannot be separated. However this is a confusion of thought. Faith is fundamentally of the heart, a receiving of the promises and work of Christ for us. Although it will express itself in word and action, faith in itself is not an action. It is trusting and receiving another and what they do on our behalf. 

This is demonstrated by Romans 11:6: “if (salvation is) by grace (Christ’s work), then it is no longer of (our) works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of (our) works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (see also Romans 4:1-5 below). Christ’s work for us is His GRACE, which we receive by FAITH without any involvement of our own works. Therefore faith in its essential nature and definition is something quite distinct from works. Faith is not works, but it is revealed by works, otherwise its genuineness is doubtful (James 2:14). We are justified by grace through faith alone, but not by a faith that stays alone! 

5. SAVING FAITH v INTELLECTUAL ASSENT. Saving Faith has the 3 components of KAT Knowledge, Assent and Trust. One may know and assent (profess faith) that Jesus is the Son of God, but that is no better than the faith of demons (Jam 2:19). Saving faith is not just of the head, but also of the heart. It involves trusting in Christ alone for eternal life, yielding to (receiving) Him as Lord and Saviour. It is a commitment of the heart in trust and surrender. This faith is produced in our heart by God’s Word and Spirit, causing us to submit in principle to the Lordship of Christ, so that we confess Jesus as our Lord. Our initial saving faith is then to be worked out in practice in a life of good works (obedience). Such faith in the heart should be evidenced in a progressive transformation of our life.

 (James 2:21,24). There are 2 justifications. One is our legal justification before God, and by God. Paul tells us that this justification is by faith alone, without works. God sees our faith before we produce any good works and declares us righteous on the basis of the work of Christ. James refers to Abraham’s justification before God by faith alone (2:23) which happened in Genesis 15, but he also describes another justification that happened many years later when he offered up Isaac in Genesis 22 (2:21-23). This was ajustification by works (before men) of someone already justified by faith. We are justified before God by faith, but our faith is justified (vindicated) before men by our works of faith. There is no justification by ‘faith+works’, but 2 justifications: one before God (by faith), the other before man (by works), when men can see we are right with God (‘calling us His friend’). 

This ‘works-justification’ is the fulfilment in our life of our original ‘faith-justification’ (2:23). It is seen in the phrase:‘I will show you my faith by my works’ (2:18). Men can only see your faith by your works. The only way to prove to men that you are a true believer is by your works of faith. 

Romans 4:1-5 agrees: “For if Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about, but not before God(Abraham was also justified by works, but it was not before God but before man). For what does the Scripture say?“Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (this is his justification before God by faith alone-Gen15:6). Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

*Paul writes against those who would be justified before God by their works
 showing that it is impossible. He writes to show how a sinner becomes righteous. This justification is by faith alone, but he expects works to flow out of this kind of faith. 

*James writes against those who say a believer does need to add works to their faith (passivity) because they are irrelevant (having been saved by faith).     He writes to encourage those who are already saved by faith to show forth (prove) their faith and salvation by their good works, pointing out that only by acting on their faith, will their faith grow and their soul (life) be saved, for although we are justified by faith alone, we are sanctified by faith+works. 

They would agree with each other. James was certainly not writing to contradict Paul. In fact James was written before Paul wrote his epistles. Acts 15 shows James affirming Paul’s ministry, and Paul respecting James’ leadership.



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