Friday, June 25, 2021

Faith or Works? Examining James Chapter 2



In a previous article, I spoke of Cain's offering contrasted to Abel's offering.  Cain offered God the works of the field, did it his way, and was rejected.  Abel offered God a lamb of his flock, did it God's way by faith, and was accepted.  It's the faith way or works way.  Unfortunately down the bisected road, most men find themselves going down the latter.  Down the works way, the left-handed path, we see men trying to find enlightenment by meditation, or asceticism.  Down the works way we see men who deny the living God and are a master unto themselves.  Down the works way, we see a man who thinks church attendance, doing charitable works, and/or being a good person will make themselves just in the eyes of their creator.   On and on it goes as a man checks off his to-do list.  Down the works way some say maybe I'm good enough, and then God will make up the rest.  Down the works way there are many men who try and twist the Bible to say that works are a requirement for salvation. Catholics and others who support works-based salvation often scurry to the book of James for cover. Fortunately for all, James does not support works-based salvation.  In examining the book of James we will find it proclaims the fruit of salvation rather than the root of salvation in what Paul often explains in his epistles. We will also discover that Paul and James are in agreement with each other.

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? -James 2:20

    First, in order to know the context of the above verse, it's important to know what audience James is speaking to.  That of course would be at the beginning of his epistle:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. James 1:1-4

Clearly, the brother of Jesus is talking to the twelve tribes here.  He is speaking to a Jewish audience, so we can expect to have Jewish references within the passage.  Secondly, he calls them his brethren, that is, his brothers in Christ.  We know he's not simply calling them brothers based on their Jewish heritage, but rather the faith that links them together as noted in the following statement: "the trying of your faith worketh patience."  So to wrap it up here, the audience is Jewish, and they are saved brothers by faith in Christ.  James is stating that here that they already have faith, and the Bible asserts  "Ye are saved by faith through grace.." Ephesians 2:8. The eternal security of the believer is already there (Ephesians 1:13).

    Throughout the rest of chapter one, we see James admonishing his audience to persevere in trials and temptation (James 1:2-13), to waver not in faith (James 1:6), to seek God's wisdom in faith (James 1:5), and to be a doer and not a hearer only (James 1:22).  You see, when you become God's child, you are made unto His workmanship.  We no longer are to walk in our ways but rather God's ways.  What this epistle is talking about is practical applications in Christian living.  Let's crossreference with Paul's epistle to Ephesus: 

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. -Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice Paul first says that you are saved aside from works.  That is, a man is saved by faith through grace (a gift; unmerited favor). Then notice something interesting follows in verse 10.  Paul writes that those who are saved are God's workmanship, that our purpose in Christ is that we should walk in good works.  A Christian should seek to offer himself up as a living sacrifice each day (Romans 12:1), to put off the old man (Ephesians 4:22-24), so we can be good stewards for the Master's use (Matthew 25:21).  Good works don't result in salvation, but rather good works are to follow someone who has been born-again and made a new creature (2nd Corinthians 5:17).  Many people seem to think that Paul and James are at odds with each other.  Some say Paul teaches faith through grace, and James teaches faith by works.  Paul often asserts that salvation rests on faith alone, but is also in agreement with James that faith will produce spiritual fruit. Now on to James chapter 2.

    At the beginning of chapter two, we see that James is speaking strongly against favoritism.  James writes not to respect a man over another because of his appearances or his riches (James 2:1-7),  to love thy neighbor as thyself (James 2:8), and not to be a respecter of persons (James 2:9).  Notice again, James still is not speaking in regards to salvation, but Christian living.   Moving along in verse 10 we see James referring to the law, that any person who stumbles at one point is guilty of the law.  James is referring to Deuteronomy 27:26, everybody who stumbles just once is guilty and is cursed. Ever lie? You're under the curse. Ever steal? You're under the curse. How could anyone ever keep the law? No man ever could (Romans 3:23).  This is why it's absurd to think that our salvation can in any possible way come by works. It would have to come through someone who could perfectly fulfill the law, and that man was Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:17).  Now let's get to the meat of the matter in James 2:14-17:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 

   Many put the cart before the horse, assuming that James contradicts Paul in falsely assuming that works are a requirement.  James explains rather, that a man with legitimate faith will be evidenced by good works.  Notice James here says though a man say (claims) he hath faith and not have works, can faith save him?  He is not talking about a man who has genuine faith, but rather a man who claims to have faith.  After the intro James explains dead faith in an example.  He makes the analogy of a selfish person who says, "Be warmed and filled!" to someone who is naked and hungry without offering any provisions. Dead faith is akin to a man who claims to have it but doesn't back it up in any way.  The devils believe in God and tremble, but they too have dead faith. Paul agrees with James and explains dead faith in Titus 1:16, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him..." Many people in pop Christianity have this claim of faith, they say they believe and enjoy their church for a feel-good fix but have never been born-again. This is not the type of faith that will save you, but rather it's a shallow faith that James is challenging his audience to recognize.  Notice James also says what doth it profit? followed by an illustration of what faith without works is.  Dead works don't profit anyone, we are not justified by simply saying we have faith in the eyes of others, rather our faith is justified in the eyes of others by our good works.  Paul agrees with James and writes about this in Titus 3:8: 

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

Good works are profitable in the eyes of man.  As James mentions, God wants us to not just be a hearer, but a doer. If we are just a hearer, we see ourselves in the reflection.  However, one who yields to God will have good works flow through them.   God does not want us to simply say we believe, he wants us to put our faith to action.  We do this by renewing ourselves each day and making ourselves a living sacrifice to Him. Are we saved by faith alone? Yes.  Will a saving faith produce good works? Absolutely. Let's finish James chapter 2 with verses18-26:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Did you notice James writes that you can see how these two were justified?  That's the point here, good works justify us in the eyes of men.  The justification spoken of here has nothing to do with justification before God. Rather it has to do with practical Christian living and having a saving faith that will impact others.  Are you trusting in obeying the commandments to save you? The commandments illustrate how we fall short (Romans 3:20), and were designed as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Following the law won't save you as the scripture says we all fall short (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:23). Are you trusting in your good deeds checklist or the traditions of men (Proverbs 14:12)?  Then I'm afraid to say heaven is not going to be your home.  Are you trusting in Christ alone as your savior? God's Word states he is the only way to heaven (John 14:6). The glory of man is like the flowers in the grass, it's nice for a time but withers away (1st Peter 2:24).  God's gift will never wither or fade away, as he offers eternal life to all who believe. Down the works way, we find the path that leads to destruction, down the way of faith we find Christ, God's glory, and eternal life.


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