JUSTIFICATION -- JAMES VS. PAUL
Updated December 25, 2002 (first published September 4, 1996) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org) –
Roman Catholics, Cultists, and others who deny the Gospel of the Grace of Jesus Christ, love to run to James 2:24 to "prove" that salvation is not by Christ's grace alone through faith alone, but that works are necessary. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Consider the following two observations:
FIRST, CONTEXT IS CRUCIAL IN UNDERSTANDING ANY BIBLE PASSAGE. To ignore context is to fill the Bible with contradictions. James was not addressing salvation in James 2:14-26; he was addressing the Christian life. Note verse 14 -- "my brethren..." He is contrasting dead faith with true biblical faith (verses 14-17). "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (verse 14). He is saying that true faith is evident by works. Paul, on the other hand, in the book of Romans is addressing salvation directly. The sinner must trust exclusively in the grace of Jesus Christ for salvation. "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works" (Romans 4:4-6). There is no contradiction if one considers the context of each statement. Paul is addressing the unsaved sinner's perspective. The sinner must trust Jesus Christ exclusively for salvation; he must reject his own filthy works (Isaiah 64:6) and all self-righteousness (Romans 9:30-33) and lean totally upon the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting wholly in His perfect and complete redemption. James, on the other hand, is addressing the Christian's perspective. The Christian claims to have faith in Jesus Christ. He is to demonstrate his faith by serving God and walking in His commandments. Those who live in rebellion and who ignore the Word of God demonstrate that they do not possess true saving faith, that they are deceiving themselves. They have dead faith, not saving faith.
SECOND, JAMES' TEACHING IS NO DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF THE OTHER APOSTLES. They all taught that true faith produces works. Consider the classic passage in Ephesians 2:8-10 -- "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." This passage puts faith and works in their proper order. It is faith alone that connects us with the free salvation offered in Jesus Christ. This salvation is a gift. Our puny, sin-tainted works have nothing to do with it, and cannot add to the completed salvation in Jesus Christ. Works, rather, follow after salvation and are the product of it and are created by God in the believing sinner. Consider also Titus 3:4-8; Hebrews 6:9; 10:39; 1 John 3:6; 3 John 11.
Some will counter that it is not important how one puts these things together. One man says works follow salvation; another says works are a part of salvation. What is the difference? The difference is ENORMOUS. It is the difference between Saved and Lost, between Heaven and Hell. If I think that my works and my righteousness and my obedience and my law-keeping is a part of salvation, I am denying the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and of His Atonement. "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14). I cannot add one iota to this perfect salvation that is freely offered through Jesus Christ. "Being justified FREELY by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). If works or church sacraments or law keeping are required in any sense whatsoever for salvation, it is not FREE and the Bible is a lie.
If something is free and is a gift, it cannot be associated with works or with a payment in any sense whatsoever. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Romans 11:6).
Bible salvation is by Christ's grace alone through faith alone, and works follow as the product and evidence of the new birth. This has been the teaching of every true preacher of the Gospel from the days of the Apostles to the present. Consider William Tyndale, the father of our faithful old English Bible, who in 1536 was burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church. Tyndale is one of those multitudes of faithful Christians who for centuries were persecuted for their faith in the sufficiency of Christ's Atonement:
"For faith bringeth pardon and forgiveness freely purchased by Christ's blood, and bringeth also the Spirit; the Spirit looseth the bonds of the devil, and setteth us at liberty. See therefore thou have God's promises in thine heart, and that thou believe them without wavering. Also remember, that his Son's blood is stronger than all the sins and wickedness of the whole world; and therewith quiet thyself, and thereunto commit thyself, and bless thyself in all temptation (namely at the hour of death) with that holy candle. Or else perishest thou, though thou hast a thousand holy candles about thee, a hundred ton of holy water, a ship-full of pardons, a cloth-sack full of friars' coats, and all the ceremonies in the world, and all the good works, deservings, and merits of all the men in the world, be they, or were they, never so holy. Hereby see we, that deeds and works are but outward signs of the inward grace of the bounteous and plenteous mercy of God, freely received without all merits of deeds, yea, and before all deeds. Christ teacheth to know the inward faith and love by the outward deeds. Deeds are the fruits of love; and love is the fruit of faith" (William Tyndale, The Parable of the Wicked Mammon).