What Does the Book of James Say About Justification?

Perhaps no single doctrinal issue has caused more division between Catholics and Protestants than the question of justification, or how we are made righteous before God.  Catholic believe that we are justified by faith, but must cultivate this faith through good works done in obedience to God (what St. Paul calls the “obedience of faith,” in Romans 1:5 and Rom. 16:26).  Protestants, beginning with Martin Luther, insist that justification is by faith alone: that works play absolutely no role in justification.

Lucas Cranach the Elder,
Martin Luther (1520)

Unlike many modern Protestants, Martin Luther acknowledged that Catholics (or, as he put it, “papists”), taught that faith was the foundation of salvation. That is, he recognized that we weren’t actually Pelagians, and that we don’t believe that you can work your way to Heaven (as is often claimed today).  But he still thought Catholics were wrong, and perverting the Gospel.  Here’s how Luther contrasted the Catholic and Protestant position on justification:

They [Catholics] admit that faith is the foundation of salvation. But they add the conditional clause that faith can save only when it is furnished with good works. This is wrong. The true Gospel declares that good works are the embellishment of faith, but that faith itself is the gift and work of God in our hearts. Faith is able to justify, because it apprehends Christ, the Redeemer.

So both sides agree on justification by faith, but disagree on justification by faith alone.  That may seem like a minute squabble, but understand that Luther saw this as not only the single most important debate in the Reformation, but a battle to preserve the Gospel itself.  He described the conflict in these terms:

Since our opponents will not let it stand that only faith in Christ justifies, we will not yield to them. On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death.

Given Luther’s radical emphasis on justification by faith alone, Christians (of all stripes) are often surprised to learn that Scripture uses the phrase “faith alone” exactly once.  Here it is, from James 2:24:

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

This explicit declaration in Scripture, that we’re not justified by faith alone, would seem to end the dispute, right? Heck, even Luther saw the Book of James as fatal to his views on justification, and tried to remove it from the Bible.

St. James

But Protestantism has survived.  Modern Protestants both proclaim justification by faith alone, and believe that the Book of James is God-breathed Scriptures.  So how do they rectify the apparent contradiction?

One way is by claiming that James is writing against a “mere profession” of faith, and that “James is combating justification by profession alone, not sola fide, in this chapter.”  In other words, where James explicitly criticizes his opponents for having faith alone (James 2:24), or faith without works (James 2:14, James 2:17, James 2:20, James 2:26), this interpretation assumes that what James really meant to say was that his opponents have the wrong kind of faith, or that they don’t really have faith at all.

This is part of a broader Protestant trend to read James as distinguishing between saving faith, and whatever he’s criticizing in James 2.  So, for example, Arthur Pink, in his work Studies on Saving Faith manages to devote a full chapter to the idea of “counterfeit faith,” without pointing to a single passage of Scripture actually distinguishing between saving and counterfeit faith. And as Jimmy Akin notes in an excellent article on the subject, several Protestant translations (including the NIV, RSV and CEV) have even added words to James 2:14 to make the chapter fit this view.

But there are several problems with this interpretation.  The first, and most obvious, is that James acknowledges that those he’s criticizing have faith, and notes that even the demons have faith.  The second is that James compares their faith to his own, and to Abraham’s, and to Rahab’s.

(1) The Faith of the Demons

In James 2:19, St. James acknowledges:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder.

In saying, “You believe that God is one; you do well,” James forever dispels the notion that his opponents are merely professing to hold a faith that they privately doubt or deny.  But in comparing their faith to that of the demon’s, James is showing the insufficiency of faith.

Medieval Illustration of one of the
Exorcisms Performed by Jesus

The demons know God exists, because they’ve encountered Him in a way that we haven’t.  In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, the first to identify Christ as the Holy One of God (after God the Father Himself) are the demons.  We see this in Mark 1:23-26:

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

And again, in Mark 1:35,

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

The demons know better than anyone on Earth who Jesus is, and they also know what that means.  Nor do they apparently doubt His claims: the demons tremble, as James says: they flinch before Him in anticipation of being destroyed, as Mark 1:24 makes clear.

Put another way, the demons understand and believe who Christ is, but despite this knowledge, they choose to work against Him, rather than work for Him, and are justly damned as a result.  This would seem to prove James’ point: that works are vital to justification.  What we do, how we respond to faith, matters.  When we’re tempted with something sinful, for example, do we follow the One we know is Lord, or do we oppose Him?

(2) The Faith of Abraham

In James 2:18, St. James compares his opponents’ faith to his own:

Rembrandt, Sacrifice of Isaac (1635)

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 

If the demons are examples of those who have faith, but for whom it does no good, James also provides Abraham (James 2:21-24) and Rahab (James 2:25-26) are examples of those who have faith and who are saved.  And what’s the difference between Abraham and Rahab, on the one hand, and the demons, on the other?  It’s not that the demons are just pretending to believe in God, or anything of the sort.  It’s how each side reacts to this belief.  As James explains, Abraham and Rahab by the works they perform in response to faith.  To wit:

  • Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (James 2:21)
  • And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25)

James isn’t saying that works, apart from faith, save.  But he is saying that faith is “completed by works” (James 2:22), and insufficient in itself.

Rectifying James and Paul

How then, should we rectify this with all of the statements that St. Paul makes against works in Romans and Galatians?  The Protestant Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible explains:

When Paul says that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28), he plainly speaks of another sort of work than James does, but not of another sort of faith. Paul speaks of works wrought in obedience to the law of Moses, and before men’s embracing the faith of the gospel; and he had to deal with those who valued themselves so highly upon those works that they rejected the gospel (as Romans 10:1-21, at the beginning most expressly declares); but James speaks of works done in obedience to the gospel, and as the proper and necessary effects and fruits of sound believing in Christ Jesus. Both are concerned to magnify the faith of the gospel, as that which alone could save us and justify us; but Paul magnifies it by showing the insufficiency of any works of the law before faith, or in opposition to the doctrine of justification by Jesus Christ; James magnifies the same faith, by showing what are the genuine and necessary products and operations of it.

Yes, yes, and a thousand times, yes. The sort of “works” that Paul is clearly obedience to the Mosaic Law, which is why he also refers to it as “works of the Law” (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16), “the Law” (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:21) and uses circumcision as an example of the inadequacy of the Law (Gal. 5:6).  In 1 Cor. 7:19, St. Paul actually contrasts circumcision with obedience to God’s commands, saying:

Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.

So obedience to the Mosaic Law is meaningless for salvation, while obedience to “the law that requires faith” (Rom. 3:27) is not.  This interpretation certainly makes sense of Paul’s references, in Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:16 to the “obedience of faith.”  Faith is the foundation of salvation, but we need to respond to that faith by obeying God.   From this perspective, James and Paul clearly speak with one voice: there’s no contradiction, or even a real tension between the two.


  1. It always seemed to me as a protestant the Luther’s reaction (and over-reaction) was not against the necessity of doing what is right. In a sense, it at least seems (I’m not entirely sure, and I would think you are far more the expert on things Luther) that since some of the problems of the church at that time were those of, say, simony and the selling of indulgences. Assurance of salvation by the paying of fees, or of buying relics, and such, are the sort of works which do not lead to salvation, at least according to Luther. They certainly don’t in themselves, I should think. I may be wrong, but part of the thrust of sola fida seems to be that one needs works with faith – and that one does not think his work to be of salvific power APART from the grace of God.

    1. Montague,

      Whether or not those were Luther’s motivations (and I think they were in part, but that the situation is much more complicated), he ends up going well beyond that, and declaring sola fide “the Gospel.” Had he focused on the legitimate grievances you listed here, he might have been an actual Reformer. After all, the Council of Trent makes it clear that Luther was right to be upset about these things. The fact that Protestantism continued after Trent and the Catholic Reformation suggests that there were other (less defensible) issues at play.



    2. Pope Benedict XVI commented on justification and Martin Luther at his General Audience on November 19, 2008. Here is an excerpt:

      “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).” http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20081119_en.html

  2. The odd thing about the doctrine of sola fide is that, while it seemed to begin as an assurance to believers of their total and complete salvation, I think it has led to a certain type of paranoia, especially among evangelicals. Do they really have a “saving faith” or did they fall prey to this counterfeit that James describes? This is why we see so many evangelicals being born again, and again, and again – repenting and rededicating their lives to Christ repeatedly.

    1. Elizabeth,

      I’ve noticed the exact same tendency. If you believe that God sends some people “evanescent grace,” to trick them into thinking they’re Christians (without actually saving them), and that fallen-away Christians were literally never Christians (and just didn’t know they weren’t, when they were out there proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ), I think any sensible Christian would ask themselves: how do I know that I’m on of the elect? If Billy Graham’s old partner (Templeton) could turn out to have “never” been a Christian, despite leading crusades for Christ, who’s to say any of us are real Christians?

      In theory, assurance of salvation sounds great. In practice, it’s had the opposite effect. For Catholics, on the other hand, we’ve got confession. When we have concerns about the state of our souls, we go to the Doctor of Souls, and let Him do the rest. That’s far more comforting, from my perspective.



    2. Wonderful timing! Here are the Readings for Mass next week:

      “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” – John 3:18-24

      Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” – John 15:1-8

  3. Just my two humble cents here, but I really don’t see the need to try and harmonize James and Paul at all. I go straight to the words of Jesus Christ himself:

    “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger, and you took me in, naked, and you covered me, sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me…”

    (Matt. 25:35-36.)

    Faith is very important, no argument there, but without good works, what’s the point?

    Jesus is telling you to do stuff, that kind of negates the whole idea of “Faith Alone”. The majority of His parables are about people *Doing Stuff*. I’ve lost count of how many times the Greek word ποιεω (Which means: Do/Make) comes out of Jesus’ mouth in Gospels. One example: The Good Samaritan didn’t just rely on faith alone to help the poor guy beaten on the side of the road, he went to his side, and helped him to safety.

    As the paster of my little Church has told us on numerous occasions: “Once you walk out the doors after Mass it’s time for you Laity to get work!”

    1. Rob,

      You’re right to look the the words of Christ, of course, and the countless passages where Jesus ties salvation to living a Christian life and doing the will of the Father have persuaded a number of Protestants that sola fide was wrong. But given this, since we do affirm that Paul’s writings are inspired by God, we need to explain how he fits in the puzzle. The fact that the Catholic side can convincingly account for all of the evidence only strengthens the conclusion you’re seeing from going off of the Red-Letter words.



    2. Seeing as though many biblical patriarchs and judges, for example, Samson, would continuously transgress God’s commandments by marrying foreigners and sleeping with prostitutes and committing suicide, yet still be mentioned as a man of faith, I find it hard to believe people can really judge whether someone is saved or not by their works. Honestly, most people probably thought Samson, David, and most of the apostles were damned after their many transgressions and failures but it is God who justifies NOT men.

  4. I had to explain to my Baptist cousin the differences between the Protestant interpretation of good works and the Catholic. She believes good works is the fruit of belief but not necessary for salvation. Her citation was the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Course I tried my hand at some apologetics and explained that God’s ways are mysterious. The ordinary way for salvation, to definitely, assure salvation is through good works. If God wants to work around his own rules, then, like in the case of the thief, he can do so. I’m not sure that was really exceptable to her. Perhaps, Joe, you could address this dilemma a little better.

    If the thief couldn’t perform good works before his death but only believe in Jesus, how can he still be saved? Can a person be saved through faith alone?

    1. As I see it, the good thief did two good works: 1.) He publicly rebuked the other thief in defense of Jesus’s innocence and 2.) he humbly accepted his own crucifixion and death as just payment for his own sins. That’s a lot in a short amount of time. Jesus’s parable of the workers in His field tells me that we need to accept His offer and work in His field to the end of the day to get a day’s wage. It’s starting, working and finishing that count; not how long that happens to be.

    2. I think Dante shows us something important here. If we look at his Purgatorio Canto V we see the Late Repentant, specifically those who died a violent death, but repented at the last minute. Dante see’s the soul of one Buonconte di Montefeltro who describes the seen at his death. A devil rushed upon him to drag his soul into Hell (for the evil of his life) but as he relates:

      “As I died, I murmured Mary’s name, and there I fell and left my empty flesh. Now hear the truth. Tell it to living men: God’s angel took me up, and Hell’s fiend cried: O you from Heaven, why steal what is mine?”

      We must Repent of our sins to be saved. If we do this at the end of our life, like Buonconte or the Good Thief, we’ll be with Christ in Heaven (after a lengthy stay in Purgatory, according to Dante) – if we don’t we reject Christ and his Kingdom, forever. There is no sin too grave for the Blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, to forgive – we simply have to accept that forgiveness. But as is revealed when Christ said to the adulterous woman “go and sin no more” (John 8:11), an essential part (for those still living) of accepting that forgiveness is reforming our lives and following the commands of Christ (i.e. Good Works). So, we can’t “game the system” i.e. live horrible lives, repent half-heatedly on our death beds and still be forgiven. True repentance (as would be the case with the Good Thief) would have shown forth Good Works, had the Thief had time to do them.

      At least, that’s how I explain it. Joe, probably has a better explanation coming your way.

  5. Joe, my dear brother in Christ, you are on the right path. When I read your first quote from James 2, I thought “He is taking this quote out of the context of James’ argument.” Thankfully you went on to explain the whole argument that James is making in chapter 2. I do not disagree with you at all. It is really amazing to examine Paul’s argument about “faith” and James’ argument about “faith” because I do not see them in contradiction. I see them arguing against two extremes. The sad part is that many Protestants, especially Lutherans, go to the extreme. One part that helps to center my theology is to ask what “to believe” meant to Jesus, James, and Paul. Sadly, we can read into “faith” or “to believe” today and make a great sounding argument out of modern use of these words. Our current use of these words is not the same as what the New Testament usage was. I am actually going to a small group next week to discuss this exact issue. Some people hold onto teachings from extreme Lutheran speakers, others hold onto teachings from Christian talk radio, and others come at it from a Roman background.

    We have discussed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification before in private. I personally believe that the JDDJ shows the most clear understanding on this topic, and your post is right in line with it. Sadly, most Lutherans and Romans have no idea this document exists. Thank you for your thought provoking and honest post!

    1. So why aren’t you Catholic? Consider what Protestant theologian Carl Trueman says:

      “Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over.”
      Joe talks about this here: catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2010/11/when-will-reformation-end.html

    2. Good question! I have thought about this question before, especially in light of Fr. Richard Nuehaus. The question that I posed to the congregation on Reformation Sunday (which was October 30th this past year) was “Is the Reformation over?” I am part of the Reformation still because there are issues that the Roman church will not even consider. I want to claim the title of “Reforming Catholic” for the Lutheran church because we are still trying to reform the universal church.

      There is a place for common ground on Justification, which is why the current Pope has said that the Augsburg Confession could one day be a Catholic document. My issue with the Roman Church is not over Justification because of the JDDJ. My issue with the Roman church is over authority and abuse of power. As a Christian, I am compelled to proclaim the gospel. There have been too many cases of sincere servants of the Roman church being forced into silence by superiors. I may be open to serving the Body of Christ in a Roman congregation one day, but that day is far from today or even tomorrow. As my ordination is in line of Apostolic Succession via the Swedish bishops, I could one day serve a Roman congregation. (that last line was for Joe, ha ha)

    3. Do you have any differences of dogma with Catholics? Or is it just historical incidents–about which the church admits its fallibility–that you find objectionable? If the latter, is that really a good enough reason to be a schismatic?

  6. I’ve never understood how a protestant can profess Jesus as LORD and Savior and dismiss his commandments. If Christ is your LORD, you have to do what he says, e.g. not divorcing and remarrying (Matt 9:19).

    1. Each man has been given a measure of faith and salvation is a gift from God NOT of works lest any man should boast. What God defines as works are a renewed and mature heart that is accomplished by His Word who is Christ Jesus. I find that if there is a brother or sister struggling with something that prayer in the secret place and intercession is a good reaction. Questioning the person’s salvation is really just fruitless. Only God can know who is and isn’t saved since he chose from before the foundations of the earth.

  7. In your first paragraph, you say the protestants believe that justification comes through faith alone, and that works play absolutely no role in justification. I’m not going to comment based on my opinion – I’m going to comment based SOLELY on EXACTLY what the Bible says:

    We are saved by faith, not solely by works (Eph 2:8-9)

    Faith alone is not enough, your works reflect your faith (James 2:17-18)

    Justified not by faith alone, but by what is shown in our works (James 2:24)

    Justified by faith apart from works of the law (law of man, not Law of God)(Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16)

    Not justified by the works of the law by itself (again, law of man, not Law of God) (Galatians 3:11)

    Faith is useless without works (James 2:20)

    I’m a Christian and I live my life by what the BIBLE says, not by what people tell me is right or wrong. The passages that I mentioned above show that we are justified through our FAITH and our works are a reflection of our faith. The Bible says we are justified by our faith apart from works but it also says that faith is useless without works. Yeah, a person can say they have faith in Christ but if they did, their works would reflect that. Therefore, your comment about protestants believing we are justified by faith ALONE is false because the Bible clearly states that a person’s works will be a result of his/her faith in Christ. A statement of faith is worthless if a person lives in unrepentant sin.

    1. Lauren,

      The whole point of the Reformation, the protest that gives Protestantism its name, is exactly that “works play absolutely no role in justification.” Since you seem to recognize that this is false, you seem to be striking right at the root of Protestantism, and it may be time to take seriously the Carl Trueman quote that Latenter commented above.

      The 10% we disagree on is that idea that “the Bible clearly states that a person’s works will be a result of his/her faith in Christ.” The whole point of James 2 is that someone CAN have faith in Christ and not respond to that faith. This is a constant message in Scripture: it’s possible to believe and not obey… but we don’t want to be the person who acts that way.

      Reading James to be rejecting a mere “statement” (or profession) of faith is wrong, for the reasons I described above, and which Jimmy Akin goes into more depth on in the link I included. God bless you!



    2. You quote other passages of Scripture, but what do you have to say about Joe’s analysis in the article?

      As Joe says, your main point of disagreement with Catholic teaching is that you believe faith *has to* result in works. The perspective you offer here has problems when applied to James’ comparison of body/spirit to faith/works:

      * What happens when you take away the spirit from a body? It dies. Is it still a body? Yes, but a dead body. It’s a body without a spirit.

      * What happens when you take away works from faith? It dies. Is it still faith? Yes, but dead faith. It’s a faith without works.

      James says that faith and works *can* be separated, but when they are, the faith will be “barren”, “dead” and “incomplete”. What is missing? Works. This will make that faith fruitful, alive and…complete.

    3. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20081126_en.html
      Pope Benedict XVI: “Often there is seen an unfounded opposition between St Paul’s theology and that of St James, who writes in his Letter: “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”(2: 26). In reality, while Paul is primarily concerned to show that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James accentuates the consequential relations between faith and works (cf. Jas 2: 24). Therefore, for both Paul and James, faith that is active in love testifies to the freely given gift of justification in Christ. Salvation received in Christ needs to be preserved and witnessed to “with fear and trembling. For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure…. Do all things without grumbling or questioning… holding fast the word of life”, St Paul was to say further, to the Christians of Philippi (cf. Phil 2: 12-14, 16).” (General Audience, November 26, 2008).

  8. “…your comment about
    protestants believing we are justified by
    faith ALONE is false because the Bible
    clearly states that a person’s works will
    be a result of his/her faith in Christ.”

    This has no bearing on you personally, Lauren, but unfortunately history has shown us that “a Protestant believes A because the Bible says X” is simply not true. More accurate would be “a Protestant can believe A, B or C because the Bible says X.”

  9. I’m not sure I see a distinction either (like Lauren). Faith automatically produces works. If there are no works, there is no faith.

    I just happen to be reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters lately, here is what he had to say upon this subject:

    “‘Feed my sheep’ was His last charge to St Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – “the blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring.”

    1. “Sola Scriptura” and “Sola Fide” were the battle cries of the Reformation. I think there’s enough documentary evidence to show this.

      I would suggest that “the blasphemous fable of the Mass” was just one of the logical consequences of those two doctrines/mindsets

      i.e. “My personal interpretation of Scripture leads me to conclude that Jesus is only present in the Eucharist symbolically. The Mass is simply a superstition, a way of trying to work to Heaven rather than simply believing in Jesus”

    1. Exactly. It’s not for nothing that James says that faith and works are like a body and a soul in James 2:26. Protestantism says that faith automatically and necessarily leads to works, but none of James’ analogies would suggest that. It’s just that if the two are separated, you’re dead.



  10. People make this stuff too hard. Paul is writing to correct the heresy that says we are saved by works. James is writing to correct the heresy that says we are saved by faith alone.

    1. To put it more accurately,
      Paul wrote to correct those who believe that we can justify ourselves in God’s sight by our good works (Rom. 4:1-6). James, on the other hand, contended that we prove our faith to other people (not to God because God looks directly at the heart) by our works.

    2. Jeph,

      That reading of James 2 doesn’t work. It starts with the odd idea that James wants us to go out and prove our piety to others, so that others can tell how holy we are. Compare that with Matthew 6:1-4.

      It also doesn’t explain James’ actual argument in the passage. A true interior faith that we don’t show to others isn’t “dead.” But James tells us that faith alone is dead.

      And how can you explain the example of the demons that James uses? For that matter, who was Abraham showing his faith to at the Sacrifice of Isaac? Because the only other person there was Isaac.

      I’ve heard this argument that the chapter is about the need to show our piety to others, but that’s both (a) seemingly contrary to Scripture, and (b) contrary to even most Protestant exegetes’ reading of this chapter.



    3. Jeph, it also doesn’t fit with the question James asked:

      “Can such faith [i.e. one without works] save them?”

      If James is only concerned with proving our faith to other people, why does he talk about the issue of salvation?

    4. [That reading of James 2 doesn’t work. It starts with the odd idea that James wants us to go out and prove our piety to others, so that others can tell how holy we are. Compare that with Matthew 6:1-4.]

      That reading of James is really what James really intended it to be understood. It is obvious in its context. In verse 18 we read,

      “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ SHOW ME your faith apart from your works, and I WILL SHOW YOU my faith by my works.” (v. 18)

      Notice he didn’t say “I will show God,” for he knows God directly looks at the heart. God doesn’t need to examine our works to determine if we have real faith in Him, thus Paul contended that Abraham was justified in God’s sight (through faith alone) long before he offered Isaac. That’s in Romans 4:1-3.

      You quoted Matthew 6:1-4 as if it contradicts James when he said “I will show you my faith by my works”, but you have forgotten that the same Christ also says:

      “n the same way, let your light shine before others, *SO THAT THEY MAY SEE* your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mat. 5:16)

      Am I saying there Christ contradicted himself? No way. Matthew 6:1-6 was against superficial works done with the intention of self-glorification. Matthew 5:16, on the other hand, fits perfectly with James 2 which is about evincing faith by works.

      [It also doesn’t explain James’ actual argument in the passage. A true interior faith that we don’t show to others isn’t “dead.” But James tells us that faith alone is dead.]

      James is contrasting two kinds of faith. One which is merely verbal and mental profession/assent as shown in verse 19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – and another is a living, active faith grounded in a right relationship with God, just as that of Abraham (v. 21-23).

      Now if you’d say that faith dies if works be absent (or not yet present), then how can you explain Romans 4:1-3 where Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith long before he worked?

      [For that matter, who was Abraham showing his faith to at the Sacrifice of Isaac? Because the only other person there was Isaac.]

      We know that God pleased to record in Scripture Abraham’s journey of faith, so it is safe to say that Abraham showed his faith by his works to those who will later read his life through Scripture. Abraham’s evincing his faith is not confined only to that time when he did that, but to those who later will come to know what he did because of his faith.

    5. Jeph, I can’t help but think you’ve taken a single verse out of that section of James and isolated it from the rest of the passage. James makes his main point again and again – faith without works is “barren…incomplete…dead”. That is James’ constant refrain. As I asked above, if James is only concerned with proving our faith to other people, why does he even mention salvation?

      “Can such faith [i.e. one without works] **save** them?”

      I also find the assertion that “James is contrasting two kinds of faith” untenable. He doesn’t contrast two kinds of faith, he contrasts the following:

      1. Faith which expresses itself in works
      2. “Faith alone”

      …and he says that one of these will not save…

      It’s not the quality of the faith that’s the issue – it’s whether or not it is “alone”.

      As I pointed out above, James’ analogy of the body/spirit makes very little sense outside of the traditional Catholic interpretation:

      * What happens when you take away the spirit from a body? It dies. Is it still a body? Yes, but a dead body. It’s a just body without a spirit.

      * What happens when you take away works from faith? It dies. Is it still faith? Yes, but dead faith. It’s just a faith without works.

      What James is not advocating a different kind of faith, but he is advocating works which will allow that faith to become “fruitful…alive and…complete”.

    6. Jeph, let us not argue about John. Tell me what Jesus means when He says on the Judgement Day He shall separate the Sheep from the Goats……”I was hungry…..I was homeless…..I was sick….”…..”I was naked….” “I was in prison….”,etc.? Is He not talking about Works of Mercy we do to our neighbours as He commanded us which will be the yardstick on the Judgement Day? And what does He mean when He tells us “Love one another as I have loved you”? How do we love one another if we do not perform Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy? And what about His Prayer??? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. How do we demonstrate our forgiveness to those who have offended us”. And in the Beatitudes where He says: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown Mercy”? Or this one: “Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful”??? Lastly, what does His parable of the Good Samaritan teach us?? In conclusion, Jeph, Christ’s Teaching and proof that we are His faithful followers is to live and do to others what He Himself did when He was on this earth: feeding the hungry, healing the sick and preaching the Good News, etc as stated for the Last Judgement Day. So John is perfectly preaching Christ’s Gospel. “Faith without good works is Dead”

  11. Sorry, Jeph, I was wrong there: it is James were are discussing, not John. And I must stress, he is perfectly right. Those who insist once they have accepted Jesus as their Personal Saviour and they are “Saved” and Jesus immediately washes away all their sins, past, present and future, without their having to confess them and mend their sinful ways – taking up their Cross each day and following Him – are simply deluding themselves. We must live our Christian lives in Faith with fidelity accompanied by our Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. That is the only way…..and Jesus Himself is quite emphatic about living our Christian Faith in Action.

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