I want to start off this post with the statement that salvation cannot come solely from belief that Jesus Christ is God. If you disagree with me I would encourage you to read through my arguments and why I would conclude this from the text, and if you think I’m wrong, definitely point me back to the right path.
We are justified by a faith that produces works.
Before studying this text, I don’t think I had a strong view on the topic. If you asked me earlier, I would have said that believing in Jesus would be a one-way ticket to salvation, which is why I feel convicted to write about this more. I’ve applied poor theology to the situations of others so I wouldn’t want that same theology to be passed around.
The topic of justification by faith is probably the most controversial part of the letter of James. The two verses below are the ones that are used the most often as arguments for justification by faith and works. An easy definition for Justification is ‘just as if I’ve never sinned’, so keep that mind for this post.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? – James 2:14
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. – James 2:24
In James 2:14, the question he asks implies that faith alone cannot save. He supports this with an example, and then says faith without works is dead. The strongest statement he makes to back-up his claim is in verse 19, where he says that even the demons believe – and shudder! Read verse 14 again carefully. Faith can save, but that faith cannot.
It needs to be clear that James never says that we are justified by works alone either. It’s tempting to take verse 24 as a statement of it’s own, but if we do that we fail to look at any of it’s surrounding context. James gives us an example of exactly what he meant from verses 21 to 23, where the focus is actually still faith. James wouldn’t write an explanation of a faith that produces works, and then start the next sentence with “You see” into a entirely new topic.
Faith was active along with his works. His works were done in faith. The only way Abraham could offer his son as a sacrifice was through faith.
Faith was completed by his works. His faith was made complete by following through with his actions, which means real faith will lead to works. Abraham’s actions showed that he truly had faith in God.
Now we can look at what Paul writes to the church of Ephesus. I broke down Ephesians 2:8-9 into small bits to look at below.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. We have all been saved by grace, and we are saved by the kind of faith that produces works. We are saved by faith, and faith alone.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Our conversion is not from our own wisdom and understanding, but a gift from God to change our hearts and come to faith.
… not a result of works, so that no one may boast. No one can be saved through works. This passage agrees with what James preached earlier, and no matter how you read this verse Paul is clearly saying that this salvation/faith cannot be obtained by works.
He also writes this to those in Rome. Romans 5:1 is also a powerful verse and is very similar to the verse below.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. – Romans 3:28
The phrase “works of the law” comes up in a lot of passages and is probably the easiest one to discuss. Works of the law can be understood in two ways without looking into context, and both would still make sense.
- The literal Law of the day. This one is definitely a no-no.
- The Law of Moses. This would make more sense because once the Holy Spirit came to the people, the law of Moses was abolished and might have left people confused on what to follow. With the new convenant, this law was no longer the path to salvation.
Simply put, this passage isn’t talking about the same works James 2 mentions. I would say I agree with James, A person is justified by faith that produces works, and not by faith or works alone.
So let us be a people that examine our faith closely, so we can criticize ourselves and bring everything to the light to be revealed. Does my faith produce works? If my faith produces nothing, what am I really putting my faith in?
Michael “Eating at ‘The WORKS’ won’t justify you either by the way” Ru