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Who Is Right, Paul or James?
Posted by: Flushing Bible Church | more..
450+ views | 90+ clicks
Since I am referring to the authors of inspired Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) in the title of this blog post, then the obvious answer is that they are both right. But, how can this be when Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9 NASB), and James says, “You see a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (Jam 2:24)? So, which is it, are we justified by faith, or are we justified by works?

The clear teaching of Scripture is that man is saved, or given a righteous standing before God, through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9, Luke 7:50, Acts 4:12, 16:31, Rom 5:1, John 10:9, 14:6). So then, it would seem that the passage from the book of James above is a good place to begin our investigation to discover just exactly what James is saying. Through this investigation we will come to the conclusion that James is referring to a different aspect of our salvation than that of Paul.

In the passage from Ephesians 2, Paul is saying that an individual (any individual) who puts his or her faith in Christ as their savior will thereby, through the gracious gift of salvation, have a righteous standing before God (Rom 8:1), and therefore will experience eternal life with the Lord. He is speaking of justification before God.

Notice, however, that James is describing a different situation. He says that if a person does not help a brother (the term brother is important because it shows that James is speaking to believers, since the only way to be a brother is to believe) in need, then that person’s faith is dead. That’s interesting. How can faith be dead? After all, when we put our faith in Christ we are saved, right? What does dead mean? The term dead always refers to separation in Scripture; it never means, “cease to exist,” as we often tend to think.[1] When a person dies he does not cease to exist, rather his spirit is separated from his body. His spirit is separated from the vessel through which it interacts with this world that we all live in. If this concept is applied to faith being dead in James, then we can come to the conclusion that the faith is not attached to its intended consequence, which is good works. James 2:18 shows the context of the point that James is making. He concludes by stating “…I will show you my faith by my works.” In this it shows that James is speaking of our justification before men, and not God. We are justified before God the moment that we put our faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross. However, we demonstrate our salvation to mankind through our works. Abraham has been enshrined into the Hall of Fame of Faith (Heb 11) because of the act of being willing to sacrifice his promised son Isaac on Mount Moriah. This is an event that has been read by millions, and it shows to every one of those readers that Abraham had faith in God. God knew that Abraham was saved before that (Gen 15:6). Rahab was also a believer in God (Josh 2:11), and she demonstrated that faith to the Jewish spies through protecting them. She showed her faith to men by her works, but God already knew that she was a believer.

So, just like what we started with, both Paul and James are correct, of course. After all, ALL Scripture is inspired, and therefore inerrant. Paul, in Ephesians, is teaching about our justification before God, and James is teaching about our justification before mankind, or how we show other men that we are believers in Christ.

[1] Dennis M. Rokser, Faith and Works: A Clarification of “Faith Without Works Is Dead” (Duluth, MN: Grace Gospel Press, 2013), 22.

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