A Question I Was Asked:

Did Paul and James Disagree About the Place of Faith and Works in Salvation?

Did Paul and James disagree about the place of Faith and Works in salvation? Surely this is a most important point. Can you clarify it?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let's look at this:

James says,

"You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone," (James 2:24).
" . . . . so also faith without works is dead," (Verse 26).

Paul, on the other hand, is quite 'big' on the teaching that we are justified before God by faith alone.

Which is it? Are we justified by faith or by works?

Does the Bible contradict itself?

Absolutely not! Just like all of us, occasionally the Bible writers use a word somewhat differently to each other, and also in varying contexts. Even today I could say, "I have faith that the promised letter will arrive today." This would be a very loose use of 'faith,' but a few hours later I could write an article on the biblical doctrine of Faith. Now I must consider 'Faith' only according to the Bible doctrine. The 'Faith' which God grants us has nothing to do with any particular letter arriving in the post on any particular day! So we all accept the principle that a particular word can be used in more ways than one.

We can also take the biblical subject of 'works,' they cannot save us, which is well-established, yet God will look down from Heaven and expect to see certain works in the saved believer. These are not carnal-type, or human-type 'works' but the divine works which will only be produced with the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit! When James is using 'works' in James 2, he is referring to just these sort of 'works.' Also, when he writes, "...a man is justified by works and not by faith alone," he might well have been challenging a very loose idea of 'faith' which was present in his Jerusalem congregation at the time. Indeed, a careful reading of this epistle will confirm that there were considerable problems in understanding within James' Jerusalem congregation. You don't think so? Just read the epistle! It is also worth noting that there were certainly some legalists in that congregation who later gave Paul the Apostle a very hard time (many Bible students believe that the theological troublemakers mentioned in Acts 15:1-2 whom Paul would refer to as "the circumcision" originated in James' congregation, to say nothing of the Judaizers who caused such problems at Galatia).

But absolutely nothing that James writes challenges the major Christian doctrine of justification is by faith alone; this doctrine, it has been said, makes Christianity unique and different to every other religion on earth, and that is no over-statement! It is simply that he (James) is addressing certain problems within the congregation over which he served as Elder. He is also referring to 'works' in a different manner to the way Paul the Apostle often mentions 'works.' James is looking at the 'works' present within the saved believer who is walking with God: these are necessary! Paul - on the other hand - tends to consider 'works' from the perspective of those who believe that 'works' can save them. He is coming from a more theological focus than James. It is no disrespect to James to point out - as many have done - that his theology was weaker than that of Paul. That did not matter; as far as we know, James was an Elder, but not an Apostle.

So James is simply saying that if you 'say' you are a Christian, then there had better be some appropriate works manifested, or your faith is false. In 1 John 2:4 it says,

"If you say you have come to know Him, yet you do not keep His commandments, then the truth is not in you and you are a liar."

Okay, before wrapping this up, let us briefly look at justification:

Justification means that God declares a sinner to be righteous. He does this by accrediting the righteousness of Jesus to the sinner. This is done by faith, works play no part here. This occurs when the sinner puts his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus and trusts in Him and not himself for righteousness and salvation, then God will justify that person.

"And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," (Romans 4:3).

We are justified by faith. That is, we are made righteous in the eyes of God by faith, as is amply shown by many verses in Romans. However, that faith, if it is true, will result in deeds appropriate to salvation. We should just remind ourselves of what Paul himself wrote in Ephesians:

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, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10).

These, then, are the saving 'good works' which James was referring to.

Robin A. Brace. September 16th, 2015.