Salvation and the Book of James
Ever have someone tell you that your works are required for Salvation and justification before God using the Book of James?
I have taken time to prepare this article and to help clear up confusion some may have on the book of James. Context is everything when studying the Bible. I never think I have all the answers (I am a learner too) but I know this, there is no contradiction between the Gospel Paul taught and the Gospel James taught.
When reading James…#1 is CONTEXT.
START THERE and then you can see the truth of what James is teaching.
James 1:2 we can see that he is addressing the Brethren, a term indicating that he is addressing believers who have accepted Christ and are eternally saved people. Remember that the epistle (letter) of James was not written in chapters and these were only added to the Bible. He also starts James 2 addressing them as ‘Brethren’, therefore he is not writing to believers about how to be saved from their sins nor about how to be justified before God. He is talking about how we should live AFTER we are saved. Works alone do not save us. Paul makes that very clear in Romans, Ephesians, Galatians etc etc etc. We are not to boast of our works as what saves us.
“For by GRACE are ye saved THOROUGH FAITH; and that NOT of yourselves: it is the GIFT of God: NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should BOAST.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV)
“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 (Jesus) that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Romans 4:4-5 KJV)
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 KJV)
Paul is very clear on this right? Let’s go back to James now and the context.
James 2:3 is another verse of importance to see the context here.
“And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:” (James 2:3 KJV)
In proper context James is chastising for ignoring the needs of the poor and instead being respecters of important people and the rich.
James 2:15-17 is very clear this is the case, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it PROFIT? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
The word DEAD in this verse in the Greek is ‘nekros’ and used as a metaphor has a meaning of ‘being spiritually dead, destitute of a life that recognizes and is devoted to God, because given up to trespasses and sins, inactive as respects doing right destitute of force or power, inactive, inoperative.’
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26 KJV)
A persons dead body is pretty much useless to help anyone in need or do anything useful. It is there, lifeless and will eventually rot away. If believers are just living in constant sin and being carnal by living constantly in the flesh instead of walking by the spirit, they have become useless. Their faith is dead. Yes, they are still saved. But they are not of much use in this life.
An inactive loving faith is dead; that is it helps no one and is useless. James says, What does it PROFIT? That is, how will that help the person? James is talking about a believer either using his faith in love or not using his faith in love. This is not about Salvation nor justification before God but our good works and living by faith in love towards others after Salvation. Again, remember that James is addressing the brethren, saved believers.
We should not claim to be Christian yet treat the rich and important in society any better than those who are poor and in need. That is not using our faith in the right way. Our faith should be in an outward love for others and not be based on bias toward people. Jesus Himself said we should love our enemies. That is how extreme we should use our faith in love.
James is talking about the fact that as believers who have been saved by such a high cost to Christ that we should be living in a manner that our faith is a faith of love towards others, especially those in need.
A living faith showing others the love of God through us. Since James is addressing believers, when he talks about FAITH he is not talking about Salvation. He is talking about our walk after being saved. We should have the right attitude and motives to help those in need. A living faith from a heart of thankfulness to God for what He has done for us. And without living our faith IN LOVE our faith becomes DEAD, as in useless, to help anyone.
Paul puts it this way,
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so WALK YE IN HIM: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7 KJV)
As believers we should have a THANKFUL heart because as Paul also taught us that “…God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Roman 5:8 KJV) In thanksgiving, seeing and receiving God’s love in our need to be forgiven, we should also pour out such love for others. God is no respecter of persons, rich or poor. As believers, we should live our lives by faith in love, showing others the love of Christ through our lives.
Read Corinthians, a model of a church gone very wrong, yet still Paul addresses them as Brethren; believers. Our justification with God is not by works but Grace through faith in the only atonement for sin, Jesus Christ crucified.
Yet how we live after Salvation is a testament of our faith. Let our testament be that of a loving faith towards every person, without respect for how rich or important in society they deem to be. We should be doing good works in love for others.
God is no respecter of persons, neither should we be when it comes to showing the love of God through us with a thankful heart for what God has already done for us.
HOW WE LIVE AFTER SALVATION MATTERS
It matters for others who you could have helped. It matters for showing the love of God through us. It matters because it affects the entire world with the Gospel unto Salvation through the grace of God!
Believers will one day, at the Rapture, receive our eternal resurrected bodies free from the sin nature we now have to fight against. But we will also, as believers, find ourselves at the Bema Judgement seat of Christ and will give an account of how we lived after Salvation.
This judgement will not be about losing Salvation because of our sins. Those at this event are already in Heaven. In fact, the word sin is not even mentioned regarding this event. Our sins have already been PAID IN FULL by Christ on that cross. But there will be judgments made based on our good works; whether done in love with Godly motives, or done with self righteous motives. Rewards will be given and taken away because of how we lived.
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15 KJV)
James and Paul are in full agreement that justification with God is not by good works. But good works after our Salvation and how we walk and live matters very much to God.
But Wait A Minute…
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Wasnot Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac hisson upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and byworks was faith made perfect? “ (James 2:20-22 KJV)
Here again, if we were to stop reading James 2 at this verse it seems like the meaning is that it is the works that save. That is not what James is saying. He is again talking about the faith that is head knowledge only. He is bringing up Abraham who is known as ‘the Father of our faith’ right? If we continue to the very next verse we see,
“And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and
it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the
Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by
faith only.” (James 2:23-24 KJV)
Abraham was not justified and saved by the act of the works. It was his FAITH in what God had previously PROMISED HIM that pushed him forward to do the works that God commanded. But God worked on Abraham’s faith for a LONG time before God tested his faith in telling him to sacrifice his only son. Abraham learned what the true God was like and what God’s character is. God never changes and He is a good God, amen? A perfectly righteous God. A perfectly JUST God! God had made a promise that “…for in Isaac your seed shall be called” (Genesis 21:12). Long before this when God called Abraham to leave for a new
land God made promises to Abraham and by his works we can see the evidence that he believed them in the proper saving faith,
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and
from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew
thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and
make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them
that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all
families of the earth be blessed.” ( Genesis 12:1-3 KJV)
How are all the families of the Earth today blessed because of these promises of God to Abraham and the faith that Abraham had to do what God told him to do? God is promising Abraham that through his seed and blood line he would make a nation which we know today as the nation of Israel. And how do we know that Israel has blessed all the families of the earth? Because of the one that came out of the bloodline of Israel, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah and the Savior of the world. It is because of Jesus Christ that the world is blessed.
In Genesis we see what Abraham says when he decides on going to the place God
told him to go to Sacrifice his son Issac,
“And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I
and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. ” (Genesis 22:5 KJV)
What stands out in this verse? It is some VERY important words
‘I AND THE LAD ‘, in essence ‘WE’. You see God had taught Abraham who He really is. Abraham had complete trust in God to always be good and do the just thing. Over the years, he learned that God is faithful and can be trusted
. He did have a son as promised by God, even though his wife Sarah was in her older years and baron. It was not as Abraham expected the promise to be
fulfilled by God, but it was fulfilled. It increased his faith in God.
Abraham tells his young helpers that ‘we will come back to you ’ . He did not say
‘I will come back to you’. Abraham is showing his faith! That is his complete faith that God would never allow him to actually murder his son unrighteously. And even if he did, he knew that God would have to raise him from the dead because God had already promised Abraham that it is through Issac’s bloodline, ‘I will make you a great nation’. Later we see Issac asking his father Abraham,
“And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he
said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but
where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:7-8 KJV)
Again we see Abraham exercising his full faith and assurance that God would provide a Lamb in place of his son for the sacrifice. Abraham knew this must be a test of his faith and trust in God. God has never shown him to be like this. It moved forward with full faith in God and the attributes of God.
WAS IT WORKS THAT SAVED ABRAHAM? OR FAITH IN GOD?
It was his faith and the works of carrying out what God said to do was the
evidence of his true faith. This is what James is talking about. It is that evidence should exist in those that have saving faith. But not that the evidence is what saves you. We should be walking by the spirit, not the flesh. And we also see that James is using the same exact Scriptures as Paul did in Romans 4 where Paul writes,
“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the
flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath
whereof to glory; but not before God . For what saith the scripture?
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
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, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” (Romans 4:1-7
“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to
Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
” (Romans 4:13 KJV)
If James is teaching a contrary Gospel why is he using the same example as Paul? It is because James and Paul are teaching the very same Gospel. Paul also talks about works after Salvation many times in his letters.
“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.“ (Ephesians 2:8-10 KJV)
At first glance, it can seem like Paul is contradicting himself. First he says Salvation is NOT OF WORKS. Then he says ‘God prepared works for us to do beforehand’. But which came first? The GIFT! Salvation is a GIFT for all who believe in Christ and have accepted his pardon for our sins.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead
also. ” (James 2:26 KJV)
Now we start to see the real context of what James is teaching. A truly saved person has accepted Christ and the Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer. Such a believer can be a carnal Christian, living in the flesh and sinful ways OR a believer can be walking in the spirit and living as we should in good works, as Jesus did. If you are living carnally, your faith is dead ; that is, it has become useless to God and you will have to deal with consequences. Believers should be abiding in Christ and His words which will help in the renewing of your
mind to God’s view. We should be seeking God in the word and we should be doing unto others what we would have others do unto us, in love. That is a faith that is alive and working!
A Faith, That Works.
I hope this helps anyone struggling with the book of James. God bless.