Did Apostle Paul And James Teach The Same Gospel?
Are good works a requirement of our Salvation and justification with God? Or are works required for our justification with God positionally? This seemingly completely two opposite viewpoints has caused much division in Christianity.
Apostle Paul says Salvation is not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and James says Faith without works is dead. So which is it?
In my studies I have found that when there seems there is a contradiction it is because of not using the Scriptures in proper CONTEXT. In the Bible context is everything. This is especially true of fundamental elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So did Apostle Paul and James disagree on the Gospel message?
Paul Taught That Salvation Is Not Of Works
If you look through all the letters of Paul it is very evident that he taught that Salvation is by faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, without works of any kind. Obeying the Law will not save a person because it is impossible for us to do that with the sin nature we all have. That all of us are sinners headed for the judgement of God, God’s wrath, and are desperately wicked. That Salvation is something that happens in a moment and at the moment of Repentance (changing mind/view about sin) and by accepting through faith the forgiveness of all your life’s sins by the act of atonement Jesus provided to us all, for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). This is what Paul taught. Let’s look at some of the many Scriptures and teachings of Paul on this subject and you can see for yourself.
“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)
“For there is ONE God,and ONE mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself A RANSOM for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2: 5-6 KJV)
“Now to the one who WORKS, his wage is NOT RECKONED on the basis of GRACE, but as what is DUE. But to the one who DOES NOT WORK, but BELIEVES in Him (Jesus) WHO JUSTIFIES the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as 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.. But if, while we seek to be justified BY CHRIST, we ourselves also are FOUND SINNERS, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make MYSELF a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but CHRIST LIVETH IN ME: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for IF RIGHTEOUSNESS COME BY THE LAW, THEN CHRIST DIED IN VAIN.” (Galatians 2:16-21 KJV)
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, LET HIM BE ACCURSED.” (Galatians 2:6-8 KJV)
In Galatians, there were Judiazers who came and started telling the believers that in order to be saved, the practices of the Law (Ten Commandments) are also required and not faith alone in Christ. That is that works and rituals of the Law are also still required. Paul called this a ‘perversion’ of the Gospel of Christ. He called it ‘another Gospel’, that is to say a fake Gospel message. And he says that it is a very serious matter. So serious that those that add anything to the Gospel message of faith in Christ alone as the way to Salvation are to be ‘accursed’. If a person’s righteousness come by following he Law , then Christ died for our sins, in vain. If a person believes they can work away their sin debt by following the Law they do so in complete PRIDE. They are saying they have a self righteousness that will lead to Salvation because they are following the law. They are saying that Christ’s Sacrifice for our sins was not sufficient. God forbid! This will never work. No one is righteous before God by their works.
In Romans 2 Paul is talking about the fact that both Jew and Gentile (a gentile is a non Jew, so everyone who is not a Jew), that is every person needs Salvation. The Jews were saying that they had some kind of advantage over the Gentiles because after all they were God’s chosen people. The written word of God and the Law (Ten Commandments) was after all given to them and not Gentiles.
However, Paul points out that the Jews are just as guilty as the Gentiles,
“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3 KJV)
“For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law (speaking of all non Jews): and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (speaking of the Jews) ” (Romans 2:12 KJV , parenthesis added by me for clarification)
“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” (Romans 2: 17-22 KJV)
Paul is stating clearly to the Jew that they are no different in God’s eyes in regards to Salvation because they also sin against the Law of God, just as the Gentile do. They are boasting in God because God made them the chosen people of the world through whom the word of God and the Law came through Moses. But Paul tells them that their own thoughts like this condemn them in the judgement of God. To God, sin is sin. If you disobey any point of the Ten Commandments, you are guilty before God. That means ANYONE.
In Romans 3, Paul gets right to the point. He acknowledges that the Jews are a special people and a chosen people. But he shows them that they need Salvation through Jesus Christ. He is discussing the Jews and the Gentiles . The Jews followed the Law, the Gentiles do not because the Law was NEVER even given to the Gentiles. Here we see that Paul shows the Jews that ALL HAVE SINNED and ALL are guilty before God of sin. No one is right with God. All are headed for the wrath of God because of our sin. When Paul says ‘Are we better than they?’ the ‘we’ is the Jews because Paul was a Jew.
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;” (Romans 3: 9 KJV)
Paul is telling us straight out that ALL are under sin. That is to say, we all have this ‘sin problem’. Every person! Were you born on Earth? Yep.. you have a SIN PROBLEM! Jesus is the only one that never sinned because he was born of God through the virgin Mary (Luke 1:27). He was not even born in sin! Jesus was God in the flesh (Colossians 1:15-19) and we know that God NEVER sins, ever.
Then Paul uses the word of God in the Torah (what we now call the Old Testament) to make this clear to these Jews. He does this by providing quite a number of Old Testament Scriptures to back up what he is telling them. He is reminding them and letting them know, these are not just Paul’s own thoughts, it is the word of God that states this clearly.
As it is written:
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there SHALL NO FLESH BE JUSTIFIED in his sight: for by the law is the KNOWLEDGE OF SIN. (Romans 3:9-20 KJV)
The Law was not provided to humankind so that we could be justified before God by obeying the Law. The Law was provided by God so we could see just how horribly sinful we really are. The Law is like a mirror, showing us our sins that we can’t see ourselves. Not by comparing ourselves to others who do more wicked things, but by comparing ourselves to God’s perfect standard of Holiness, the Law and Ten Commandments of God.
We are all sinners who require the Mercy of God to avoid God’s judgement for our sins. There is NOTHING we can do in self righteous acts that will atone for our sins. That is why the high priest of the Jews had to Sacrifice a Lamb without blemish to atone for the sins of the people. It was a foreshadowing of the one and final sacrifice for the sins we commit, through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world on the cross. (Hebrews 12).
Now let’s look what Jesus Himself had to say about this. The people asked Jesus a very direct question. This is the perfect opportunity for Christ to tell the whole crowd clearly what exactly is the will of God for us sinners?
“Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:28-37 KJV)
Jesus then goes on to tell the people what the WILL of God is,
“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6: 38-40 KJV)
Jesus did not answer these questions about ‘how do we do the works of God’ and ‘what is God’s will for me’ by responding with, DO THIS, or DO THAT. You need THIS RITUAL or that ritual. What Jesus responded with instead was ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.’ and ‘believe on the Son of God‘. It is not about works, it is about belief in Christ for the remissions of your sins. Salvation is God’s work, not our work. We should have NO BOASTING in it at all. ( Ephesians 2:8-9). Our part to be saved is to believe that Christ died and shed His blood on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins we commit during our life. And to accept this free pardon gift by faith alone, without anything else added.
And you need to realize that God chose Paul to show us the entirety of the Gospel of Grace through Christ. Paul is the writer of two thirds of the New Testament! That carries a lot of weight does it not?
James Taught That Salvation Is Not Of Works
Some take a verse here and a verse there out of the book of James and then make enormous assumptions that James and Paul are contradicting each other. But when you look at James in context, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, James believed the same as Paul did.
In James he references many times that the audience he is talking too. He is not talking yo unsaved people. He is writing to the “Brethren” and they are believers. They are people who are already 100% forgiven and have accepted the atonement of Christ. They are forever righteous and redeemed and headed for Heaven.
I know that many of you reading this are already going straight to the verses in James 2 that seem to contradict Paul’s Gospel of Salvation by Faith alone, without works.
“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.” (James 2:15-17 KJV)
Here we James is addressing “my brethren” and is talking about a ‘dead faith’. He asks, ‘what shall it profit’. There are some who know the ‘facts’ about Jesus. They believe that Jesus existed. They believe that Jesus performed miracles. But they do not have a saving faith. They believe ‘intellectually’ but they have not accepted Christ in faith of the atonement He provided. As such, the Holy Spirit does not dwell inside of them.
But is that what James means here in this passage of Scripture? No, because James is addressing the BRETHREN, the believers – not unbelievers. He is addressing believers who are already saved eternally.
Many people when they read verses 15-17 think that ‘dead’ means, not in existence. They say that this means such a person is not saved because their faith is dead, or not true faith. But again, in proper context, James is speaking to the brethren. He is addressing saved people here and he is not talking about their justification before God in regards to Salvation.
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 recognises and is devoted to God, because given up to trespasses and sins, inactive as respects doing right destitute of force or power, inactive, inoperative.’
James is not saying that such people are no longer saved. He is not saying they are dead and not part of the brethren. No, he is addressing saved people, believers and is using the word ‘dead’ as a metaphor. James is addressing believers that they should be walking by the spirit and not by the flesh.
We see this same Greek word in the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus spoke of: “For this my son was dead (nekros), and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:24 KJV). Does the word ‘dead’ in this passage mean he was no longer a son when he ran off and used his inheritance on wasteful things? NO! He was still the fathers son right? Of course. Did it affect their fellowship? Yes, the father was constantly hoping he would return to his senses and come back home. In the same way, James is addressing saved believers who are eternally sons and daughters of Christ, but who should be doing the work of the father instead of useless wasteful living.
Again, context is very important. We cannot jut take a few verse and ignore all the others in the same book, and in fact the rest of the Bible, and make James say anything conflicting to the Gospel of Salvation without works as a requirement. (Ephesians 2:8-9) James is not conflicting to the Gospel of Salvation by faith without works required in regards to our justification. He is not talking about our justification in Christ. He is talking about how we are walking and living AFTER our justification and Salvation. James 2 starts with the VERY first word as “MY BRETHREN”. He is talking to those saved by believing on Christ alone for Salvation.
“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 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: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:1-12 KJV)
He is saying that as saved people, we should not be judging people solely by their wealth. Rich or poor, we are all rich in Christ. Both rich and poor are on equal standing before God as He is no respecter of persons. As believers, how are we living? Are we living for God or are we walking in carnality? We should be helping the poor and we should be living Godly lives and following the example Jesus gave us. Pray for your enemies, help the poor, do unto others as you would have them do unto you etc. This is living a life of liberty in Christ!
James is asking a good question to these believers. If you see someone in need and just pray for them but do not help them however you can, is your faith in Christ for Salvation going to ‘save you’? But the question is, save you from what? Some think James is talking about Salvation here but he is not. James is not talking about being a “saved believer’. The people James is addressing here are already saved Brethren. He is talking about saving them from consequences in their lives and consequences of lost rewards at the judgement seat of Christ.
“For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 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.”
What judgment is being spoke of here? Judgement into eternal damnation? CONTEXT! No, again James is addressing believers! This is the judgment seat of Christ at the Bema Seat. It is the judgment seat of believers just after the Rapture.After the Rapture means these believers will already be resurrected and in Heaven at this judgement. It is a judgement of rewards and how you lived after being saved by Christ.
Also notice, James uses the word ‘profit’. He is talking about our works since we have been saved, as believers. Are we walking by the spirit, helping others in love, or are we living carnally and walking by the flesh without regard to loving others for Christ?
A believer should be walking by the spirit. That is lining up with what God wants in our lives and then he can place desires in our heart to perform good works which God has placed before us to accomplish. At the judgement seat of Christ believers will be rewarded for such good works.
But those believers living carnally, that choose to walk by the flesh all the time and live in constant sin, ignoring mercy to others and not helping those in need need to wake up! Yes, they are saved and their sins forgiven. Yes, they are justified and righteous in Christ. Yes, they are Heaven bound! However, that does not mean they have been given a license to sin without consequences!
James is asking them,
Will the fact that they in faith received the GIFT of Salvation through Christ save them from the consequences in life and loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ?
The answer is definitely NO! They will face the consequences in a life squandered. Living a life useless for God they will fall into all kinds of trouble and at the judgment of believers after the Rapture, they could find themselves with no reward and they will weep in great regret, looking at how they lived after Christ saved them with such love.
“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. God may even decide to take them out of here by taking their life.
We see the same thing in John 15 which also addresses believers. We need to be abiding in Christ and Christ’s words so that God can place desires in our heart to accomplish good works he has set before us.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8 KJV)
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:18-19 KJV)
In verses 18-19, James makes another point. James likely knows there are some in this crowd of believers that may not have real faith IN CHRIST and so he makes a point to them as well. He addresses those who are not saved but think it is their works that save them. What James is saying is that there are different kinds of faith. But there is only one saving faith. There are those who profess that they believe in Jesus and that believe in God. They have faith that God exists. But will that alone save a person from their sin debt against God?
James is not saying that it is the works that save a person. He is talking about the evidence of a truly saved person. You know a person can go to church daily and talk the talk. They can quote doctrine and Scriptures. They have ‘head knowledge’. It is good to have head knowledge but you need more than that to save you. Having head knowledge about Scriptures is not the same as repentance and asking God to forgive you for all your sins because Christ died for you. If a person believes with head knowledge only and thinks they can just keep on living how ever they want, and still be saved, they would be wrong. That is the wrong kind of faith. That is faith only ‘intellectually’. Such faith is DEAD. It is useless for the total life long list of sins committed and useless for remission of a person’s sins.
James makes a strong point that even Satan and his fallen angels have faith that God exists. They know that Jesus is the Son Of God right? The demons Jesus cast out acknowledged Christ as Lord, but are those fallen angels saved or damned to hell? Do you think Satan knows what the Bible says? Yes, he does. And he takes it all as true by faith and what is he doing? He is using it to kill us by jamming the Law down our throats to make us feel guilty before God after Salvation. He is constantly accusing us of our sins before God (Revelation 12:10). Just believing and just knowing the facts with head knowledge DOES NOT SAVE A PERSON.
What kinds of works are the fallen angels doing do you think? The Bible says EVIL WORKS. And so James is saying that ‘I will show you my faith BY my works’ . A true believer, in faith, should have some evidence in Godly works, good works. Evidence that they are actually saved. Not that the works are what saves them. Notice James did not say that ‘my works are required to be saved‘. James says that ‘I will show you my faith BY my works‘. James is talking about good works of God as evidence of Salvation. The evidence is produced by the Holy Spirit within a believer. That is an important distinction to make.
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works 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. But remember James is addressing SAVED/REDEEMED BELIEVERS. 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.
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 one VERY important phrase and it is ‘I and the lad’. 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. He learned that God is faithful. He did have a son as promised by God, even though his wife Sarah was in her older years, her baron years. 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 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. 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 22:6-8 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.
So was it Abraham’s works that saved him? Or the belief in God’s promises in faith?
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 KJV)
“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 you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is he gift of God, not of works, lest anyone 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 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.
What About An Unsaved Person?
In more contrast, an unbeliever, even if he knows the head knowledge of Scriptures, is still lost and without the Holy Spirit dwelling inside. Any works done without the Holy Spirit working through a person is done by a faith that is a false faith and not the Gospel preached by Jesus. It is impossible for an unbeliever’s good works to save them. It is done ‘in the flesh’. Going through rituals, penance, and trying to fulfill the letter of the Law of God; it is all self righteousness and not true faith. Only works done by the Holy Spirit through a believer shows evidence of their salvation. Like Jesus said, it is by a person’s fruit that we know if they are teaching correctly or falsely. (Matthew 7:16)
Both Paul and James are telling us the same thing. Salvation is by FAITH in Jesus Christs act of atonement alone, without works. It is a GIFT from God that He will never take away from a believer(John 6:37). When that happens such a person should show Godly fruit in their lives because the Spirit of God is within them. These works that show true faith are not done on the flesh, through our own self efforts but ultimately by the efforts of the spirit of God within us.
The Holy Spirit gives us the Godly desires of our heart and changes us , over time, from within and we express that outwardly. It is God’s work IN US as we are IN CHRIST. However, how we live after Salvation in Christ matters greatly. That is in contrast to making ourselves look good by doing good works outwardly, yet inside we have not been changed. It is the inner man, the human heart that is the issues of life an death, eternal life or eternal death.
There Are Two Kinds Of Dead Faith
(i) Paul is pointing out that the OBJECT of our faith should not be in religious activities and rituals. It should not be in following the Law to save oneself, in self righteous works. That is DEAD faith and is not honoured by God as your justification. Our JUSTIFICATION before God is through grace alone , by faith alone, by Christ alone. The object of our faith should be the grace of God , apart from works, and Grace is a person; Jesus Christ.
(ii) James is pointing out that our faith after Salvation is useless (dead) if we are not living by abiding in Christ and His words ; in love for others by our actions. And that just knowing the facts and the head knowledge is another type of faith that will not save a person. A person needs the Holy Spirit to dwell within by believing in Christ as the ONLY way to be justified. Satan has the facts and head knowledge. He believes in God. But that is not enough. The devil’s works show he is not justified. The same goes for a person that has not accepted the free gift of Salvation through Christ’s atonement.
Both Paul and James agree that AFTER our moment of Salvation we should be helping others in love as Christ loved us and that our actions matter. We should be living a life where we have a FAITH THAT WORKS.
Paul and James are in complete agreement.