James 2:26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. NASU
Few doctrines in the Christian faith stir up people’s emotions like the debate over what part good works play in a person’s salvation. The question is, why? Jesus certainly never declared that there were any works you could do, that would save you. In fact, He said that whosoever believes in Him, shall have everlasting life (John 3:16). He did not put any other requirements on salvation. In Acts 2:21, Peter quotes the prophet Joel, who says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, nothing about works contributing to that salvation.
Paul made it abundantly clear that we are saved by grace, through faith and not of works. Consider these statements:
Eph 2:8-9 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.
Rom 10:9-10 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation
Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
If you read all of Romans, you realize that Paul is explaining the gospel and how we are saved by grace through faith and not of works throughout that entire letter.
So why the debate, why the controversy? Well, it comes because of some statements that James makes in chapter 2 of his epistle. He says this, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him ?” (James 2:14) And then, in James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
He then uses two examples from the Old Testament. One is Abraham. He says that when Abraham offered Issac up to God, he was then justified. Then he speaks of Rahab, who hid Joshua’s spies in Jericho and says that she was justified by her actions.
At first glance, this could seem completely contradictory to what the rest of the New Testament teaches. Some people have gone so far as to say that because of these apparent contradictions, James should not have even been included in the Bible! Is this true? Is this really a direct contradiction?
The answer is, not at all! James is not contradicting anything that is taught elsewhere in the New Testament, but rather, he is supplementing our understanding of what true faith is. Think about it, would one act of any individual, really be able to save them from God’s judgment? If that were true, wouldn’t we all be looking to find that one good deed, that would bring us into salvation? That would be ludicrous in light of what the Bible teaches. In fact, if that were true, then Jesus died in vain. There would have been no need for Him to pay the price for our sin.
If you read the entire passage, you begin to understand what James is really trying to teach us. You see in verse 18, he prefaces these examples by saying that faith is demonstrated by works. James is a no nonsense, show me don’t tell me, kind of guy. He makes it clear, that a person who claims that he or she is a believer, will show evidence of that in their behavior. Paul would completely agree with that. Immediately after Paul said that we are saved by grace and not by works, he said this, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) So Paul and James are in complete harmony.
In our key verse, James is illustrating that before we came to Christ, our spirit was dead. When we received Jesus into our lives, we were born, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit (see John, chapter 3). The evidence of that new birth will demonstrated by good works. Not, should be but will be!
This is not meant to lay a burden upon us. We have no ability in our flesh to complete those good works. They come out of a heart of love for our Savior and by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. The closer you draw to Jesus, the more you surrender the desires of your flesh and allow yourself to be controlled by His Spirit, the more you will demonstrate the evidence of that faith by good works.
That is the message that James brings to us. Galatians 5 supports that teaching. Those who walk by the Spirit will not fulfill the deeds of the flesh but instead, demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. May you walk in the Spirit of God today and every day!
God bless you,