Faith without works. How sad.

Side note: As with all my posts, I present them in what I believe to be a contextually correct and Biblically sound manner. Some may disagree with me on this post. If it is a matter of semantics, please suggest a better way to say it. Do you have a better illustration? Offer it. My goal is to explain the Bible the way God would and to be an encouragement to all seeking to do God’s will.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (Jas 2:14)

Perhaps you have heard the old expression “Now you’ve stopped preaching and started meddling.”  One cannot study the book of James without giving serious thought to this next section. I know that it is difficult to work through (pardon the pun), but unless you wish to throw James out of the Bible, you are going to have to come to an understanding of both his question and his answer. Some will think I am meddling, others will agree with me. I am not dealing with simple verses here (e.g. Do not steal), even Martin Luther had problems with this book. You have to wrestle with it, ask questions in light of  other passages even, perhaps, in light of your own particular belief system.

Most of us would grasp the rhetorical nature of the question. The answers James is looking for are “No good” and “No, of course not!” What?! What about “free gift” and “can’t earn your salvation” and all of that?  These ideas come from Romans and it is no wonder that Martin Luther did not think very highly of James which seems to stand, not just in contrast to the message of Romans, but in contradiction to Romans.

Of course, James has already introduced the seeds of works along with faith from the very beginning of the book. Enduring trials, putting away filthiness, being a doer (and not just a hearer), visiting the orphans and widow, treating your poor brother with respect are all works that go along with the Christian faith.

I feel like Jesus when answering the question “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?”  He understood the problems with answering “yes” or “no”. Fortunately, James is the one asking and answering the question. Unfortunately, many of us do not understand his answer. Let’s agree that James is being rhetorical and the answer really is “no, that kind of  faith cannot save.” If you disagree that this is what James is saying, show me why; I would like to know.

Next let’s agree with what most good Bible students will agree: “We cannot earn our salvation.” Let me say it again, “Nothing we do will earn us a place in Heaven.” Unlike with my jobs, I cannot go to God and say “I did this and that so you owe me.”  When Paul wrote in Romans  “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” (Rom 4:4), he was talking about a works based system.  So if James is now going to propose that we earn our Salvation, then truly he and Paul are at odds. I don’t think that is the case.

I think it might help to realize that our salvation is a salvation by redemption. When we sinned, we transgressed the law of God. It didn’t matter which law either, God’s laws are based on Love, God is Love and His character always acts out of Love.

Had we lived a life of perfection and not transgressed the law of God, we would not need to be redeemed. Our place in Heaven would be ours by right. However, our sin required a death and, unless we wanted to pay for it ourselves (eternal death), we needed a Savior. Jesus paid the price. However, not just the price to cleanse us once and then, let us try all over again to be perfect, but rather pay the price for all future sins and assure us that sin would no longer keep us out of Heaven. Christ’s blood was able to cover that. Wow!

So now we are saved. We can go to Heaven. Yay us! But hold on. We no longer belong to ourselves. We are the object redeemed, our souls belong to another. (Fortunately to Christ and not to Sin) We can take hold of Heaven but not by our own merit and nothing that we do will ever allow us, by our own merit, to do so.

However, since we are now servants, redeemed by the blood of Christ, there is a certain way that we are to live. The book of Hosea shares a story of redemption and expectations of the redeemed. James also shares expectations of his audience: we now “speak and act as those who will be judged by a law of liberty”  (2:12), we look into the will of God and become “doers not forgetful hearers” (1:22) and we practice a ‘pure religion in the sight of God (by) visiting the orphans and widows” and remaining unspotted by the world. (1:26-27)

All of this is because we have faith in the message of the Gospel. Faith that saves, of course, cannot only be simply an acknowledgement that something is true. I have faith that George Washington was the first President but that faith does little to affect my life. I have Faith that Jesus died, was buried and raised again on the third day according the Scriptures and THAT has a major impact on my life. That impact will be seen in my works.

I now work for God. I do what James said I should do because of my faith. Faith that has works can save me. Notice!!! Faith can save me. What kind of Faith? Faith that has works. Do the works save me? No. Are they perfect sinless works? I wish!  But Faith that has works can save.

What about Faith that does not have works? Remember when I said “if you don’t agree that James is being rhetorical, to say something”? This is why! The only answer that James is looking for is ” No”.  If faith without works will not save, then the only conclusion is that faith with works will. If there is another answer to James’ question, let me know.

But if you have Faith in God and Christ who died to redeem you and you choose to sit there and do nothing ….Well, James is going to explain that further in the  next several verses.


About Steven Sarff

If I were to offer any one piece of advice to one wishing to serve God, it would be to put Hebrews 11:6 and Acts 17:11 into action and let God guide you to grow in the grace and knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ.

Posted on December 13, 2011, in Christianity, Faith and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is outright excellent. We are free – freed from the yoke of Sin and Death, to the obedience of Christ. Even the demons believed Jesus was Lord: but to know God and love Him is to be changed by that knowledge, not to be free to continue as we are but free to be all He made us to be in the first place. Human potential is best reflected and reached in obedience to the cross of Christ.

  2. There are a lot of people who would be more than satisfied if the book of James was not in the Bible. Great explanation.

  3. I love that you are grappling here with James and helping others to understand. You started out by saying if anyone has a better way to say this then let them share that. I don’t know that the way I understand it is any better, just worded a little differently. Check out my post that incorporates this same verse from James, along with a little Ephesians and 1 Corinthians:
    Peace and Merry Christmas, Linda

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