Grace For The Journey
If you open your Bible to James 2:17, and read, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and go back to Ephesians 2:8-9 and read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” we might conclude that James is teaching a “faith plus works” salvation and that Paul is teaching a “faith minus works” salvation. Is there a contradiction?
To get at an answer to that question we must understand is that . . .
James and Paul are speaking about
Two different points in the Christian life.
Paul is talking about
The way into the Christian life,
The beginning of Christian living.
James is talking about
A point after one has become a Christian,
The living out of Christian faith.
James does not write his letter to teach how to become a Christian, but how to behave as a Christian. Paul, in his writings, frequently stresses the way one becomes a Christian and he does so by teaching that the way to God’s approval is not to be found in the way many of his Jewish acquaintances erroneously believed: by keeping the law.
Paul is addressing the entry point into salvation when he writes in Ephesians2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” That is . . .
You cannot earn your way into heaven.
You cannot ‘work’ your way
Into favor with God.
You are saved by grace,
Through faith, in Christ, alone.
In that same passage, however, Paul goes on to say that once a person is saved that he or she will live out the Christian faith by doing the good deeds and works that God has prepared for him to do. To the one who is saved he writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
So . . .
Salvation is not a “faith plus works,”
Nor a “faith minus works,”
But a “faith that works.”
Faith alone saves,
The faith that saves
Is never alone.
James stresses that saving faith is more than mere confession. In verse 18 he suggests: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
There has been a lot of discussion about what this verse means? It is helpful to back up a bit and read the text in it’s wider context. This way we are able to see that the wider point remains: faith and works are inseparable. As wrong as it is for one person to say, “I have merely faith,” it is equally wrong for the other to say, “I have merely works.” The two are inseparable.
Again, salvation is not a “faith-plus-works,” nor a “faith-minus-works,” but genuine living faith is a “faith that works.” Faith alone saves, will be accompanied by works that show this faith to be genuine, saving faith.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Empty suit?” An empty suit is a derogatory expression, a way to refer to someone who looks good on the outside – they’re dressed nicely – but they are empty on the inside. If one person merely has good deeds, good works only, but no faith, then this is a person who may be good on the outside but has not been changed on the inside. What we mean is that this person looks okay on the outside, but there’s a problem on the inside. They are lacking something.
Applied to James’ teaching on faith, one person may say he is a Christian and another may say he has good works. Truth is, both are necessary for genuine conversion to have taken place. Otherwise we are making an empty claim.
We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But once we are “born again,” new creatures with new desires, we will live out the truth of our confession by doing the good works God has ordained for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
This is God Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”