Faith Alone or + Works ?
Someone once said, “Faith is like calories; you can’t see them, but you can always see their results.”
That’s the major theme that resonates throughout the letter of James and our section of Scripture today in James 2:14-26. James is saying in effect, If you claim to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then your life should show it in some tangible ways. Salvation isn’t just fire insurance or head knowledge; it’s characterized by love, compassion, obedience, and service. It’s not invisible; it’s on display!
The tension in this passage is classic. Many people shy away from it because they’re not sure how to deal with it. At first glance, it seems that James is contradicting Paul, or vice versa. Paul taught that we’re saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). James seems to be saying that we must have faith plus works to be saved. This issue spawned the Reformation and still divides evangelical Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church.
Let me be clear. There is no contradiction! Both Paul and James teach that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And both James and Paul teach that genuine faith results in good works. There is evidence that shows they are genuine.
Let me break it down in simple terms:
• Paul is looking at the ROOT (at the time of salvation): Faith + Nothing.
• James is looking at the FRUIT (after salvation), saying after salvation there are things that come into a believer’s life that shows his or her faith to be genuine.
• Paul uses the term “justified” to mean “pronounced righteous in the sight of God.”
• James uses the term “justified” to mean “proved righteous in the sight of others.”
• Paul shows how an unbeliever becomes a Christian.
• James shows how a believer lives as a Christian.
Countless people have trusted in their good works to get them to heaven. From a human standpoint, they may really good people who live their lives serving others. The truth of Scripture, however, states that if someone has never turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus Christ alone, all of the good works in the world won’t matter in the end. Saving faith is trusting in Christ and then living for Christ. You receive the life, then you reveal the life. It’s dynamic!
Remember that your activity is not a payback to God. That is, you’re not trying to make things right between you and God. You can’t possibly bridge that divide. He’s already done that for you through Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to, but He did because He loves you. Realize that great love and allow your activity to be a response to Him.
Press On, Pastor Brian