Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. Do They Contradict?March 1, 2008
The Protestant’s hope and prayer for Catholics (and all others) should be to see Christ in the correct light, and to love him in that way. Well intentioned Protestants strongly believe that if you don’t view Christ through the lens of solafide then he’s a distorted Christ. He’s less gracious, less loving, and less close to your heart and life.
My heart is to show Catholics that you don’t have to go to Mary for grace and mercy, but that it’s all profoundly available in Christ. He is the true Pontifix Maximus whom needs no assistance in reconciling sinners to himself. That was his mission and he fully accomplished it, hence being God. I hope this thread sheds some light on many things such as the differences between Catholic and Protestant theology, history of Luther and solafide, the doctrine of justification in the book of Romans, and mostly, a consistent interpretation of James 2. May there be no fear of death, nor fear of punishment, to the one who is in Jesus Christ!
Here is a link where I debate Catholics over James 2. My handle name is ‘solafide’. It was a fun and interesting debate.
Here is a link where I critique Robert Sungenis’ interpretation of James 2 in his book ‘Not by Faith Alone’. Many of the arguments I present there are presented on this thread as well.
The Reformers re-surfaced the heart of the grace of the gospel. It’s known as “solafide”, or “faith alone”. What is believed to come by faith alone? Justification is believed to come by faith alone. What is justification? It’s what you would be if you never did anything immoral and glorified God in thought, word, deed, and intention 100% every day of your life. Wow, high standard! If you upheld this standard, you would never be put to shame on the day of Judgment. Think about how liberating that would be!
Yet, as it stands, you and I have not upheld that standard — not even close. We are in need of a seemingly impossible thing. It’s called “justification”. Even by having the smallest stubborn attitude, we’re desperately in need. Adam and Satan were shut off from God after one small sin. The sin was in fact huge to God – for he is infinitely holy. Never mind sinning just once. We in fact sin all day, everyday, and probably most of the time we don’t even realize it. But God sees it all, and he forgets none of it on Judgment Day. The truth is that we need help.
If you were perfectly righteous as Christ was, you would be considered justified. But there is a way to become perfectly righteous as Christ was, by being in Christ as a branch is in a vine. Thus, justification in Christ must become a very important thing to you as a sinner.
But do God’s people receive Christ’s righteousness through faith alone, or are works also needed? If we are justified only through faith, this means we are justified apart from anything we might physically, emotionally, or mentally do. Can it be so?
This is what we believe to be the most Biblical position. As we will see below, justification by faith alone is not to make salvation easy and Christian living sloppy, but more correctly, for the Triune God alone to boast in salvation, and to make Christian living even possible. If everyone is conceived in sin (Psa 51) and with a heart of stone (Ez 36:26), then we could say that when God replaces our heart of stone with a new heart of flesh that He does so by grace, by His Spirit, and that all of this is a big part of what takes place when we say one is “justified through faith”. They don’t just say a prayer and never change, but God really changes them so that when they say the prayer, it’s in fact sincere.
Catholics, and in fact many Protestants, believe that justification is in one aspect a life long process. We are justified on Calvary (Rom 3), yet are also credited this justification throughout our lives. This is why Abraham is said to be justified in Gen 12 (as Heb 11:8-9 alludes since it says he has faith in Gen 12) and was also justified in Gen 15 (with believing the covenant promise). So our faith is credited unto justification throughout our lives, but only through faith, being done by God, and all on the bases of our vicarious justification in Christ on Calvary. You can also find that this view was held by Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, and Brakel. This link provides quotations and sources for each them holding to this (or at least something close).
Catholics believe justification comes about by a combination of faith and works together. One must carry out good works in this life to have grace infused to their spiritual account. It’s as if there is a spiritual piggy bank filled with dollar bills with Jesus’ face on them. Jesus is the signer on the account, and when we do good works in faith we receive these righteous “bills” to our account so that we are then considered righteous. Biblically, we are justified, not because we are being rewarded this righteousness, but because Jesus, in a sense, makes us co-signers on his account by faith. This is the significance of what the Bible refers to as being “in” Christ, and no longer “in” Adam. We were “in” the first Adam apart from the law, and we are now “in” the second Adam apart from the law (Rom 5:14).
Protestants believe that the sinner is justified effortlessly. We are justified entirely by God’s doing, thus, apart from any effort on our part. To the Protestant, this should not exempt a Christian from doing good works but make good works possible and of genuine quality. Being justified is a prerequisite for any sinner to even have the capacity to do works pleasing to God, without hidden selfish motives. Those who are not justified have not received new hearts by the Spirit and cannot please God. The one who is justified through faith only, is also the one whom God has really changed from the inside by His Spirit.
Romans 8:6-8 “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”
There are essentially two tell tale signs of the Christian. 1. faith, and 2. repentance (Godly sorrow for sin and actual turning away from sin). God changes one’s heart and mind in order to have genuine faith, thus enabling them to no longer be hostile towards Him but love Him, trust Him, know Him, and live for Him. Granted, our faith has doctrinal content and substance to it. We are to believe that Christ is who he said he was as revealed in Scripture. This is why even if a Mormon appears to have “good works”, we can know they are not really saved. They fail to meet the 1st sign.
The second sign of true justification is repentance which encompasses how we think, speak, and act towards God and others. In other words, our works. We need the Spirit, however, to change us and give us hearts of flesh to be able to have works pleasing to God. According to Scripture, no one can do good works by the Spirit unless they are justified. Eph 2:8-10 demonstrates how we are saved by grace, though faith, not of ourselves, and unto good works prepared in advance. Grace is for the works, not that works are to merit grace. That doesn’t jive with Scripture because according to Scripture, in the context of being justified, if there are works involved then it’s not considered a gift any longer. Yet, Catholics view merit as being a gift.
Rom 4:4-5 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as (unto) righteousness”
Rom 11:6 “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
This does not mean the justified will never sin again, but that they will increasingly hate their sin and progressively leave it. This process is until we die and are eternally glorified. Nevertheless, the Spirit is needed even for such a process. Only the justified in Christ may receive the Spirit and do so.
Romans 6:18 “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
1 John 3:9 “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”
Why saved through faith?
There’s three major reasons we’re saved only by faith, apart from works.
1. (Impossible Due To God’s Nature — He Requires Perfection) It’s impossible to be saved by works. If God is 100% holy and requires absolute moral perfection from us, then one sin is enough to separate us from God forever. Therefore, it wouldn’t matter even if we could merit grace. Even if we could be perfectly righteous from today forward we still deserve eternal separation from God for at least one time of not doing what we should have in the past. Faith means God saves us apart from ourselves. That way it skips over all of our imperfection and gives us perfection in spite of us. I cover this more in-depth at the end.
2. (Impossible Due To Human Nature — We Are Not Perfect) A person who is of the sinful nature and indeed cannot submit to God’s law (Rom 8:6-8) cannot change their Christ-hostile nature to love God. Only the Holy Spirit can restore a sinner’s heart to love God, and only on the legal bases of Christ’s substitutionary death. Saving faith is a work of the heart which we can’t manufacture on our own. That’s precisely why God sovereignly has us saved by it. It’s so he may fully save us by a work outside the radar of our fallen capacity. This effortless work of belief gives us the works of Christ, all because of grace. We can conjure up all kinds of actions, emotions, and thoughts, but not a love for God when we’re born hostile to him.
3. (The Triune God Desires All Saving Glory For Himself, and Within Himself) It’s impossible to be saved by works because God doesn’t allow it for the glory shared between the eternal persons of the Trinity. It is the Father’s perfect will to have the Son save his people according to the covenant promise to Abraham, namely, a righteousness that comes by faith. It is precisely because of this that the Reformers also coined “soli deo gloria”, to God alone be the glory! God saves us through faith so that He would be fully gracious, and therefore, be all glorious. How important is God’s glory to you? If God alone does all the saving, then He alone receives all the glory. Therefore, saying “saved by faith alone” leads to saying “saved by God alone” which leads to saying “to God alone be the glory”.
Romans 4:16 “It is by faith you have been saved, so that it may be according to grace (God’s grace)” [emphasis mine]
This is as opposed to us being gracious to ourselves and assisting the process. Granted, Rome doesn’t teach that one “earns” salvation via works, but are “rewarded” it. The Church (along with its sacraments) is the means by which they are rewarded justification. If you think about it, this is actually similar to Protestantism. We both agree there is a necessary “means” by which we receive justification, yet disagree on which primary means it is! We disagree on the primary means, that’s all. Theirs is sacraments through the Church, ours is God’s sacrament of God-given faith.
Nevertheless, here is an antithetical notion: being saved by faith is the most difficult way to be saved imaginable. Why? It’s most difficult for God because He’s doing all the work. It’s most difficult for you because you loose control of the reigns which you think obligates God to like you. Instead, you must come to terms with the reality that God only accepts you because of Himself, NOT because of you.
This requires you to trust God 100% and trust yourself 0% for salvation. That’s more scary than any alternative. God doesn’t care that you may have a hard time with His doctrine of solafide. It only means you have a hard time trusting Him, and means you would feel more comfortable believing you can trust yourself. That’s jacked up from the outset because you’re a repugnant sinner and God is eternally holy, perfect, and good. Get over yourself.
Now let’s look at the controversy!
What does Martin Luther have to do with all this?
Catholics accuse Martin Luther for eisegeting his bible. In other words, he took way to much liberty when interpreting it. Catholics love to make a straw-man out of Luther. To them he was probably blind-folded and threw darts at sticky notes which contained random scribblings to get his interpretations. It’s believed he added to Romans 3:28 which reads “…for we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law.” When Martin Luther carried out the unthinkable task of translating the Latin Vulgate into German, the common language at the time, he added the German word “allien” to this verse. Allien is German for “alone”. Luther translated Romans 3:28 this way, “…for we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone, apart from works of the law.”
Catholic apologists use this bit of history to blame Luther for having started a “new theology” un-common to church history until the Reformation. Of course they believe this because if solafide were true they would have to repent for believing another gospel, and “Traditions!” die hard. But the belief that one was saved by faith alone was never embraced by the church until Luther, so it is thought. Thus, solafide must be an invention of Luther.
Here is a link to another thread I have about how a Catholic scholar, Joseph Fitzmyer, documents that Luther wasn’t the first to translate Rom 3:28 with the word “alone”. Many are ignorant of these facts.
Luther even responded to the accusation of having added the word “alone” to his translation.
His remarks were as follows:
“Note, then, whether Paul does not assert more vehemently that faith alone justifies than I do, although he does not use the word “alone” (sola) , which I have used. For he who says: Works do not justify, but faith justifies, certainly affirms more strongly that faith justifies than does he who says: Faith alone justifies… it is ridiculous enough to argue in this sophistical manner: Faith alone justifies; therefore the Holy Spirit does not justify. Or: The Spirit justifies; therefore not faith alone. For this is not what the dispute is about at this place. Rather the question is only about the relation of faith and works, whether anything is to be ascribed to works in justification. Since the apostle does not ascribe anything to them, he without a doubt ascribes all to faith alone.” [emphasis mine]
Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), P. 707.
Luther well knows he added “allien”. He didn’t add it and keep quite like a Jehovah’s Witness Bible translator would. Luther says that even if we leave out the word “alone” Paul still makes the distinction between a justification which is by faith as opposed to works. Paul does not attribute anything to works for our justification but attributes all to faith. Why should we do any different than the apostle?!
Was solafide ever believed before Martin Luther?
Real quick, I would argue history records some early church fathers teaching solafide. Ambrosiaster, an anonymous writer who wrote a commentary on Romans around 370 A.D. said the phrase “faith alone” many times. I finally purchased the amazing commentary, read it, and was elated. Click here to read his quotes. This link also includes an in-depth look at how Catholics misquote Alister McGrath’s ‘Iusitia Dei’ in regards to Ambrosiaster.
Here are some excerpts from his commentary:
Rom 3:24 “They are justified freely, because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.”
Rom 4:6 “Paul backs this up by the example of the prophet David, who says that those are blessed of whom God has decreed that, without work or any keeping of the law, they are justified before God by faith alone.”
“The prophet… calls them blessed, because their sins are forgiven, covered and not reckoned to them, and this without labor or work of any kind.”
The Latin manuscript of 1 Clement is one of the earliest we have of a church father, and is a near contemporaneous source of Christ. Clement lived around the mid 1st century to 99 A.D. and wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians in 32:4:
“And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Further, solafide goes all the way back to Jesus even before the apostles. In John 6: 28-29 it says,
“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Jesus was paving the way for belief in him as Lord, which would soon be consummated by his resurrection. After the resurrection would validate his Lordship, it would be faith in him which would place one under his headship and in the new covenant.
Many Catholics misunderstand the doctrine of solafide and think it to be nothing other than a slippery slope to sloppy Christianity. However, once James 2 is properly interpreted, one will see that this is the very perversion of faith which James is addressing! It’s also worth mentioning that even with a Catholic view of progressive, life-long, works-included justification one still has every reason to carelessly sin. You just have to go to confession and have the Priest give you pennants in order to absolve your sin. So instead of these “na na na na na” games, let’s just stick with what is God-breathed, namely, Scripture since the truth is always more liberating when it’s true.
So here we go.
What is the supposed controversy between Paul and James?
Would Paul and James have disagreed over how the sinner is justified? At face value, Paul and James would seem to contradict each other.
Paul says in Romans 3:28, “for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the law”.
James says in James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Paul says in Romans 3:28, “for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the law”
Why on earth would one think that Paul teaches solafide in Romans? Here’s a simplified version of why it is necessarily implied.
The law, or “nomos”, in Romans 3 is the very thing that reveals sin to both Jews and Gentiles, and the very thing that condemns both, thus condemning the whole world. The Catholic must argue that “nomos”, or “the law”, doesn’t include the moral law. In other words, if/when Romans says we’re justified apart from “the law”, Roman Catholics must interpret this as only being the civil, ceremonial, sacrificial, and dietary laws, not the moral law (granted, many of these laws overlap, yet the phraseology here helps make the point). The Roman Catholic still maintains we’re justified by the moral law. The moral law being the 10 commandments, or the great commandment found in Deut 6:4, Lev 19:18, Mat 22, and Mark 12, namely, to love God and others.
The moral law, or the great commandment, is also summed up in the 10 commandments (Ex 20, Deut 5). The first 4 commandments are about loving God, while the last 6 are about loving others. The moral law existed before Moses, hence why Satan and Adam were condemned by it for simply breaking it one time in their heart. The moral law is a reflection of God’s eternal nature and character. There is eternal “agape” within the 3 person of the Trinity, thus this eternally defines what is “good”.
Anytime we sin, we’re breaking this standard and are found to be not good, or “evil”. If we are with sin, then this standard will reveal the sin and make it clearly known. It was known to the Gentiles by nature (Rom 2:14-15) even though they didn’t have direct revelation of it (by Scripture), and was known to the Jews via nature and direct revelation (Deut 6:4, Lev 19:18, Rom 2:20-24). But context must determine what part of the Mosaic law is being referred to. It can be broken up into different categories, namely, the civil, ceremonial, sacrificial, dietary, and moral laws. What part of the law is Romans referring to that we’re justified apart from? It must be the moral law.
Hosea 6:6 says, “I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice. The knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Even before the law, Cain was judged because he didn’t offer his sacrifice with a right heart. And the scribe in Mark 12:28-34 acknowledged that God has always willed love for God, not merely sacrifices.
Verse 32-33 says, “And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
These facts clearly show that God ultimately judged sin according to our hearts before the Mosaic law, and even during the Mosaic law! This means that even the ceremonial, sacrificial, and dietary laws were always judged in light of the person’s heart (moral law), not the laws in and of themselves. This means that the moral law precedes, and supercedes, all other temporal laws. Ultimately God judges the heart. God judges Jews and Gentiles with the moral law.
Now ask yourself 2 questions in regard to Rom 3. (1) What part of the law reveals sin to the whole world? It can only be the part of the law that also reveals sin in the heart. It can only be the moral law. A temporal dietary law telling you not to eat pork does not reveal sin to the whole world. (2) What part of the law brings condemnation to the whole world for having failed to uphold it perfectly? Again, it can only be the moral law that does this. Failure to be circumcised didn’t condemn the entire ancient world. The moral law did. It condemned Satan and Adam, it condemns us all today, and will condemn any future creation of God’s shall it ever break God’s moral law and fail to love him and others in the heart.
Because there is a universal revelation of sin, thus a universal condemnation for sin, the context of Rom 3:19-20 condemns the whole world under the moral law.
Rom 3:19-20, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Now when you read Rom 3:21-22 in light of all this, does it ring true the real gospel?
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
In Rom 7:7 Paul further echoes that the moral law is contained within the Mosaic law, or “o nomos”, which brings a greater revelation of sin, thus a greater condemnation when he says,
“I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Granted, Catholics don’t deny that the moral law is contained in the Mosaic law, they just deny that aspect of it is the context of Rom 2-4. The reason we need to also look at Rom 7:7 is because 7:6 shows the context to be about being released from the law. It’s the law of “the written code”. This is attached to the context even back in Rom 3. It’s mainly this part of the Mosaic law, the moral law, that finds fault in us, thus gives us a death sentence. It’s inescapable. The context of Romans is that the moral law finds fault in us, condemns us, and we are justified by faith in Christ apart from the law (especially the moral law).
Catholics believe that the 7 sacraments of the Church which merits (=rewards) justification for them must be carried out with a right heart, in other words, with the moral law. But if the moral law is the very thing that doesn’t justify, but instead reveals sin, brings condemnation, thus death, they can’t merit justification in this way. As I’ve already pointed out, even the Jews were expected from the very beginning to carry out their temporal civil, ceremonial, sacrificial, and dietary laws with a right heart. If the first system couldn’t justify, how much less any other system. Just as Paul also belabors in Romans, the law finds fault in us because we can’t uphold it perfectly.
The law’s nature is not to kill, but give life. Yet, since we fail to meet its demands 100%, it must kill us because we deserve it for having broken it once. Having a merital system of justification whereby you must rely on upholding the moral law to be justified is going the wrong Biblical direction. It’s only inflicting more death, not life. That’s why there must be a perfect Savior whom vicariously upholds the law for us, pays the penalty for having broken the law for us, and raises us from the dead so that we can come back to the law in freedom. We come back to the moral law, never have to fear, and get to live for God in freedom by his Spirit.
Now, I don’t even have time nor space to expound upon everything else we could exegete from Romans in this regard. I wanted to make this major point because I’ve found it to be a major point of contention with Roman Catholic’s interpretation of Romans. Of course, the Catholic doesn’t even have to interpret Romans the way they do because there’s no decreed infallible interpretation of it by Rome. They can interpret it as saying anything else, and still hold to their Catholic view of justification regardless simply because Rome tells them to. They just have to make sure that Romans doesn’t teach anything against Rome.
James says in James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (where the word “alone” is actually found in this verse.)
What is going on here?!
Once we put away our “Traditions!” and surface level Bible reading, we’ll find that Paul and James would have hugged and been best friends.
Paul is saying “we are justified by faith and not works” (implying faith alone). Paul speaks of a faith which pertains to justification before God because God requires perfection. Faith skips over our imperfection and gives us the perfection of Christ. Rom 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”
James is teaching “I will show you my faith by my works” (implying faith + works prove justification). The significance of combining a profession of faith with works is not to become justified, but to demonstrate that one’s faith is real – while real faith alludes to justification. James speaks of a faith which pertains to justification before men because works can be seen by men. James 2:18, “show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
How do both of these come together? Simply put, if we are justified by faith before God, then our works will demonstrate this before men. James teaches that salvation is shown from faith that works, not faith alone or even correct theology, because faith that works is the result of justification.
Consider Mat 7:18: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” There are two types of trees. A good tree and a bad tree. The condition of the root will determine the fruit. A good tree will have good fruit and a bad tree will have bad fruit. James is addressing those who think there is a third type of tree, namely, one which is a good tree which can bear bad fruit. No such tree is possible. If we look at our branches (lives) to see if we have fruit (works) then we can have an idea of what type of tree we really are. Are we dead or alive? Even Jesus understood and taught this concept! So why not James?
What is the context of James 2:14-26?
Let’s start from the beginning of the passage.
Verses 14-16 read “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
Notice how James asks if such “faith” can save them, implying that there is a type of faith which saves and one that does not. However, Catholics would argue that in this verse James is teaching that faith is not sufficient by itself to save. Faith can’t save by itself, but faith and works are needed.
But James is rather teaching that there is a “kind” of faith which saves, and there is a “kind” of faith which does not. The kind of faith we need to have is not just a claimed faith. We’ll look at what a mere intellectual faith is in v.19. Rather, we need a justifying faith in order to be saved. That is what Abraham had. How will we know which kind we have? The rest of the passage will tell us.
Verse 17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Notice James does not say that faith without works is partially useful, as if it just needed works to justify. The faith is dead apart from works, or “nekros”. The context is not needing a combination of faith and works, but first needing to have the right kind of faith. If someone claims to have saving faith, yet has no good works which are pleasing to God to back it up, then they are self-deceived. Their faith is not real faith. Their faith is not a living faith. Instead, it’s a dead faith. And since it’s dead, it can’t be partially useful for justification. It’s dead. God’s Spirit does justify, however, and it will bring about a living faith.
Also, notice he doesn’t say “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, justification is dead.” Rather, faith is the antecedent. If there are no works then faith is dead. This verse teaches that faith – works = dead faith, NOT dead justification. The Catholic formula that faith – works = no justification, isn’t the explicit formula in James 2.
In verse 18 he says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James is using sarcasm here. His point is that it’s impossible to show faith by mere profession. He then demonstrates that faith without works isn’t convincing enough to rest assure if one’s faith is genuine. He challenges people to “show” (“deizon” – 2nd person aorist active verb) their faith without works, and says he will “show” (“deizo” – 1st person future active verb) his faith by his works, and will keep doing so in the future. All professed believers need the same challenge. It’s a wake up call to snap out of either deception of false salvation, or idle Christianity.
How does the apostle show his faith? He shows it by works. So how must we then show our faith? By works. How is this not the context of James 2?
He says in verse 19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
James is again using sarcasm here when he says belief in one God is good in terms of proving if one’s faith is real. That’s clear by reading the rest of the verse. He says even demons believe that and shudder. Thus, even proper theology is of no virtue unless faith is genuine. Namely, the monotheistic understanding of God which would have been unique to Jews is even believed by demons!
I believe James is saying here that even correct theology wont show your faith (to be a justifying faith). Correct theology will only show that you have correct theology. Even correct theology can be false faith. In the preceding verse James says he will show his faith by what he does, and now talks about the demons even being monotheists. The clear implication is that demons will “believe” what is right, but wont ever “show” it.
However, Catholics will argue James is saying that since demons can’t add works to their faith they will never be justified, thus, we must add works so we can be better off then the demons. Granted, a demon can’t merit justification. They will never be justified by a sin substitute since Jesus Christ is the God-Man substitute for mankind, not the God-demon substitute for demons.
But here’s why I hold to my interpretation:
1. The demons are actually said to have faith in this verse. The Greek word for “believe” is the same Greek verb, “pisteou”, that James uses elsewhere in the passage. He uses either the noun for faith (“pistis”) or the verb for faith (“pisteou”). So the demons have faith, but their faith is only intellectual. Wouldn’t you agree? They know monotheism is true. Even demons aren’t pagans. But they will never serve the one true God.
2. Since it’s only an intellectual faith on the demon’s part, and can only be, then it helps us understand the context. He is discussing two different faiths. It’s not that one faith justifies with works and one doesn’t. Rather, it’s that one faith is only intellectual and isn’t shown, and one faith justifies and will be shown. We’ll look more at the example James uses in that Abraham’s faith was counted unto righteousness in Gen 15:6, and showed it in a big way in Gen 22.
We’ve already looked at how James shows his faith by his actions (v.18), and now we know that only intellectual faith is dead. So if you don’t see works you don’t see faith. If you see works then you can see faith. Is this the context of James 2? It must be because soon we’ll look at how James teaches that we can “see” Abraham’s faith by his works (v.22), and that we are to “notice” justification by works, not by faith alone (v.24).
Verse 20 reads “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”
Again, we see a negative formula in that faith – works = dead faith, NOT dead justification. The Catholic formula that faith – works = no justification, isn’t the explicit formula.
If holy works are a by-product of justification, then it makes perfect sense for the apostles to exhort us to make sure our faith is backed by works. They wouldn’t just exhort us to make sure our faith was correct, because then we might be self-deceived. They would tell us to make sure our faith is correct by what faith does. It serves God. You wouldn’t just tell a farmer, “make sure you know how to produce a harvest”. You would also emphasize, “make sure you produce a harvest”.
But James is written to believers
On another point, even though the book of James is written to professed believers, it doesn’t mean everyone reading the letter is already a believer. This is why exhortations exist. 2 Cor was written to believers and v.13:5 says to “test yourselves to see if you’re in the faith”. 1 Cor was written to believers and v.15:1-2 says if you’ve believed another gospel then “you’ve believed in vain”.
This type of language to professed believers is not surprising to find in the NT. Just because one is among believers doesn’t mean they really are one. They might be deceiving themselves. Exhortations exist to weed out who’s in and who’s out. It’s for our benefit.
Again, James is attacking a misconception of faith. The misconception must first be properly understood. He says that faith without deeds is useless. In what sense is it useless? Does a lack of deeds mean justification will never be accomplished, or does it mean that the professed faith is just an illusion? Answering this question will make or break your interpretation of James 2.
Does faith + works merit justification or demonstrate true faith?
Verse 21-22 “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works”
Yes, Abraham is said to be justified (the same Greek word for “justified” in Rom 3:28 is used here) for his actions in verse 21, but verse 22 clarifies verse 21. It says “faith was made complete by what he did”, not “justification was made complete by what he did”. James could have used the phrasing that justification was made complete by what he did, yet did not. If Protestants and Catholics do more than skim the surface of James 2, we’ll find that there is no explicit teaching on how one is justified.
However, Catholics argue, “but even if faith + works = complete faith, complete faith = justification, thus faith + works = justification.” They will say, “the faith was incomplete before there were works. Once the works were there, the dead and incomplete faith began to justify.
Could this be the correct interpretation of James 2? Is James discussing the degree of faith? Namely, a faith being half way there and then is all the way there with works?
As we’ve already looked at in Rom 4:18-21, Abraham’s faith was never dead, nor incomplete. His faith was always a genuine faith, thus why he would act upon it. In fact, in regard to Isaac, Abraham first acted upon his faith, not when he was about to kill Isaac, but when he woke up 3 days earlier to prepare for the trip! God had already told Abraham from day one that he wanted him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was acting upon his faith already.
In addition, we read in Romans 4:18-21 that Abraham never wavered in his faith. He never wavered in his belief that God would give him his son Isaac. He believed this all the way up to offering Isaac in Gen 22. Thus, Abraham proved that his faith was never dead, but always placed in God’s promise.
Romans 4:18-21 says, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
From the common Catholic view, it’s odd that James doesn’t teach that Abraham’s faith was once dead. If Catholics really believe that justification is dead apart from works, then wouldn’t we see the Bible teaching this about Abraham since he is the major example in Scripture about how one is justified?
Are we to also conclude that all Catholics have dead faith until they start doing sacraments? I find it hard to believe that. Doesn’t it make more sense that if one’s faith is genuine they will do good works? No differently, if the Catholic’s faith is genuine, they will do the Church’s sacraments.
So in what sense was Abraham’s faith “complete”?
“Eteleothe” means to perfect, finish, complete, or consummate. Some translators interpret this single word with both words “made complete”. The ESV omits the word “made” in front of “complete”, and just says “was completed”. In English, “made complete” makes it sound like something was completed in the past, or present tense, yet “eteleothe” is aorist, and arguably isn’t referring to “when” the completion happened. I believe it’s not referring to the process of faith being completed, but the status of faith being completed. The faith was complete in a complimentary fashion.
Abraham’s faith was complete because it was completely shown. We must completely show our faith, not for justification’s sake, but for faith’s sake.
Faith can be “blepeis”, or actually seen
The other important thing to notice in verse 22 is that it reads “you see that faith was active along with his works”. The English words “you see” are the translation of the single Greek word “blepeis”. It means to literally see or to look at something. Also note, James is addressing his readers to see Abraham’s faith. Hence, why “blepeis” is a 2nd person present active verb. The significance of this is that it gives more of the context. James is addressing his readers and telling them they can “see” and/or “perceive” Abraham’s faith by his works. Understanding this will help us properly interpret “horate” in v.24 later on. The context is about “seeing” faith by works, just as James first stated in verse 18 that he will show you his works by what what he does.
Generally in English we use the phrase “you see” as an idiom meaning “therefore”. Yet, James is not saying “therefore”, or “in conclusion to this, faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” We have to understand the original Greek, and not misunderstand it because of the English translation. The text says that we can physically see the faith vicariously through the works, or mentally see the faith by reading about the works.
The Catholic might say, “but blepeis can also mean to “understand” according to the Lexicon.” This is true, but we don’t just get to pick out our favorite meaning in the Lexicon. The Lexicon even offers “observe” as a possibility, which would perfectly harmonize with what were purporting. Lexicons usually give many uses of a word, covering an array of contexts. But just for fun, let’s see how “blepeis” is translated elsewhere in the NT.
There are 9 other places where the exact form of the word “blepeis” is used. They are Mat 7:3, 22:16; Mark 5:31, 8:23, 12:14, 13:2; Luke 6:41, 7:44; Rev 1:11. All of these instances use “blepeis” in the sense of physically seeing something. These other verses don’t interpret v.22 for us, however, the context does. Context always determines the meaning more than the word determines the context. I’m just pointing out that the form of “blepeis” used in v.22 is used dominantly to “see” something.
This aligns itself with v.18 since James is showing his faith by works. James is consistent with his sarcastic point from the beginning in verse 18, “Show me your faith without deeds (the inferior way to show your faith), and I will show you my faith by what I do (the superior way to show your faith).
How do you show someone your faith? By profession? No. It’s by what you do. Otherwise, you’re like a demon or like a fool. If James were from the U.S. he would have lived in Missouri, the “Show Me” state. If he were alive during the Age of Empiricism he would have cared about empirically proving one’s faith, namely, by works.
Now verse 23 reads “and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.”
In other words, Genesis 22 proves that Abraham’s initial faith in Genesis 15 was genuine. Abraham’s actions prove that God wasn’t lying when He first told Abraham that he was justified. Abraham was considered justified in Gen 15, and proved to still be in Gen 22.
Also, it says the Scripture was fulfilled, not that justification was fulfilled. We must keep in mind that the justification of Gen 15:6 was fulfilled in Gen 15:6.
If the Roman Catholic interpretation of James 2 were correct then in this verse James would have said that Abraham’s faith and works in Gen 22 is what justified him. Even in Heb 11:17-19 we see that Abraham had faith in Gen 22 while taking Isaac up to the mountain to sacrifice him.
It says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
Catholics teach that works and faith at the same time bring about justification. Yet, James doesn’t talk about Abraham’s faith and actions at the same time in Gen 22 . Rather, James points to a faith in the distant past which is said to have justified (Gen 15), and then points to a work in the distant future (Gen 22) which acted upon this faith. The text teaches that by this we see Abraham’s faith. We see the faith of the covenant in a big way, not that we merit justification.
Because James gives the example of Abraham’s distant past faith conjoined with a distant future work, it is quite obvious that he is teaching that Gen 22 proves Gen 15, and thus is not trying to explain how faith and works conjoined in the present tense will justify. If James were really trying to teach that faith + works (in the present) = justification, then he could have done so.
Abraham’s faith wasn’t lacking works, and neither should ours. It began as a simple and child-like faith being placed in God’s covenant promise. It eventually turned into a greater faith, which was profoundly demonstrated by amazing acts of humility and trust.
(At this point the Catholic may argue, “but if one has real faith and proves it by good works but then later falls into great sin, does that mean their faith was never “real” faith?” A mind blowing thing to point out to a Catholic in regard to this is that Abraham committed a “mortal sin” in Gen 16 by committing adultery. But what does James teach? He teaches that Abraham’s actions in Gen 22 still proved his genuine faith in Gen 15, even though he committed a “mortal sin” in the midst of these two points! Therefore, our works won’t always immediately prove our faith, but in the long run, they most certainly will.)
What does “horate” mean in verse 2:24?
Verse 24 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Likewise, James 2:24 says “You see that a man is justified by works…”
That’s a big difference from only saying “a man is justification by works…” What is meant by “you see”? In this verse, the English words “you see” are the single Greek word “horate”. “Horate” is in fact synonymous with “blepeis” in v.22.
He shifts from how we see faith by works to how we see justification by works. He just mentioned that Gen 22 shows us Abraham’s faith from Gen 15 being acted upon. But Abraham didn’t just believe the promise. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. So naturally, if Gen 22 shows us Abraham’s faith from Gen 15, it also shows us Abraham’s righteousness from Gen 15. This is why v.24 now says “you see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”. We went from seeing one’s faith by works, to now seeing one’s justification by works — as the two are connected. They were connected in the covenant promise for Abraham, for “Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham is our spiritual father, and we are all justified the same way, for we are all included in the same promise.
The typical Catholic response that I have found to this is to argue that “horate” is imperative, or a command to attention. James is supposedly saying “Look you! A person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
I would actually argue that “horate” is indicative. If this is the case it would more correctly be translated “you notice”, “you physically see”, or “you know”.
It could mean “to perceive”, “to know”, or to “notice” when it’s indicative. Even if it’s imperative, that doesn’t mean it must be translated as “look you!”, or “take heed!”. As an imperative, it just as well could mean to “observe” or “make sure”. Again, Greek 101, context determines the meaning.
But according to the context, it’s how we “show” faith (v.18), and how we “see” faith (v.22). We already know that faith is shown and seen by works. What about justification? Now v.24 brings up how we “notice” justification. Do you notice justification by faith alone? No. Do we notice it by one’s actions of loving God and others as themselves? The answer is quite obvious. If “horate” is indicative, verse 24 could substantially be translated as, “you notice that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” And again, James is expecting his readers to notice justification, hence why “horate” is also a 2nd person present active verb.
According to this source ‘ὁρᾶτε’ is indicative, and according to this source it’s imperative. Whether it’s imperative or indicative doesn’t matter. Whether “horate” is indicative or imperative it must coincide with the context. The form of a word can influence a passage, yet we should allow the context to be the main determiner. Context interprets the use of words more than words interpret the context. Is it not the context that one ought to show their faith by works (v.18) and that we should see faith by works (v.22)? If this is the context, then it follows that we must also “notice” (indicative) justification and “make sure” (imperative) of justification by works (v.24), and not by faith alone.
However, when Catholics try to argue that “horate” is imperative, and that it being imperative supposedly means it’s a command to pay attention to what he’s saying, we need to tell Catholics (1) to look at the context more carefully, and (2) that the Latin Vulgate interprets it as indicative. I debated a Catholic once and they argued that “horate” was imperative as though it being imperative blows me out of the water. I didn’t know it at the time but I wish I would have just told them it’s translated as being indicative according to their own Vulgate. Then we could have simply moved past that point.
The Latin Vulgate translates “horate” with “videtis” which is indicative. The imperative in Latin would be “vide”, however. Yet the Latin word used is “videtis”, and “videtis” is indicative. The Latin Vulgate still is actually the standard translation of the Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church. This means we’ll have to inform Catholics that their own official interpretation of “horate”, for over 1,600 years, has been “you notice that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”.
Even when “horate” is imperative, it very well can be used to mean to “make sure” of something, and does not necessarily always mean “Take heed!”. There are 7 places in the NT where “horate” is used as a 2nd person plural imperative (Mat 9:30, 16:6, 18:10, 24:6; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:15; 1 Thes 5:15). 6 of the 7 places where “horate” is used as a second person plural imperative it is best translated as “make sure” (note: Mat 16:6 and Mark 8:15 usually translate it as “be careful” but this is extremely similar to saying “make sure”). In other words, it is generally a command to make sure of something when it is a 2nd person plural. One other time (Luke 12:15) it is best translated “watch out!” which would not be the best translation of verse 24 given the context, while nevertheless the notion to “watch” or “see” does fit the context of James 2. Again, this doesn’t determine the meaning, context does. This is just to point out how the word is dominantly used.
One cannot just pick out their favorite word from the Lexicon. It has to be the word that best fits the context. That’s how proper exegesis and interpretation must be done. However, the interpretation we’re purporting isn’t even against what Rome teaches! It’s just that Catholics usually want to have James 2 counter solafide, so they interpret it as saying we’re justified by works. You can still be a Catholic and interpret James 2 the way we’re advocating. In fact, so far I know one Catholic who does. Rome can’t tell you with 100% how to interpret this passage since there is presently no decreed infallible interpretation of it. You’re free to agree with us and still be a Roman Catholic.
Let’s tie up the ends. Verse 14 says,
“if someone says they have faith, but does not have works, can faith save him?”.
The context shows he’s not rhetorically stating that faith without works wont justify. Rather the context is that someone can’t be saved by just proper faith. It has to be a justifying faith like it was with Abraham. Faith that justifies isn’t just a said faith or an intellectual faith; it’s a faith and justification that will be shown, seen, and noticed by godly works.
Some Roman Catholic apologists don’t seem to even know that “horate” exists in v.24
In his book, ‘Not by Faith Alone’ on pg. 166, Robert Sungenis says,
“…James is borrowing the phrasing of Gen 15:6 (“and it was credited to him as righteousness”) and applying it to Gen 22 by his conclusion, “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone”.
But guess what he left out. He forgot to quote the very first word in the verse, “horate”! In fact, when I first read it I couldn’t help but take my pen and write down on the margin of the book, “Wow! Where did “horate” go?!”
Sungenis writes a lot to back his interpretation, but then comes to this inaccurate conclusion. He goes into detail about the Greek word for righteousness and justification, “dikaiao”, but for some reason never considers “blepeis” (v.22) or “horate” (v.24) along with interpreting them in context (v.18).
Further on pg.167 Sungenis says,
“James says two things in James 2:24 which reinforce each other: (1) that a person is justified by works, and (2) that he is not justified by faith alone.”
He tries to use v.24 as a solafide stopper. It does sound convincing when you skip “horate” and only say “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”! Someone who only has a surface level understanding of the text might be convinced by these partial quotes of the verse. But thankfully we can read the entire verse in the original language and understand those words in light of their context. It’s about how you notice justification, not how you are rewarded justification.
It’s helpful and important to tell Catholics about “horate” because a lot of times they interpret the verse the same way Sungenis does. So far, I know one Catholic to interpret it as noticing justification by works. So this is usually their favorite verse. They love to be able to say that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone”. They don’t want to all of a sudden be informed that it is really telling us how we notice justification, just as we notice Abraham’s justification from Gen 15 in Gen 22. If we show them that, then it’s a big step in the right direction.
Catholics claim that “monon” is best translated as “only” instead of “alone”
My response to this is simple. And? Since Catholics assume that “horate” is best translated as “therefore” or “take heed”, they think verse 24 says something like, “Therefore, take heed everyone! A man is justified by works and not faith only”. By stressing “monon” to mean “only” it supposedly proves that James was strongly against the notion of solafide. It is believed he was stressing the importance of adding works with faith in order to be justified. Not faith only.
But again, if verse 24 is read in context, if “horate” is synonymous with “blepeis”, and if it is best interpreted as “you physically see” (or “you notice” or “you know”) or rather is a command to “make sure” of something, then it doesn’t matter if we interpret the Greek word “monon” as “only” as opposed to “alone” – as it commonly is. Catholics clarify “monon” to more accurately mean “only” as though this somehow bolsters their position. I can interpret it as “only” just as well! It’s by works that we see if one is justified, not faith only (indicative), or it’s by works that we make sure that one is justified, not faith only (imperative). Arguing for “monon” to more accurately be interpreted as “only” still misses the big picture. James teaches numerous times that faith + works = (real) faith, NOT justification!
Lastly, notice how there are two prepositions in verse 24? Prepositions indicate cause and effect. What is the effect of verse 24? It is being able to know or make sure that a person is justified. How? By the cause. It is by works (the superior cause), not faith only (the inferior cause). Faith cannot cause one to know or make sure that a person is justified. However, works can cause one to know and make sure that a person is justified! The two prepositions (“by”), which imply 2 different cause and effect conclusions (one superior, one inferior), beautifully fit with the entire context. Works are superior to faith for determining if one is justified!
What about Rahab?
Verse 25-26 “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Again, we see the same thing. Verse 25 tells us that Rahab was considered righteous (justified) for what she did. Yet verse 26 clarifies verse 25. Rahab’s faith without deeds is dead faith, NOT dead justification. It ends with the negative formula again, namely, faith – works = dead faith, NOT dead justification. The Catholic formula that faith – works = no justification, isn’t the explicit formula, thus is difficult to say is the context.
But the Catholic will argue, “the Protestant interpretation that the context of James 2 is about detecting justification is incorrect. James says that faith is analogous to a body. Yet, when a body is dead you can still detect it. If your position were true then James wouldn’t have likened faith to a body because you can still detect a body after it’s dead!”
Simple answer: “Yes, when faith is alive you can detect it, AND when it’s dead you can detect it!
Let’s recap some important points. The demons are even said have “pisteou”, or faith (v.19). This means that we can even detect dead faith. We can detect dead faith and living faith. We detect dead faith if there are no works, and living faith if there are works. In either instance, it’s still faith (pisteou). It’s just that one is dead and one is real.
When faith is dead, it’s still “pisteou”, it’s just not the “pisteou” that James and Abraham exemplified. See the difference? Dead faith is still faith, but not faith of the covenant. The same is true with a body. If it’s dead it’s still a body, it’s just not alive. If a body has a spirit then the body is alive. Likewise, if faith is wrought by God’s Spirit, then it’s alive.
James is in fact juxtaposing “covenant faith” with “dead faith”. How do we know this? Simple. He compares and contrasts his own faith (v.18), along with Abraham’s faith (v.22), against demon faith (v.19). James’ and Abraham’s faith are real faith. Are they not? Of course they are. Demon faith is dead faith since it is only proper and void of God’s Spirit. Thus, James is in fact comparing real faith with dead faith.
Protestants don’t, and shouldn’t, just argue that James 2 is only about detecting faith, but about detecting what kind of faith it is. This is a simple, yet huge clarification. It’s not just a matter of detecting faith in and of itself. We could even detect a demon’s faith. The Catholic argument above conflates “proper faith” and “covenant faith”, as though all “faiths” were the same with varying degrees and soteriological implications. But it is the type of faith that really matters. Said faith can’t be shown. Covenantal faith can be shown!
Have Christians abused God’s grace? If so, they should consider James 2:14-26! That’s what it’s there for!
If we’re honest enough with ourselves, we’ve all abused grace, whether Protestant or Catholic. However, being said, what is the practicality of knowing that someone is justified by way of seeing their works and not just hearing their lip service to the gospel?
Today, modern evangelicals are essentially telling the unbeliever that God has a cosmic crush on them. This causes unbelievers to view God as someone who scarily stalks them to the point that they may need to get a restraining order. We say “smile, Jesus loves you” and “if you ever need fire insurance or a big cosmic hug, Jesus is always available”. Then we mention that all they have to do is chant the sinner’s prayer mantra and they’ll conveniently be “saved”! We pervert the gospel and liken chanting the sinner’s prayer mantra to having saving faith. This is because our modern Hollywood gospel has adopted marketing techniques, instead of Biblical techniques.
The real gospel is offensive as Hell (God’s judgment) because Hell is offensive and the bad news of the gospel is Hell. It shows us how holy God is, thus, how un-holy we are because we fail to uphold God’s ways. We lie, steal, cheat, are jealous, prideful, lustful, and worship whatever we think will make us happy, instead of Christ. Our assumption is that God is less holy then He is and that we are more holy then we are. But God doesn’t grade sin on a curve. He grades it by perfection. One sin is enough to separate us from God for eternity. Hence, why Satan and Adam were immediately cut off from God after sinning once!
No one has loved Christ perfectly and loved others perfectly every millisecond of their life (which is required of us). Even if you or I started to we would still be guilty for the millions of times we haven’t done this in the past. God is holy and we are not, thus we deserve eternal wrath as the punishment for our great crimes. This is the bad news. But the gospel also offers us help. The good news is that Jesus lived the life we couldn’t (in thought, word, deed, and intention), died the death we deserve (for not living the life required of us), and rose to prove it all satisfactory.
By placing our faith in Jesus Christ we can be justified. Our faith skips over our inabilities to please God, and saves us by giving us Christ’s abilities to please God. What profound grace there is in Jesus Christ! But in light of James 2, you and I must emphasize sanctification just as much as justification! Sanctification is obeying Christ since he’s Lord (Boss). It’s also becoming more like Him. Sanctification is made possible by justification, and also proves our justification.
How did Paul say we should live if we are justified through faith apart from works?
What Paul taught in light of solafide is profoundly similar to what James taught!
Romans 3:31 “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”
Romans 6:1 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!
Romans 6:11-12 “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”
Paul even teaches that we are saved unto good works far more then James does. Probably because Paul wrote most of the NT and wrote the most about soteriology. He’s well aware that good works flow out of justification, and we should be too. If a bird’s broken wing is restored, the bird will naturally fly. So it is with one who’s heart of stone changes to a heart of flesh. They will naturally love God and others.
Paul teaches faith justifies us before God. Rom 4:2 says, “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.” So works don’t justify us before God, but faith will justify us before God. Rom 4:3-5 says, “What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited unto righteousness.”
James teaches works justify us before men. Verse 18 says, “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
The verse doesn’t say “show God your faith without deeds, and I will show God my faith by what I do”. God sees the heart. He knows if we have faith in him or not. He also grants it. But the verse is referring to people detecting if faith is real by works, which will flow out of a living faith. If works don’t flow out of your faith, then your faith may be dead and you may not be justified. The world is watching!
Again, the significance of all this is that if we are justified by faith before God, then our works will demonstrate this before men.
Would it even make sense for the apostles to teach that we should expect works flow out of true faith?
True faith deals with an inward heart change. It deals with the eyes of our hearts being opened to know, love, and serve God no matter what because that’s the nature of a changed heart. Once this happens to a person they change the way they live their life. It effects their whole person, especially how they behave towards God and others. It’s no wonder why we see the apostles teaching that good works are expected to come out of true faith. If your theology is opposed to this, and you want to believe that faith + works = salvation because you want to have a reason to do good works, then just simply be justified because then good works will follow.
Simply put, “faith works”. That’s it! Faith works. Genuine faith works because it carries with it a love of God and others. It’s more then intellectualism or proper knowledge. True faith is faith that works. Does your faith work? Or is it mere profession? If it’s only mere profession you may be highly deceived and you may not really know our blessed Savior Jesus Christ. Or if you think you’re saved because of what you do you may not know our blessed Savior Jesus Christ.
Why does meriting salvation or keeping salvation have to be the reason you do good works? Meriting salvation or keeping salvation leads to works which are either prideful or despairing. This is because you’re either prideful because you think you’re as good as you ought to be, or you’re in despair because you know you’re not as good as you ought to be. God’s free gift of justification is the best reason to do good works because you’re good works preclude pride and despair. You’re able to have good works with a humble, confident, joy. You know that Christ was as good as you ought to be for you, thus you’re now fully free to serve him with a loving heart. It’s very simple and beautiful.
Would it even make sense for any apostle to teach that we are justified by works, or faith + works?
Lastly, it wouldn’t even make sense for James, or any apostle, to teach that we are justified by works or faith + works because James only says a few verses prior in verse 10 that “anyone who has broken a command is guilty of breaking them all”. The OT and the apostle Paul reiterate this in Deut 27:26 and Gal 3:10 in that “cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the law”. In other words, we can’t be justified or accepted by God by performing any work simply because God requires PERFECTION. I would say he requires absolute perfection, but that would be redundant. You get the point.
In Robert Sungenis’ book ‘Not By Faith Alone’, he says on page 302 in regard to Protestants saying that God demands perfection, “But once the atonement was accomplished, the grace of God was made available to the whole world. For those who wish to avail themselves of this grace, God will no longer look at them through the eyes of the uncompromising and exacting system of law that was put in place as their judge after Adam’s sin. God will now look at them as a father looks upon his children, not as a judge looks upon a criminal.”
So Rome would have you believe you can merit what Christ already merited. He didn’t merit it for you vicariously, but merited it for you to merely access it. This is why the Protestant view of God is more gracious, thus more glorious. He really does save. It’s not hypothetical. In addition, Rome would have you believe that first merital system, the Mosaic and moral law, won’t justify you, but its later merital system of the 7 sacraments sure will! No wonder the Pope gave the OK to kill Jews during the Crusades. Could there have been a hidden battle of pride over who’s merital system really saves and who’s doesn’t on Rome’s part? I believe it was the case.
Nevertheless, Sungenis fails to acknowledge that if God demands absolute perfection, absolute sinlessness, then it’s not a matter of accessing merit, but a matter of being justified. It’s a matter of being counted as sinless before judgment, not getting part of the way there! When a Catholic dies they are not fully justified yet, hence the need of purgatory. According to the demands of perfection, such a person would still receive eternal punishment upon death because they would still be found with at least .000001% of sin. In light of purgatory after death, God certainly does NOT look at us as a father upon children, unless we’re comparing God to a dad who’s a redneck and punches his kids in the mouth for sass-talk. With purgatory, God is still viewing us a criminals in need of punishment, not as one’s who have been made fully righteous vicariously in Christ fully by Christ.
God requires, demands, and absolutely necessitates perfection from us. Works do not, cannot, and never will matter so long as God is 100% holy and finds even the smallest sin within us. One sin, past, present, or future, will always be enough to separate us from God for all eternity. This is why we need a perfect substitute. His name is Jesus Christ. He lived the life we can’t live. We are saved by the God-Man’s 100% obedience to the Father which we utterly lack. Then he died the death we deserve (for not living the life we should have) because the wages of sin is death and God’s wrath. Everyone was confused and thought the Messiah died, but after all he is the Resurrection. The only innocent man in history was publicly murdered but a few days later he was better than ever. He rose to prove this work completely satisfactory and we will forever rise unto indestructible bodies with him.
Just as we were all condemned in the first-Adam without having done anything, so many are redeemed in the second-Adam without having done anything (Rom 5). Those who are in Christ, and no longer in Adam, will be justified in Christ, will believe Christ to be their Lord (Boss) and Savior, and will live as though He is. What great and glorious news! So believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and live for him today! Receive him for who he truly is!
NOW PLEASE TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS!!!
(cross reference this post with ‘Is Merely Wanting To Be Saved A Work Of Salvation?’, and learn how saving faith isn’t to make salvation easy, but to make God the only one who boasts in our salvation.)