LifeWalk

______________________ LIFE, FAITH, ETCETERA

Saved By Works? June 5, 2009

Filed under: Relating to God,Religion,Scripture — lifewalkblog @ 3:35 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

James 2:24  Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

            James 2:24 is an often quoted, often used scripture…often misquoted, and often misused.  Let’s take a look brief at it.  We’ll start by looking at a little more of the text around it.

James 2
21  Was not  Abraham our father justified by works, and by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the alter?
22  Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect”
23  And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness:  and he was called the friend of God.
24  Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25  Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.  (KJV)

            The first and major rule of scripture interpretation is that we interpret scripture by scripture.  When we see a truth plainly taught, dozens and dozens of times; when God makes it extremely obvious what His truth is, and then we run into a verse or passage that appears to go against everything we know about Him, that verse or passage must be viewed in the light of the totality of Holy Scripture.

            Taken out of context, it may seem  that this verse contradicts what the Bible clearly, repeatedly, teaches us:  That salvation is by faith and not by our good deeds (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:15-16).  James is saying that righteous acts are evidence of real faith, not that they actually save us.  In verse 2:23 he quotes Genesis 15:6 which plainly says that believing God is what resulted in Abraham’s right standing with God.  This happened long before Abraham’s act of offering up Isaac.  (This all happened 430 years before the law was given to Moses, but we don’t have time to get into that now.)

            The phrase “not by faith alone” found in James 2:23 refers to a mental agreement to certain truths.  The Bible says the demons “believe” and tremble.  Obviously, this is not the same “belief” that results in salvation, for that will never be found by demons!

            The whole point is that true faith, the faith that results in righteousness, the faith that results in salvation will produce works!  Works are an important result of saving faith, but they will never result in salvation.  They come from salvation.  When we tell others they need to do works to prove their faith, we’re getting the cart before the horse.  Trying to make people do works only leads to frustration.  If the works are not there, the problem is in the “faith” department.  It must be approached from that angle if any good for that person is to be accomplished.

            We do, of course, need to be very careful in judging others.  Yes, we know a tree by what kind of fruit is produced.  In nature, various plants produce fruit in different ways, and in different seasons.  An apple tree doesn’t produce apples all year-round.  There is a time of rest and nourishment.  True faith will produce works, but God’s timing is not always as we see it.  Beating on an apple tree will not bring forth apples.  Neither will religiously beating up on your brothers and sister bring about fruit in their lives!  James also says in chapter 2, verse 8, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.”

In the end, true faith will show itself, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.”

More Scripture

James 2
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”A you are doing right.
9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,”also said, “Do not murder.”If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,
13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 
16 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?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 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.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”E and he was called God’s friend. 
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 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?
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

 

4 Responses to “Saved By Works?”

  1. gmcastil Says:

    The first and major rule of scripture interpretation is that we interpret scripture by scripture. When we see a truth plainly taught, dozens and dozens of times; when God makes it extremely obvious what His truth is, and then we run into a verse or passage that appears to go against everything we know about Him, that verse or passage must be viewed in the light of the totality of Holy Scripture.

    A lot of Christians take this approach, but it’s dangerous and a real abuse to the analogy of faith.

    Interpreting Scripture by Scripture isn’t how the original audience would have understood it. James’ audience wouldn’t have been able to leap over to Romans or Galatians to understand what he meant. James wasn’t trying to convince his readers that if they were really justified then they would inevitably produce works. He’s telling them that doing works does indeed justify them…but not in the same way that faith does.

    You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

    This isn’t very ambiguous – clearly, a person is justified by what they do as well as by faith. But, James isn’t addressing himself to unbelievers but to those who are already regenerate. James is telling individuals justified by faith that they can and should be justified by works too! Obviously, there are two kinds of justification in view here.

    Justification isn’t a technical term for salvation – it simply means to be declared righteous. To clarify James’ meaning of justification by works, he gives an example of someone that was justified by faith being justified by works. Abraham was declared to be righteous twice – once before God, by faith and a second time before men, by his works. Simple. We shouldn’t rush to throw out the plain sense of the words.

    The phrase “not by faith alone” found in James 2:23 refers to a mental agreement to certain truths.

    There’s no textual reason to conclude that. One again, the words aren’t ambiguous: ouk ek pisteos monon – “not by faith alone”. But, if we allow ourselves to understand James from his own words as his readers would have, there’s no problem because we can take him at face value. Understanding what he means by justification allows one to understand what he means here when he tells us that justification is also by works and not just by faith.

    Ultimately, James is telling believers (those justified by faith) that they need to also be justified by works. If we do that, as Abraham did, then we will be known as the friend of God. I find that to be an immensely encouraging thing.

    • lifewalkblog Says:

      I understand what you’re saying, but I’m really not in agreement with much of it. You think the approach I use is “dangerous and a real abuse to the analogy of faith,” while I think it is dangerous not to do so. You say to “understand James from his own words as his readers would have.” We could do that if we lived in their time, had their mindset, their understanding, and their values. We would also need to know we had the original, unadulterated, letter from James. As far as I’m concerned, none of that is true.
      Plus, we need to have a right approach to scripture. We need to quit viewing it as some kind of “owner’s manual” like it’s the kind of instructions we get with “do-it-yourself furniture.” It’s not a book of formulas. It’s the story of God and his people. As stated in a more recent posting we must “go to God to understand the Bible; not go to the Bible to understand God.”
      Although I do disagree with you, I certainly respect your opinion. I thank you for joining in the conversation. God’s blessings on you.
      — Dave

      • gmcastil Says:

        You say to “understand James from his own words as his readers would have.” We could do that if we lived in their time, had their mindset, their understanding, and their values.

        Such is the task of the interpreter. But, if we aren’t trying to uncover the intended meaning that the author had in mind, then what are we doing?

        It seems that we too often use our tradition or a theological system as the means to understand the author.

        We would also need to know we had the original, unadulterated, letter from James. As far as I’m concerned, none of that is true.

        I’m not going to claim that errors of inclusion or omission might not lie in the text as we have it today, but that doesn’t mean that author intent ceases to be the guiding principle in validation of an interpretation. I’m not sure of your view of inerrancy, but if I can’t be confident that the text is reliable, then there really isn’t any point in reading or studying it at all. I would also add that your statement would apply equally to any view of James’ message (Arminian, Calvinist, Grace, etc.).

        It’s not a book of formulas.

        I’ve not argued that it is. I’m simply trying to draw out what the text suggests the author’s meaning is. Is that not the purpose of exegesis?

        As stated in a more recent posting we must “go to God to understand the Bible; not go to the Bible to understand God.”

        This implies that I’m able to know God in some arbitrary and extra-biblical way. If that were possible, then it seems difficult to see what the purpose of God’s revelation was.

        I’ve noticed a disturbing trend within Christendom. When confronted with an interpretation that violates our own, we tend to ignore the exegetical evidence and simply respond by jumping to other passages to defend our interpretation of the text at hand. Our discussion is an example… I’ve given a plausible explanation of James’ meaning from the text at hand. You said that you disagree, but you didn’t explain the flaw in my exegesis.

        I don’t disagree that my interpretation differs from yours – I don’t follow the Reformed or Arminian traditions. Can you show from James’ text how I’ve erred in interpreting this passage?

  2. lifewalkblog Says:

    I must go back to my previous statement “Go to God to understand the Bible; not go to the Bible to understand God.” I’m not implying we can know God in an extra-biblical way, I’m flat out saying it. If that’s not true, then I guess most 1st century believers never really knew God.
    Rather than address all your individual points, let me say I believe the problem, as I’ve written in other articles, lies in a wrong approach to the Bible in the first place. Scripture is good for training, doctrine, etc. But it is not the “end all” in knowing God. we must draw near to Him, and let Him reveal Himself to us. Let Him reveal truth to us. There is so much more to God than the scriptures. Idol worship is when we worship anything other than God. Many Christians view the Bible an additional object of worship; a fourth part of the Godhead.
    His Word is alive, active, more powerful that a double-edged sword, and not confined to a book. It’s not about the letter. It’s about life in the Spirit.
    I do believe the Bible is divinely inspired by God. There is divinely inspired poetry; divinely inspired metaphors; divinely inspired simile, and, yes, that which is divinely inspired to be taken literally. Understanding these different literary styles is vital.
    We must always take into consideration the original audience, as well as the human authors. We must look at the context of the surrounding passages; the letter in general, and (this is very important) the context of the story of God, and his provision of salvation by grace.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s