Most of my life I believed I was justified by faith alone. It wasn’t until I started reading the Bible regularly that I noticed that the Bible doesn’t say this.
James 2 is the classic go-to passage. James specifically says we are not justified by faith only. Works play a part.
One of the best ways to determine whether what you are hearing is true, is to poke at it and listen to the defenses people offer for their stance.
Here are the treatments of James I have heard that try to skirt the issue and keep us saying we are justified by faith only, which is the opposite of what James says.
1) James was a Jew, what do you expect? This is sort of the take of Martin Luther (see his quote in yesterday’s post). Many believe Jews were justified by deeds of the law and doing sacrifices. But Paul clearly and repeatedly tells us no one was ever justified by deeds of the law. If you could be, then Christ died in vain. Saying that James was a Jew, whether anti-semitically like Luther, or in an attempt at pontificating on OT salvation doctrine, is a non-winning strategy. Whatever James is saying, he’s not erroneously caught up in Jewishness.
2) James is not part of the Bible. This is a challenge about inspiration. People are currently comfortable chucking other passages of the Bible they deem they know better than, why not add James 2 to the list? The problem is that James has always been viewed as being Scripture, until Luther. James says stuff that is consistent with Scripture. Unless you are comfortable being the Bible’s editor, I would not play this card.
3) James is talking about something different than Paul. Paul says in Romans that we are justified by faith. James says we see a man is not justified by faith only but by works. “See, Paul and James disagree! Therefore, whatever James is talking about, it must be something different than Paul. They can’t both be talking about justification for salvation, James must be talking about proving faith.” There is a partial point here, James is talking about proving his faith. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t talking about true, saving justification, because, he is. The way to reconcile the both is to see that Paul never said we were justified by faith alone. Saying we’re justified by faith, does not mean nothing else is a part of what faith is. (I’ll bring up some of these things in the days to come.)
4) The Bible is full of contradictions, who can make sense of it? I’ll just go with what my guys say. This strategy satisfies many. They chalk it up to mystery, stuff only people smarter than me can figure out. I’ll just go with whatever and hope God is gracious in the end. This sort of fatalistic whateverness will not go over well on Judgment Day. Remember the servant who buried his talent? Yeah, this is that guy. However you want to deal with James, don’t deal with him this way! Do something with this. Think about it. Figure it out.
The bottom line is this: we are not justified by faith alone. James clearly says so. Faith is a huge word and involves several things. If you go ahead and admit this, other passages will open up to you and you won’t have to feel confused as much. Just go ahead and admit that Martin Luther is not the Bible and you’ll start understanding some stuff!
Hebrews 11, the great chapter of faith, talks about faithful people. By faith so-and-so did whatever it was that God told them. Every single person listed as having faith did what God told them. That’s what faith is.
If God told Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham said “OK, I believe you want me to sacrifice my son” and yet never took his son out to sacrifice him, then Abraham, although professing faith, would not have had faith.
Faith does what God says. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. You know you heard the word of God when you do it. Faith works. Paul calls it “the obedience of faith” several times.
You are justified by faith and faith works. Justifying faith will show itself in your life. The old will pass away and a new life will take over. There is a process and we have a faithful High Priest when we mess up. Faith will show itself in works. Even the demons believe, but they have no works, therefore, their faith is no justifying faith.
It’s really quite simple once you eliminate all your doctrinal baggage you’ve lugged around all these years. The simplicity is freeing. Embrace it!