James 2:17 – So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
The great British preacher C.H. Spurgeon was once asked how he reconciled Scriptures that did not seem to agree with one another. The question was a fair one that most likely every Christian has at some point. Anyone who’s spent time reading and studying the Bible has found things that seem to contradict rather than complement one another. Spurgeon’s answer was perfect, “I wouldn’t try,” he said; “I never reconcile friends.”
One of the most hotly debated Biblical topics concerns the writings of Paul and James regarding justification, or how a sinner can be declared righteous and made right with God. At first glance, Paul seems to say we are saved solely by faith in Jesus’ works, and James says that it is a combination of faith in Jesus’ works and our works:
James on Justification
- James 2:17 – So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
- James 2:20 – Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
- James 2:26 – For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Paul on Justification
- Romans 3:28 – For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
- Romans 5:1 – Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Galatians 2:16 – …yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
- Galatians 3:11 – Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
- Galatians 3:24 – So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
As a general rule, Catholic theologians have tended to use James’ words to add some human works or religious traditions to faith, whereas Protestants have sought to retain a bright line of differentiation between faith and works. This is largely due to the Catholic monk Martin Luther whose revolutionary insights as a Bible teacher served as the axe that split Christians into two groups – Protestants, who were protesting the addition of works to faith, and Catholics.
Do you think more like James or like Paul? Can you see how they complement each other and don’t contradict each other?