There was a recent posting in Heidi's video on "Sukkot" where the person questions the idea of "Saved by Faith Alone", and rather presents the "Faith & Works" message where works are required. I wanted to bring light to this subject, and I'll probably do a recording (maybe tonight), to walk through the James 2 text that is so often misunderstood, and therefore used incorrectly to present this idea that we "must do works to be saved".
We stand firmly on Christ's life and His righteousness, nothing of ourselves. If we are truly born again, then good works will follow, but it's not those that justify us before God.
I'm attaching the original post and my reply in a PDF so that you can read it without having to go to YouTube to find the video and look up the messages. Hopefully this will bless you and provide a great teaching resource as well. To God be all glory!
-Pastor Travis, reach him here: firstname.lastname@example.org for more!
Based on your post, it sounds like you consider yourself to believe and follow Jesus? Since you make some bold statements, I will therefore demonstrate the error of your ways, hoping that the full counsel of the Word of God will demonstrate your statements to be both false and worse, damning. I will even do this without using any of Paul’s writings.
First, “it will take much studying to understand what is truth”, is an accurate statement, but lets turn that back upon your stance. I wonder how much you’ve truly read of James 2, and paid attention to the flow of the author’s intent and argument (yes, lead along by the Holy Spirit)? I wonder why you placed your James 2 verses, both out of context, and in reverse order?
James 2:14 actually begins the next section in which James is making another point, but based on 2:1 where it states:'My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.’ James 2:1 ESV
So it is in “holding the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” that one might then profess such a faith, but their actions demonstrates they are not born again \ there’s been no regeneration of the heart. Now pay attention to verse 14: “What good is it, if someone SAYS (publicly professes) he has faith but does not have works? Can THAT FAITH (the “professed” spoken faith; someone who is making the claim to know Christ) save him?”
You completely missed this point.
That’s why the continued flow in verses 15 and 16 then gives a real-life example of someone “saying something” but demonstrating their statement to be shallow by not actually providing the needs of the one being spoken to, and therefore denying that they are living according to the “royal law” (the 2nd greatest commandment: “To love your neighbor as yourself”, which is directly stated in James 2:8), which looks back at James 1:25, speaking of the “perfect law, the law of liberty”.
'If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?' James 2:15-16 ESV
That’s where then verse 17 is summarizing that statement that the “professed faith” (claimed faith by itself) is shown to be a dead (false) faith.
If you then leave out verses 18 – 26, which James is continuing his thought, you are removing the context, and thereby manipulating the text to make it say something it’s not. Follow along to see what I mean: ‘But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.' James 2:18 ESV
James here is simply asking the question, “how does one ‘show’ (prove) that they have faith? (Faith = Believing in what God has spoken.) In other words, can simply making statements be evidence that they truly have genuine faith? That’s where verse 19 is posed as the argument against the “verbal only faith” as proof: 'You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!' James 2:19 ESV
You may not realize, but James is using the traditional Jewish “Shema Y’Israel” prayer which is directly quoting Deuteronomy 6:4, to argue that even the Demons believe this statement because they know God and shudder. The weight of this argument is that it was to be spoken in both the morning and the evening, every day: '“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.' Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV
In other words, just saying the prayer didn’t demonstrate (prove) that your faith was genuine. So then how does one “show faith by works”? Is there a biblical example? James asks this exact question, just more pointed: 'Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?' James 2:20 ESV
Which leads to the next point, enter in Abraham, the father of faith: 'Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?' James 2:21 ESV
Now before you think, “See, James is saying Abraham was saved by works…”, you need to show yourself approved and recognize the reverse timeline that James is using to make his point. James here is referring to Genesis 22:1-19. If you follow Abraham’s life and the ages given, you would realize Abraham is around 110 years old (Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old, ref. Genesis 21:5, Isaac is old enough to understand the sacrifice and carry the wood up the mountain, ref. Genesis 22:6-8). James does this to drive his point home in the next few verses: 'You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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.' James 2:22-23 ESV
Abraham’s faith was “active”, meaning he was already and continuing to believe God for what He has promised, and it was “completed” (made whole \ tested and proven true) when he offered up his son as commanded. This was to demonstrate and prove that when God declared Abraham righteous, all the way back in Genesis 15:6, it was simply for believing God in what He said to Abraham in Genesis 15:1-5: 'After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”' Genesis 15:1-5 ESV
Nothing in that passage indicates Abraham (Abram at that point), doing some “work” to be counted as Righteous (justified), rather, it was completely through faith (believing) in God’s promises: “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (1), “your very own son shall be your heir” (2), “number the stars… so shall your offspring be” (3). Not only was this unconditional (God didn’t say “if you do…”), He just simply stated what He would do for Abram. This was Abraham’s saving faith being established, and not on the basis of any works done!
This was before circumcision that was given in Genesis 17 when Abraham was 99 years old (ref. Genesis 17:1), and therefore roughly 30 years before Abraham is told to offer his son Isaac (ref. Genesis 12:4, he’s 75 years old, and Genesis 16:16 where he’s 86 at the birth of Ishmael). So Abraham believed God, but how would one know? His belief is therefore demonstrated in the event in which he offers his son, believing that God who promised him numerous offspring, from his own body, and even through both Sarai and Isaac (not Ishmael, ref. Genesis 17:15-21), would come to pass. This is why Abraham can boldly declare his answer to Isaac when asked, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering”: 'Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.' Genesis 22:8 ESV
See, James recognizes this profound truth, that Abraham’s faith was also in “God will provide for Himself the lamb”, which is fulfilled not in the ram found in the thicket, but rather truly in our Lord Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (ref. John 1:29).
So with that in mind, let's look back now to James 2:24, which you started with in your argument, but failed to recognize the context and order in which James uses that sentence:'You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.' James 2:24 ESV
If James was trying to conclude that Abraham was justified before God on the basis of his works, then he wouldn’t have referred to Genesis 15:6 as the foundation of Abraham’s righteousness. However, remember the beginning of this passage is between two people, not between God and man: 'What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?' James 2:14 ESV
If you think James is making the point that works is what saves us, simply look back a few verses earlier to the tenth verse:'For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.' James 2:10 ESV
Even Jesus destroys the idea that you must achieve righteousness through works: 'For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' Matthew 5:20 ESV
'You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' Matthew 5:48 ESV
So not only does your righteousness need to exceed the most fastidious “law followers” of Jesus’ day (besides Him of course), it must therefore be perfect. But beware, James even shows how impossible that is with his statement in James 2:10 where “if you stumble at one point, you’re guilty of all the law”.
Now I ask you, have YOU kept the Law perfectly? Have you loved the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE? See, in one regard, we are “Justified by works”, but not that of our own, but of Jesus Christ who “fulfilled all righteousness” (ref. Matthew 3:15). He even demonstrated perfect love both towards God and towards man, every moment of His life! If you think you can somehow add to His works to then achieve righteousness and justification before God, then you are denouncing the life of Christ as needed, and thereby boasting in self… YOU need to heed the words of Jesus who denounces those who proclaim they know Christ, but try to justify themselves with their works: '“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’' Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
If you think “doing the will of the Father” is doing “good works to achieve righteousness”, then you are sadly mistaken. Jesus even tells us EXACTLY what the will of the Father is in John 6: 'Then they said to Him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”' John 6:28-29 ESV
Are you believing in the finished work of Jesus, or has it been shown that you’re trusting in self-righteousness? Repent and believe!