Once you understand why James 2:14ff says something different,
you can understand how faith alone saves. James taught Judaism
same as did Jesus during His earthly ministry. Works were
essential to obtaining blessings. The entire Mosaic Law was
based upon blessings for upholding the law and hard times for
not upholding the law. A gentile could only be saved by coming
to God via a Jew. All nations were to be blessed as a result of
Israels blessings. Keeping the law was imperative. This Jesus
Himself taught as is evidenced by the rich man asking Jesus what
he must "do" to go to heaven. You will recall that Jesus told
him to keep all the law. I chuckle at how Jesus kept His calm
when the rich man replied to Jesus that he has kept all the law
since birth. Imagine that. Anyway, this is what James (Jesus'
half-brother) was rooted in. James, like Israel, was not set
free from Jesus later teachings.
You may recall that before Jesus was leaving the apostles, He
told them that there was so much to say but not enough time to
say all that He had to say. Much of Christianity follow and
understand what was taught up until this point. After all, it is
in red letters in the Bible. What part of Christianity fails to
see are the additional teachings revealed by Jesus Christ from
heaven through Paul, the apostle to the gentiles. It is here
that Paul writes in his epistles what was progressively revealed
to him from Jesus Christ from heaven after Jesus' earthly
ministry. The book of Romans makes it abundantly clear that
salvation is by faith alone. This was a powerful tenant of the
When Paul went back to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, James and
John, it was said that they (the pillars) had nothing to add to
what Paul had to teach, on the contrary... GAL 2:6 As for those
who seemed to be important--whatever they were makes no
difference to me; God does not judge by external
appearance--those men added nothing to my message. 7 On the
James was still insisting on the old system of works. In fact,
he sent two brothers along with Paul to make sure that Paul
taught Acts 15:29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to
idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from
Paul had whittled down all the Mosaic Law still being promoted by James down to accepting for the sake of peace between the
brothers those simple requirements. James was adamant about it.
James was also the head of the church in Jerusalem. Peter was
intimidated by James. Paul knew that for his message to be
heard, he would have to "bend." He knew that he would eat or not
eat certain food if it affected the faith of a brother
regardless of his understanding that it made no difference.
Ergo, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. This is how Paul won
over the greater number to Christ. Consider RO 14:19 Let us
therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to
mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the
sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to
eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is
better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that
will cause your brother to fall.
RO 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep
between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not
condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has
doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from
faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Even Jesus during His earthly ministry turned away works in
MT 7:21 "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter
the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my
Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day,
`Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name
drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell
them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
What is the will of the Father? It is to belief on His only
begotten Son. Here Jesus turns away those who try to enter
heaven based on works they have done. Nothing we can do will
earn us heaven, nothing except to do the only thing we can do
without actually performing anything and that is to choose to
Recall also that Jesus told Paul to no longer go to the Jew but
only to the gentiles. At Paul's second and last meeting with
those reputed to be powerful, James, Peter and John, they all
agreed that James, Peter and John would go to the Jews and Paul
would go to the gentiles. This is what Paul needed from the
three as this is what Jesus had instructed him to do. The
keeping of a certain "work" was no longer necessary for
salvation but was an accommodation by Paul to obtain the greater
understanding for Paul to be permitted by James, Peter and John
to preach to the gentiles. This all occurs in the book of Acts.
If you will now consider Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the
grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the
law, Christ died for nothing!"
And Galatians 2:16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Works is NOT what saves us, it is faith in the shed blood of
Jesus at Calvery. Faith alone as Paul teaches in Romans 3:28 For
we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from
observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the
God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is
only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the
uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify
the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Now, much of Christianity sees this as a contradiction to what
James says about faith being dead without works. They chose to
either believe that salvation is by faith alone following Paul
or that salvation is by faith plus works following James. My
friend, they cannot both be right as they are diametrically
opposed. Here we fair well to heed 2Timothy 2:15 Do your best to
present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not
need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Even though James says it himself, he came from an experience of
law and remained rigid in it. Consider when James gives the
example of Abraham beginning to sacrifice his son and associates
that work with his faith for righteousness. James then hits the
nail on the head and fails to recognize it when he says James
2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham
believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and
he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is
justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
James no sooner says that Abrahams belief (faith) in God is
credited to him as righteousness when he claims to the contrary
that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith
alone. His conclusion stems from his traditional understanding
and not by the very fact he himself presents.
The works James refers to are not works that LEAD to salvation,
they are works as a RESULT of salvation that already cometh by
faith. Are these works our works to be "credited" to us for
salvation? No, these works come from God's Holy Spirit living
within us (the saved) being performed by our saved bodies.
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9
NOT BY WORKS (caps mine), so that no one can boast. 10 For we
are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.
As you can now plainly see from God's Word, salvation is NOT BY
WORKS but rather the saved person is God's workmanship doing
God's good works which He prepared in advance (before the
foundations of the world) for us to do. So James refers to the
works that God does through the saved by faith individual. These
works are NOT credited to our salvation but rather are a result
of our salvation by faith alone. Hence, James rightfully claims
that faith without works is dead. These are the works of the
already saved person performed by the Holy Spirit.
This seems like a long winded explanation but actually it is
very short as much of God's Word testifies to this discernment.
We pray this provides a seed for understanding.
Our salvation is by faith alone and that faith produces in us works that make our faith self evident.
Praise be to Jesus Christ! □