September 23, 2011 | Buen Consejo | for http://www.baptist.org
Faith or Works?
Romans 4 says Abraham was justified by faith without works. Yet James 2 says Abraham was justified by works. Both refer to the same incident. They are both right and they both agree. How can that be?
Now, this issue of James’ verses has many theological britches on a knot. It is so simple that people miss it. Firstly, in order to not miss what the scriptures teach, one must not approach reading with fears and religious prejudiced. Between the Catholics making people fear unless they have good works and the Baptists swinging the pendulum so far from works many feel they must choose sides. Well, both are imbalanced views.
Number one method for a prayed-up Christian to understanding scriptures: Re-read it, don’t re-write it. Don’t change it, it changes you. Let’s read it:
James 2:20-26 “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 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. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
First a basic understanding of faith and works in a generic definition: If I had faith that this post would write itself, it would not. I would have to put work to it. If I assume by faith I will go to be with the Lord when I die, what is the work or function to bring me there? In this case it is simple. The post did not write itself. I did the work and hoped God would lead the knowledge and give direction, being his work (especially with such a poor vessel). In salvation Jesus supplied the work when he died, was buried and rose again. Then, he did more work in presenting his risen body to the Father. So, faith and works together saved me. My faith… his works.
As to James’ verses specifically; he is not referring to what most people claim he is. Here’s the thing and the proof: He said: “…Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? …” Right away every insecure, religious person jumps up and cries out that he can’t be justified before God without works! Yet James said, “….And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness..” So you have to weasel, twist and, as Peter said, wrestle the scriptures to your own destruction to connect this to our eternal salvation. 2 Peter 3:16 “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Ok, ok, Proof? Let’s look at scripture compared with scripture in the light of scripture: Romans 4:1, 2 “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Did you catch that? “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.”
Attempting to be justified before God by works is foolish and it won’t happen: Romans 4:4-8 “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
So then, what is James saying? As Paul said: “…”What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?…” John 3:6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “…he hath whereof to glory; but not before God…” That would leave…. before men.
James said, James 2:18 “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” You show me, I show you. That’s what James said. James is talking about showing your faith to other people and being justified before people that your faith is real. “pertaining to the flesh… not before God.”
Wanna do the works of God? Listen to what Jesus said to do: John 6:28, 29 “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”
James and Paul are on the same team and on the same page.