>James vs. Paul? The dynamic between Faith and Works

>For those who were not at the service on Sunday, I preached on James 2:14-17. James 2:14-17 states this:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Is James contradicting Paul here? James goes on to say specifically Abraham and Rahab were justified by works in verses 21-26. Paul states in Romans 3:23-27 that we are justified freely by grace and the propitiation of Christ Jesus our Lord (“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.“) Many in scholarship today and in the past saw no way to reconcile James and Paul. What about James and Jesus? James was a half-brother of our Lord, but some could say that James and Jesus both teach a justification by works and Paul teaches a justification by faith. Look at Matthew 5:17-20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.

How do we reconcile this? The words justify, righteous, and righteousness all come from the same root Greek word – dikaios. Justify in Greek is simply the verbal form of the word righteous. To justify is to make righteous. So when Jesus says that unless our righteousness / justification exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven and James says that Abraham and Rahab were justified by works and faith without works are dead, how do we reconcile that with Romans 3-6?

First, we need to realize that the way Jesus and James define and use the word justification is different than the way Paul uses it. James uses the term to refer to an expression of the faith that is in you. The justification is an evidence or a proof of saving faith. And thus, what Abraham did in his agreeing to sacrifice Isaac or Rahab in assisting the spies was to evidence the saving faith that they already possessed. Genesis 15:6 records that when Abram believed in the covenant that God made to him, Abraham believed the Lord, and God counted it to Abram as righteousness. The event referenced in James about the almost sacrifice of Isaac did not occur until Genesis 22. Therefore, Abraham was already justified by faith in Genesis 15, 7 chapters before he was “justified by works”. You see how James is using this term differently – as an evidence or a proof. Regarding the Matthew 5 passage in the Sermon on the Mount, my ESV study bible notes (written Michael J. Wilkins) state this (this is not gospel but I agree with him):

“Jesus calls his disciples to a different kind and quality of righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees. They took pride in outward conformity to many extrabiblical regulations but still had impure hearts. But KINGDOM righteousness works from the inside out because it first produces changed hearts and new motivations (see Rom. 6:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 2:12; Heb. 8:10), so that the actual conduct of Jesus’ followers does in fact ‘exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.'”

This is deep stuff – BUT IT IS CRITICAL. The idea of justification by grace through faith because of the propitiatory work of Christ on the Cross (Propitiation is another word for ATONEMENT) is so mind boggling that we many times cannot grasp the concept even after salvation. Last night during class as we were going through Romans, my professor Dr. Steven Carlson mentioned this (in paraphrase):

Works righteousness and the idea that you can earn salvation or favor from God through works is the default religious view of fallen humanity. After the fall, there was within us a desire to still commune with God and to get back to that relationship. The problem is that in our fallen state, we by default assume that it is through “being good” or “good works” that this comes about. Thus, every religion in the world assumes works righteousness leads to salvation except Christianity (and I suppose Hinduism / Buddhism, which simply denies that sin exists, which is why it is so popular today).

Many of us who have lived within an evangelical context read the previous statements and say, “Sure, we get that you are saved by grace through faith and not by works, what else is new?”

But the following is what I think the hidden danger of legalism in the church:

Are you a closet legalist? A closet legalist is one that believes in salvation by grace through faith and not by works but once saved does good works to either reap the blessings of God or stave off the chastisement of God. We may think this is a proper reading of Scripture, but it robs us of the God of Scripture. It makes our God out to be some cosmic ogre demanding repayment of a stifling debt or a divine Santa Claus “making a list and checking it twice to see who’s been naughty or nice!”


In the Heidelberg Catechism question 86 says this: “Since we are redeemed from our sin and its consequences by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why must we do good works?” In other words, if salvation is by grace, why be good? The answer that the catechism gives is very instructive: “So that with our whole life we may show ourselves grateful to God for his goodness and that he may be glorified through us.” We offer service to the kingdom of God not to gain his affection but in loving thankfulness for his affection. (Question 86, pulled from Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 314)

It is my prayer that Christian evangelicalism will have a revival during the coming decades that will reclaim the true Gospel teaching of faith-righteousness in Christ Jesus. We truly are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. All this is from GOD WHO THROUGH CHRIST RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF AND GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION (II Cor. 5:17-18).

Amen, Christ Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father from everlasting to everlasting!

>Matthew 11:28


The scripture memory verse this week is Matthew 11:28, but I would like to quote the entire passage in this blog to give context (Matthew 11:25-30)
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” [ESV]
What an amazing passage! The first section of this discourse is astonishing. Jesus glorifies the Father in His will that the Lord has hidden the kingdom of heaven from the wise and understanding and has revealed them to little children. In other words, Jesus is declaring that those who are wise in the world’s eyes but are unrepentant and stubbornly refuse to accept the gospel. The little children however receive the gospel openly in simple faith and humility. Thus, we must emulate the little children in our faith, not the skeptic. We live in a society that exalts doubt and skepticism. But this “un-trusting” attitude towards God and his revelation, the Holy Bible, has caused more harm to the gospel than anything else today. We see denomination after denomination finding its effectiveness eroded by their rejection or manipulation of the gospel of Christ. Paul the apostle mentioned this tendency in Galatians 1:7-9 –> “not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. but even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have saide before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Strong words. God has shut out and hidden the truth from those who are wise and understanding according to the world’s calculations. Jesus calls this hiding of truth from the wise and understanding God’s GRACIOUS will. Jesus glorifies God in doing this. But those who humble themselves in confession before God and trust their lives to Him, they shall be saved! Salvation is found in humility and in faith, not in pride and in worldly wisdom.
The second section of this passage is equally astounding. My ESV study bible notes say this: “The first part of verse 27 reveals the profound divine self-consciousness of Jesus, as well as the supreme authority of the Father within the Trinity, by which he has delegated authority over “all things” to the Son. ‘All things’ probably refers to everything needed with respect to the carrying out of Christ’s ministry of redemption, including the revelation of salvation to those whom he chooses to reveal the Father.” Christ while incarnate had full authority on who he was going to reveal the Father to. He is perfect in his wisdom and authority! Jesus, both in his incarnate state and eternal state, shares an exclusive relationship with the Father, including a “direct and immediate knowledge of each other”. Thus, this is the glorious truth of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are separate in personhood, yet united and one in substance – co-equal and co-eternal. God the Son and God the Father are separate in personhood, yet are always united in a direct and immediate knowledge of each other and in communication and relationship.

The final section is so reassuring! This divine triune God, who created the world and by him all things are held together, move, and have their being (including us), is a God of peace and love for those who come to Him. Christ Jesus calls for all who have a downtrodden spirit, a frustrated life, dreams that have been crushed, souls who feel that they have no purpose, those who have tried everything in life and still are unsatisfied with life, those who have looked to material things for sustenance and found them wanting, those who are worried about tomorrow, those who are completely and utterly overwhelmed by anxiety, to simply come and fall down at the cross and cast our burdens upon him and he will give us rest! As I write this, I feel my own burdens lifting – what a glorious knowledge, that I can find true rest and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Christ then invites us to take his YOKE! This is in itself a burdensome object. The yoke was a wooden frame joining two oxen for pulling heavy loads, and is a metaphor for one person’s subjection to another, and a common metaphor in Judaism for the law [ESV study notes]. The law under the Pharisees’ influence had become a crushing burden, but the Pharisees truly believed that this burden of the law originated with God. However, Christ OBLITERATES this view!!!! Christ’s burden / yoke of discipleship brings REST through simple commitment to Christ. We no longer have to focus on minute details of the law and try to figure out how to keep an unkeepable legalism. We only have to yield to Christ Jesus. Our salvation is now focused on ONE person, not HUNDREDS of rules. Remember what Bro. Don mentioned in his sermon Sunday, grace is a FREE GIFT OF GOD (Romans 3:24), made possible by the sacrificial atonement of Christ for sin. However, this Grace, although it is free, is NOT CHEAP. This grace COSTS MUCH – it cost the life of the SON OF GOD! And thus, in order to have this grace you must yield all of yourself to the LORDSHIP of Christ – “to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow HIM. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Christ and his words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” [Luke 9:23-26 ESV].
Oh the glorious grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the divine, amazing love that is found in our Triune God!