Hi all, lately I have been learning EXPONENTIALLY more than I ever dreamed about the Bible. I am doing this by listening to podcasts on iTunes (Cornerstone Sermons, Leading the Way Radio, The Bible Answer Man Broadcast) and reading books such as How to Read the Bible for all It’s Worth, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, and any and all books and articles from the website reasons.org. I am going to start a series of blog posts about what I’ve learned that have changed my mind about certain things that I was either taught or thought were correct that I’ve learned aren’t. You’ll see what I mean when I write the entries, but tonight I wanted to give some clarity to the “works” debate.
As a Protestant, I have always been taught that we do not work FOR salvation but FROM salvation. Good works are an important part of a Christian’s life to bring glory to God and, obviously, to help people, as Christ taught in Matthew 25:35-45. It wasn’t really a “teaching” exactly, or a command, it’s more of an expectation. I cannot speak to the Catholic point of view, but I have the impression that “good works” help in salvation. If I am wrong, please do let me know!
The book of James seems to be a point of confusion, since it seems to say that works have a part in salvation, although elsewhere in the Bible it is clear they don’t (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16). However, James 2:14-26 states:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but dose not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe-and they shudder. Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Now here comes the part where it’s is imperative that we read this and the entire Bible in context. I have blogged about understand context and history before with my entries on:
“Should Christian women avoid wearing jewelry or braids?” (blog 8 of Lent)
“Tattoos” (blog 5 of Lent)
Why sacrificing a child wasn’t odd in Old Testament times (blog 3 of Lent)
Why Paul “prohibited” women from speaking in church (“This is why understanding the context, history, and language of the Bible is important”)
And thankfully my Bible explains what we may not understand regarding this issue. (I use The Apologetics Study Bible, if you’re interested) The foot note in James says this: “Many skeptics argue that a contradiction exists between Paul’s statement that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from works’ (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16) and the teaching of James that ‘a man is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24). However, these positions actually complement each other.
First, Paul and James addressed different situations. On the one hand, Paul refuted a Jewish legalism holding that one must observe the [Jewish] Law’s requirements in order to be saved. On the other hand, James opposed an antinomianism that was twisting faith in Christ so much that no expression of works was necessary.
Second, when Paul used the word ‘justified,’ he meant ‘saved’ or ‘declared righteous,’ whereas James meant ‘vindicated’ or ‘authenticated.’ By “works,’ Paul meant ‘works of the Law,’ whereas James meant works that faith produces.
In light of the above, Paul was saying that one is declared righteous by God apart from the works of the Law. James, by contrast, was saying that a person’s faith produces works that vindicate his faith in Christ as genuine. James used Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and Rahab’s protection of the spies as examples to show that their works authenticated the reality of their faith in God. For James, faith without works was clearly worthless; it must be more than words. Authentic faith will bear the fruit of good works.