June 9, 2009

Justified by Works or Faith?

"So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." (Romans 11:5-6).

What part of the above verse leaves any room for adding works to our salvation?

However, a lot of people insist that because James 2:14-26 says "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24), that it means we are not justified by faith alone before God. Is that what James is actually saying?

On the surface it may appear that James is teaching something he is not. Context is always key. When James speaks of being justified, he could be using this term differently than when Paul uses it. Just check the Biblical uses in context of the word justified. You will see that there are many different ways that word is used in Scripture.

Some people see this as a contradiction. They claim that James and Paul contradict each other, as any unbeliever would be delighted to point out. But from the perspective of the Bible, this cannot be true, since there are valid explanations of this difference within the Bible itself.

We need to recognize the Bible teaches that the very same faith which works, as well as the power in the new birth in order to work, are both given by the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17-18). The fact that faith, as well as every other "good gift" named in the Bible comes as a gift from God, is very plain in Scripture. It is stated also in Ephesians 2:8, where we are told that the faith by which we are saved, is the gift of God.

James seems to be proving from the examples of Abraham and Rahab that they were justified in their claim to have faith by the works they performed in faith. I draw this conclusion from the words James used in James 2:18, when he speaks of showing his faith by his works. In other words, "I will justify myself as having real and living faith, by my works." James is contrasting the dead faith without works with that which justifies.

So in the teaching of James, a man is justified as having living (not dead) faith by his works. He does not say that a man (or woman, as in Rahab) is justified as perfectly righteous before a Holy God by works. Rather, he seems to be reasoning that the person God justifies shows or proves it by their works. This is called being justified, since a person is justified as having faith by the works they perform. We see this same concept repeated in Hebrews 11, where many more examples are given.

I recently argued over this with someone, who still does not agree with me. However, I believe we can conclude confidently what Paul says in Romans chapter 3:

"Therefore, we conclude a man to be justified by faith without works of Law." (Romans 3:28).

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