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Paul vs James

Faith or works. What should we be doing?  

It all boils down to one question. Is it enough just to be saved, or are we meant to do stuff too?  We can look at this debate in two ways. The first way is the Greek way, where we lock horns over Scripture, depending on whether we are following Paul (in Romans, Ephesians and Galatians) or James (in his letter). First, in Paul’s corner we give you the following:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:28)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1)

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

These seem to be clear cut, with the primacy on faith.

Then, James gives us the following:

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:17-18)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (James 2:14)

So, what’s it to be? Faith alone, sola fide, as declared by Martin Luther, the Reformer (who had quite a low view of the Book of James), or faith plus deeds, as the apostle James is telling us?

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Is it a matter of context or is one Biblical letter writer to be held at a higher esteem?

Or … can they both be right? This ought to be our approach to Holy Scripture, as God would not have allowed any falsehoods in His words. And this brings us to the second way to reading these words … the Hebraic way.

If the Greek way is to argue over words and their meaning and to retrench into our chosen corner when there appears to be conflicting verses, the Hebraic way looks elsewhere for inspiration. The Hebraic way would look first at the Author of the words and ask, knowing the character of the Author, what is He saying here, and what isn’t He saying?

It would look at the Paul passages and agree with the fact that one’s works won’t get you saved, only faith is going to do that. Then it would look at James and agree with the fact that once we are saved, if there’s no evidence of a changed life, through one’s works, then there’s something wrong here! If faith has not resulted in deeds, then how can that person be truly saved? It gives a lie to the work that the Holy Spirit does in us:

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

Remember, straight after Paul tells us that we have been saved by faith …

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

He then tells us that this faith must result in good works.

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

So the Hebraic mind tries to get inside God’s mind and make Him the centre of our thinking, before we start to analyse (or dissect) His Words.

Now do you think Almighty God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth would allow His son to die a horrific, painful death on the Cross to atone for the sins of mankind, in order that some of us could just bide time on this earth, existing solely for the spiritual rewards of the next life?

If we have inclined ourselves to this opinion then there have been historical precedents for this and we really need to learn from history in order to move on in our Christian life.

Here it is in a nutshell … in the next article

For the previous article in this series, click here.

For the next article in this series, click here.

To find out about MY NEW BOOK, "Hope", click here.

You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.

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