Many people, after reading statements by Paul and James concerning faith and works, puzzle over what might appear to be a disagreement. Read the following two verses; then let’s analyze the situation. Paul -- Ephesians 2:8,9 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. James – James 2:24-26 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone… As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
When one reads the entire second chapter of James, he will observe that the author nowhere claims that one is saved through works. His claim is that proper faith will be evidenced by works. It is possible for one to have a kind of faith that does nothing. James claims that even demons believe, but they do nothing positive in response to their faith. It must be possible also for a person to do wonderful things without proper motivation. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul indicates that if one gives all of his possessions to the poor but has no love, it profits him nothing. One can even sacrifice his own body in flames, but if he has no love, the sacrifice goes for naught. But all of this is Paul’s message! Do Paul and James have a theological conflict?
To answer this question, let’s continue reading Paul’s words where we stopped in the earlier quotation. Ephesians 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Both Paul and James would agree that man does not work to gain salvation; a hard working atheist could be saved if this were the case. Paul says that we are created in Christ Jesus, and works follow. James says that if we develop a proper faith, works will follow. Therefore, we are not saved because we work. We work because we are saved! The stark reality must be realized; if works are not present, then neither is salvation, which comes from the kind of faith described by Paul and James.
Grace and Peace,
© Eli Borden
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