James vs. Paul: A contradiction?

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about faith in my sermons on Sunday mornings. We have seen that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). We have defined faith as follows:

Believing in something so much that you ACT on that belief without hesitation.

Faith isn’t merely saying you believe in something but living like you believe in that something.

As we talk about faith there are many who want us to talk about James 2. Many people have an opinion one way or the other about this passage. Many in the churches of Christ love this passage and use it to talk about the things we do as Christians. Some people dismiss this chapter because they believe in the “faith alone” passages of Romans and Galatians. Which is it? Are we saved by faith alone or do works come into play?

Paul says this:
Romans 4:1-5
​”What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

He also says this:
Galatians 2:15-16
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

So it seems that we are saved by faith alone. This is true, but you must understand the type of works that Paul is talking about in these passages. He is not talking about the works done as a result of faith. He is talking about the works people do in order to fulfill the law – as in the Old Testament Levitical Law System.

People believed that if they followed the rules of the Old Testament to the letter they would be found righteous. The problem with this is if you break one of the laws even once you have been found unrighteous, and there is no undoing that stained record. A person cannot justify themselves by following law.

But James says this:
James 2:14-17
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

So which is it? Do you need works for Salvation? James thinks so, but he is talking about a different kind of works entirely. He is not talking about following a religion legalistically. He is talking about a life that shows its faith by what it does.

The kind of deeds James is referring to have to do with faith. Faith without action is mere words. It’s not faith at all. If we are going to claim to have faith then there needs to be evidence of it by the lifestyle we show daily. Your lifestyle, the deeds you do daily, shows whether or not you have faith.

James and Paul are not in contradiction with each other. They both believe that faith shows itself in what we do (Galatians 5:6).

So, you are not saved by proving yourself worthy. You are saved by a faith in God that expresses itself daily in a lifestyle of love for God and others and trust in the Creator to sustain and fulfill you.

So are you saved by faith? Yes! But faith cannot be defined without action. May your life reflect that saving faith, and may others see that faith in you.

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About Johnathan Dobbs

I'm a Christian first. I'm a husband and father second. Then I am an avid outdoorsman (hiking, camping, climbing, canoeing, fishing, etc...). Right now, I have a passion for climbing and card tricks. I am the minister for the Aztec church of Christ in Aztec, NM. I look forward to meeting new people and hearing from all. View all posts by Johnathan Dobbs

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