Tag Archives: Works

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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Why Do We Do Good?

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“I don’t do good works to be saved; I do good works BECAUSE I am saved.”

Have you ever heard that phrase? Chances are that someone has said this either to you or in relation to some church they feel are teaching a works-salvation theology. I’ve heard this more times than I can count used to explain the relationship between works and salvation.

I’m not so sure this cliché really gets to the heart of this matter.

First of all, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.” This passage definitely rules out the works as being part of our salvation, or does it?

What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 gives the most popular definition, but for me it’s still a little vague. When you study faith in the scripture it is more than belief. Belief is a thought or emotional connection about something. It is a conviction, but until it has an action tied to it, it is not faith. Faith is being so sure of you what you cannot see that you act on what you cannot see. Faith by its very nature is active. According to James, faith without deeds is dead. Is this a contradiction? No.

When I come to faith in God and give my life to Him I have to make some pretty major life changes. Anyone whose life has not been changed since coming to Christ has not truly been “converted” to anything and their salvation is suspect for Christ is ever working in us through His Spirit to make us more like Him. In order to have faith I must begin to act on the knowledge that God is real and I truly have been saved from my sins. The natural outcome of this is love for God. And love is always an action when it comes to God and others (love of ice cream is action too but altogether different).

When I begin to see the scope of love from God to me, then I am faced with just how unworthy of that love I really am. It is only when I come to that reality that I begin to love others as I have been loved. To love God is to love those whom God loves.

This brings me to my second thought regarding the cliché above. every time I have heard this phrase it has been in a setting where someone (at times me) has been trying to explain to someone else that they have an obligation out of their salvation to do good works to others. Even though I have always felt this to be extremely shallow I have been caught up into teaching this technique as well. There is a hint of truth here, but it misses the beauty of salvation and doing good by a long shot.

If you told me it was your birthday then ordered me to give you a gift, then it wouldn’t feel much like a gift when you received it. Or if I gave a gift to my daughter and told her, “well, your mother said I have to give this to you – it’s my obligation as your dad.” What would her reaction be? I am afraid it would be the worst gift ever for it wasn’t given out of love.

We are definitely called, as Christians who have been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, to do good works. Those good works are evidences of our faith. But if I am doing them out of a sense of duty, then they aren’t benefiting me or anyone else.

I don’t do good works because of an obligation due to my salvation. I do good works because God has loved me beyond my worth and comprehension. As I see His love and begin to realize that love, then I love Him back (the first and greatest commandment according to Jesus). Then, as that relationship of love grows I learn to see others through God’s eyes and love them as well (the second greatest commandment).

I don’t do good works to be saved. I do good works because God loves me, and I love Him, and I love others as well.

If you can’t accurately make that confession about yourself, then you are going through the motions. Over and over the bible condemns such actions. God would rather you be silent than lie to him in song. He would rather you keep your money than give it in frustration out of a sense of duty. But most of all, he would rather not have to worry about any of that because you are absolutely in love with Him and His creation.

I hope that the next time you hear this phrase it will spur you to remember this article. I hope you are passionately pursuing relationship with God. I hope you are loving people out of compulsion rather than out of duty – you can’t help love them because of the love-relationship between you and God.

If you haven’t begun your love-relationship with God where He has taken away your sins and given you His perfection, then I’d love to discuss any questions you may have regarding making that happen. It’s up to you. Last Friday 12 people unexpectedly died. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Don’t put off your relationship with God through Jesus another day.

If you have been going through the motions, then Jesus is calling you to come back to your first Love. The most wonderful thing about Jesus is that He has never left you; He has been there the whole time waiting for you to desire Him again. If I can pray with you or help you come back in any way please let me know.

You can reach me at jddobbs@verizon.net or at the office at 245-1611. You can even comment on this article or any previous articles at http://www.mrdobbs.org.

God bless you as you do good in His name and for His sake.


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