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Saved By Works


 James 2:14-26

These verses here in James 2:14-26 are some of the most controversial verses in all of scripture.

 Now, to do that, one of the first things we must do is convince people that this is the word of God and to trust what the Bible says.

Well, that is what makes this passage so controversial.

In fact, this passage seems so contradictory to other passages that some of the early religious reformers were not sure that James should even be a part of the Bible…

What is it about this passage that is so controversial…so seemingly contradictory?

1          What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?2          For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.3          For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”4          Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.5          But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,

In this passage the Apostle Paul says that “Abraham was justified by faith“…and likewise for us, “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, to him it is reckoned as righteousness.”

Look with me at Galatians 2:15-16.

15        “We {are} Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of law; since by the works of law shall no flesh be justified.

 Once again, Paul says that “no man is justified by works…but by faith in Jesus Christ.”

Now, turn back to James 2 and notice verse 24.

24        You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

 So, what you have is Paul saying that a man is justified by faith…and not by his works.

Is James contradicting what Paul has said?

Which one is right….Paul or James?

Well, the answer is both.

Let’s go back to Romans and lets look at the context to understand what Paul is saying.

First, let’s go all the way back to chapter 3 and notice verse 1.

Now notice verse 21 and following.

Now, apart from law”….completely and separate from law.

Now, verse 22:

…even {the} righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;

 That is the problem here.

Basically, what they were saying is, “We can be good enough on our own to be saved.”

Look with me at Romans 10 and notice what Paul says. Now here Paul is speaking about these Jews.

1          Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them (Jews) is for {their} salvation. (the Jews are lost).

2          For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God (they are very religious), but not in accordance with knowledge. (Paul says that their knowledge is faulty.)

3          For not knowing about God’s righteousness (justification by faith in Christ) and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (They did not accept the principle of faith in Jesus.)

4          For Christ is the end (goal) of the law…(end” here means “the point aimed at”…Christ is what the law was trying to achieve. The law showed that no one can be justified by their human performance. No one can be good enough. But Christ was. The law manifested the need for Christ)… for righteousness to everyone who believes.

5          For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. (Law keeping demands flawless obedience to every command which is impossible.)

6          But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down),

7          or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” (Righteousness based on faith does not demand the impossible! Redemption is not based on human performance.)

8          But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”– that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, (Righteousness by faith says, “Just accept what God has already done in Christ. Not what you can do. It is impossible for anyone to earn salvation. It is God who initiated the coming of Christ. God makes salvation available. All we have to do is trust in what God has done.)

9          that if you confess (homolegeo – “one word” – to say the same thing about Christ that God says – this is my beloved Son..He is Lord)with your mouth Jesus {as} Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;

10        for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, (verbalizes his faith in Jesus) resulting in salvation.

 And look at vs. 11:  For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

 These Jews were not believing in Christ…they were trying to save themselves by their works…and Paul’s point is…they couldn’t do it.

Side note: Many will take this passage and say, “Paul says you can be saved without being baptized.” That is not what this passage is about. Paul has already dealt with baptism back in chapter 6. This passage is about Jews who were trying to save themselves by human performance…which is impossible…and their need to put their faith in Jesus and His performance on the cross.

Now, Galatians 2: 14 and 15. What is the context.? Well, let’s start in verse 11:

11        But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

12        For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he {began} to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.

13        And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

14        But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how {is it that} you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

15        “We {are} Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

16        nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of  law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

 These men from James had come to Antioch (this does not mean that these men held the same views that James held. Acts 15 indicates that James did not agree with what these men did)…and what they were doing is they were saying, “Jesus isn’t enough to save you. ”

And in verse 16 Paul says, “works of the flesh has nothing to do with it…you are saved by faith in Christ.

Paul is talking to some Jewish converts who were trying to deny that salvation is in Christ and Christ only.

Now, let’s go back to James 2:14 and see what James talking about?

 14        What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

 Notice who James is talking to here? He is speaking to His brethren.

And notice what the situation is.

If a man says he has faith…”

But look what he is doing!

Here is a guy who is just a Christian in word and not in deed.

James is saying that a non-working, saved Christian is a contradiction in terms.

So, what is the difference between what Paul says in Romans and Galatians…and what James says here.

Look at how Paul says it in Eph. 2:8. And remember, this is Paul.

8          For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God;9          not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 There is no contradiction between what Paul says here and what James says in James 2.

You cannot be saved by your works…you can only be saved by faith in Christ.