The Book of James Bible Study

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James 2

The Christian's Brethren

Dealing with the Rich

Theology of Money

Faith That Works - James 2:14-26

Faith Without Works

Abraham's Faith

The Righteous Life God Desires - James 2:19-25

Righteous Live by Faith

New Heart of the New Covenant

Faith That Works

In this passage, James builds on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:24-27. James carefully develops the theme of faith and works and their interaction. Faith and works are mentioned together ten times in the thirteen verses of this paragraph, but the stress throughout is on their interrelationship. The rhetorical questions of James 2:14 state the theme of this third test of faith. James insists that a living faith will authenticate itself in the production of works. There is no antagonism between faith and works.

This treatment was apparently necessitated by the tendency of some of the readers to go from one extreme to the other. Before their conversion to Christianity, these Jewish Christian believers had shared the prevailing Jewish emphasis upon the efficacy of works; after they saw and accepted the evangelical message that salvation is by grace through faith without meritorious works, they went to the opposite
extreme. They were now prone to assume that works were not needed at all. James was seeking to combat a moral indolence that was seeking to fasten itself upon their assurance of the doctrinal correctness of their faith.

This paragraph is one of the most difficult, and certainly the most misunderstood, sections in the letter. It has been a theological battleground; James often has been understood as contradicting Paul's teaching that salvation is by faith alone apart from works. None can deny that there is an apparent verbal contradiction between Paul's teaching "that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Romans 3:28; cf. Romans 4:1-12; Galatians 3:6-14) and James' assertion that "by works a man is justified" (James 2:24).

Because of this passage, Luther, to whom the doctrine of justification by faith alone was a precious truth, depreciated the whole epistle and he termed it "a right strawy epistle" and without evangelical character. But it is now commonly agreed that there is no real conflict between the teaching of James and Paul. Their teachings run parallel and do not cross. They are not antagonists facing each other with crossed swords; they stand back to back, confronting different foes of the Gospel.

James and Paul must agree on salvation by faith in Christ since both wrote exactly what the Spirit of God directed them to write. James teaches that faith alone does not save, but the faith that saves is not alone; it is always attended by good works.

Faith is one of the great concepts of our Christian experience. "For by grace you have been saved through faith...." wrote the apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:8). Yet some have pressed this to an extreme by implying that it makes no difference how one lives—faith is all that matters. Paul, however, taught no such doctrine. Although he insisted that people are saved through faith alone, he also taught, "Let him who steals steal no longer..." (Ephesians 4:28).

The opposite extreme is that works are the way to win salvation. It has even been proposed that James supported this legalistic notion. Does he not say that Abraham was justified by works (2:21)?

Next Section - Faith Without Works

Bible Studies by Bob Conway

Unsealing Revelation

Experiencing Exodus

Decoding Daniel

Life and Passion of Christ

The Holy Spirit

How to Study the Bible

Romans Salvation

Life of the Apostle Paul

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