I did not know until recently that the book of James was so controversial. “The letter of James has strong claims to be both the most celebrated and most criticized of all New Testament books. This alone makes it worthy of close attention—we are unlikely to be left unaffected by it! It has generated enormous controversy among Christians over the years.”[i] Why? Because at first glance James seems to contradict what the Bible says about salvation by grace alone through faith alone… at first glance.
Let’s yank some of James’ statements from context to make the point. Statements like: “What good is it, my bothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”[ii] Or shockingly, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”[iii]
At first glance James seems to contradict Paul’s statements “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”[iv] “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[v] And many, many others like it.
But what is James actually saying? He is NOT saying works INSTEAD of faith justifies but rather real, genuine faith bears fruit…works. Can we have works without faith? Yes. Can we be deceived to think we have faith even without works? Yes. Can we have true faith without works? No. James says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”[vi] Works do not result in faith. Faith results in works.
A good reminder we need to go beyond our first glance when we come to God’s Word.
[i] Sam Allberry. James for You. The Good Book Company. 2015.
[ii] James 2:14
[iii] James 2:24
[iv] Romans 11:6
[v] Ephesians 2:8-9
[vi] James 2:17
Written By Diane Hunt: Diane Hunt serves on the board of America’s Keswick and provides ministry support from her home in North Carolina. She is also a biblical counselor and women’s event speaker. For more information about having Diane speak at your next event please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.