Thursday, January 28, 2016

Can We Have Faith Without Works?

Are James and Paul at war? And if not, how do we reconcile them? To start, we must beware of explaining either of them so as to explain them away. Further, we must ask what each writer was saying in context. Paul in Romans is giving a general exposition of the Christian faith to a church with many people he did not know. Paul in Galatians is writing to a church in danger of adopting the idea of salvation by works. James is writing a letter to those who claim to be Christians, but whose lives deny it. They are withholding the pay of their workmen (James 5:1-6), showing favoritism to the rich (James 2:1-13), and refusing to help other Christians in need (James 2:15,16). Paul in his general exposition states that we are saved by faith in Christ, apart from anything we can do to earn it (Romans 3:21-31; 4:1-25; 10:1-15). In Galatians he opposes those who believe works are required for our salvation (Galatians 2:14-21; 3:1-29; 5:1-6). Surely Paul means what he says and should not be just explained away. But what about James?  

James is not saying that we are saved by works or by faith plus works, but a genuine saving faith results in good works (James 1:18-27; 2:14-26; 5:1-6). He is not telling people how to be saved, but is rebuking those who are claiming they are saved--and their lives contradict it. This, far from disagreeing with Paul, wholly agrees with him (Romans 6:1-23; 8:1-13; Galatians 5:13-26). James says faith without works is dead (James 2:17). He does not say it is not enough, but clearly implies there is something wrong with the faith. It is a contrast between a faith that affirms intellectual facts (James 2:19) and one that trusts in God’s promises (Romans 4:16-22; Hebrews 11:13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:7). Also, we have the example of Abraham (James 2:21-23). Now God said that He reckoned Abraham righteous in Genesis 15:6, at least 13 years before Isaac was born (Genesis 16:16-17-1). But the offering of Isaac is recorded in Genesis 22 when Isaac was at least old enough to carry wood and ask questions. God, who sees the heart, said that Abraham had the faith to be saved, but this faith had the result of works in Abraham’s life. We cannot scam God; He knows if we mean it (Romans 2:16; Hebrews 4:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). We also have the example of Rahab, who was a prostitute, but in spite of her past life demonstrated her faith by hiding the spies.

Now we need to be careful here. The Scripture does teach we can have a genuine assurance of salvation (1 John 5:11-13; Romans 8:34-39; John 10:27-30). We should not set the bar so high that no honest person can believe they are saved. But we need to seriously ask the question, is there a real work of God in my life? And if not, I need to ask if I have genuine faith.

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