justification by faith alone?

Help me out here:

“You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” James 2:24 (read the passage in context here)

I’m guessing it was passages like this one in James that made Luther want the book removed from the canon of Scripture. It’s been drilled into my head ever since I became a follow of Jesus that I am justified by faith alone. Then I read something like this. It’s clear to me in scripture salvation can’t be earned, but what does this mean? Maybe it means I don’t have true faith until I actually do something that requires faith. Maybe it just means that I’m not justified by faith alone.


6 responses to “justification by faith alone?

  1. I think it possibly means your actions have to reflect your faith. For instance you can’t act in a despicable manner and expect it to be tolerated because you have faith. That would mean you can pretty much get away with anything. I think..

  2. First off, we should recognize the common practice of paradoxical language (see Proverbs 26:4–5 for another example). He isn’t contradicting Paul–he is playing off the same language to make a different point.
    James makes it clear that he is talking about people who profess to have faith (2:14) but live as if they don’t. He isn’t talking about saving faith. He was combating a type of Antinomianism which teaches that grace frees us from obedience to any moral law. In actuality, grace allows us to obey.
    James point is this, if we aren’t being sanctified–transforming from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18 in Paul’s own words)–we aren’t justified.

  3. James 2:19 says “You believe God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder.”

    So if we are to be completely justified by our faith, then even the demons are saved? That doesn’t make much sense! Maybe these two are tied together. Could it be they are the responses to the “greatest commandment”; Love the Lord your God (faith)…and love your neighbor as yourself (works)?

  4. As someone who grew up in a Catholic home, and still has regular conversations about faith in Jesus with his family, passages like this are of particular interest in my relationship with God. Works vs. Faith has long been the argument surrounding the theological framework of all denominations within Christianity. It has taken me years and years to come to a place that is able to see the absolute biblical truth in both viewpoints without becoming inherently disrespectful of either (which tends to happen whenever this is brought up).

    I don’t believe the bible teaches that our works have anything to do with our salvation. Otherwise, Jesus and his death on the cross would be totally unnecessary. Also, I don’t believe that just by saying that we agree with or believe in Jesus we are given a free pass to sit on our arses and get a ticket to eternal life with him.

    The interplay of faith and the works it produces is as mysterious to me as the Trinity, election, regeneration, and a bunch of other theological zones that have baffled even the most sincere seeker of Truth.

    When I read about a sick woman reaching through a crowd to touch Jesus, I think he answers perfectly what is being discussed here: her faith healed her. Sure, she grabbed his garment, but it was her faith that did the trick.

    True faith produces movement. Works are evidence of faith that is alive. But by these works we are not saved, only sanctified…becoming more like Jesus and more like the woman who would do anything to touch him. We need to climb trees to hear/see him speak and pour perfume on his feet. We need to give extra coats away, take our talents and not just bury them, and lose our pride in being centurions in the most powerful army in the world while we send for the help of God. Faith like that moved Jesus.

    I guess here are some other things I’ve learned: being saved UNTO good works instead of BY good works doesn’t ignore that good works ARE, indeed, an integral part of salvation. I’m almost convinced that God wants us to perform good works NOT just so the world will believe in his love, but more importantly that WE will believe in his love more and more.

    When we act out love for our wives, we are actually reconfirming the beauty of the relationship to ourselves, not just to them. We are edified by love that produces movement, not just the recipient of our love/works. It’s like I can’t feel any love for/be in love with my wife if I don’t say it and show it in ways that she will be able to touch and hear. Otherwise, it becomes just an idea and not something that I even desire to keep doing. But when I am actively pursuing ways to do something tangible with this love, my identity as a husband becomes cemented in my soul.

    Since being married, I have learned to love the analogy of Christ and his Church in a new way because of that very thing. My identity as a child of God is confirmed to MYSELF when I am acting out my faith in the form of works. This produces a capacity to do even greater things as I grow, to know God more, and to find more ways to express that love to the world.

  5. Part of the reason I posted this is because I feel like when we hear “faith” and “works” we immediately pit them against each other and watch them battle in a cage match. Faith, in terms of how a person is justified, always wins. I just don’t think they are fighting.

  6. brian, i think you’re on to something when you write that faith vs. works seems to be pretty nonsensical. my natural inclination is toward the belief that we are saved in order to do good works, and that these two ideas are more friendly with each other than we’d like to make them.

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