Some people find the epistle of Paul and James to be contradicting itself. Paul Demands that we are justified by faith, while James is telling us that we are justified by works. Is there a way to reconcile these two seemingly contradicting statements? This is a vital subject to discuss, because if there is contradiction here, Christianity will fall apart. Join us now as we take a deeper look into this subject and find out the truth.
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
“For we conclude that a person is put right with God only through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands” (Rom 3:28).
In the surface, we might have a problem here. But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, these verses are reconcilable.
The key to this problem is context – context, CONTEXT, and CONTEXT. By looking at the context we will see what Paul and James are talking about.
Let’s Examine Paul’s Account
Rom 3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
Rom 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Rom 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
Rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Rom 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Rom 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Rom 3:26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Rom 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Romans 3:19-20 tells us that the Law defines what sin is.
If there is no law, there is no sin.
Through the Law, we are considered as sinners and therefore, we are condemned.
As a result, because of the law, we will have the penalty of sin which is DEATH. All of us sinned.
NO matter how hard you try, keeping the law will NEVER save you. When you committed sin, it automatically demands the penalty of DEATH. No matter how many good works you perform, no matter how perfect you try to follow the Law; IT WILL NEVER EVER COVER YOUR PREVIOUS SIN. Thus, you are under the curse of the law which is death.
Romans 3:24-25 tells us that only by grace and death of Jesus Christ that we are freed from the curse of the Law. Jesus died for our sin. The death penalty should have been executed on us, but Jesus died for our sin so that we may live.
Romans 3:27 tells us that we cannot boast of our own works or righteousness before God because salvation is a gift of God. Through faith in God, we can trust Him that we will be saved.
Romans 3:28 comes to a conclusion that a man is justified by faith and not by law.
HERE IS THE TWIST. What is Paul saying this?
The Jews in Paul’s time is so self-righteous in their own eyes that they claim that through their works, they can EARN salvation. This is the very attitude Paul is fighting! The Jews are even teaching others that by their tradition and law-keeping, they are made right with God. Paul out-rightly contradicted this thinking.
The Jews have made many traditions that are contrary to God’s commandments. Jesus had to confront the Pharisees and Sadducees because of their traditions that make God’s Law a burden and of no effect.
This is what Paul is explaining in his epistles.
Let us look at James’ Account
Jas 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Jas 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Jas 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Jas 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Jas 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
Jas 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
In this letter, James is condemning the Christians of ‘intellectual’ faith. Christians are equipped with the right knowledge about God’s way of life, but the problem is that what they learn never translated to their lives.
James argues in 2:21 that Abraham was justified when he offered his son, Isaac.
He argues that ACTION should follow faith!
Head knowledge or head faith only will not save you. He said that even the demons believe there is God; however, what you do with that belief changes everything.
In James 2:24, James said that “not by faith ONLY”. He means we must have FAITH but it should NEVER EVER stop to that. Action is needed to demonstrate faith. Believing is one thing but acting on that belief is completely different.
It is worth noting here that James did not mention the word LAW. He is talking about WORKS instead.
THEREFORE, there is really no contradiction in Paul’s and James’ statement.
At the final analysis, the points of Paul and James can be summed up in this statement:
“NO ONE CAN EARN SALVATION AND IT IS EQUALLY TRUE THAT SALVATION CANNOT BE EARNED WITHOUT WORKS”.
Paul and James are working back to back. They have their own battle to fight through their letters. One is fighting the notion that we can earn salvation through our works while one is fighting the notion that faith is enough without works.
To end this blog, let me leave you with this scripture to prove further that Paul does not champion abolishing God’s law.
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS UNTO GOOD WORKS, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Paul supports James’ statement that faith needs works as He said that we are created in Christ unto GOOD WORKS.
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