A RECONCILIATION OF FAITH AND WORKS
David Stevenson / March 6, 2022
There are those who teach that Paul and James were not in agreement on the subject of faith. They would tell us Paul negates the importance of works of faith, while James emphasizes the essentiality of the faith that works. However, we must recognize that Paul and James were both inspired writers, and because of that they cannot and will not contradict each other. To say they did, is to say that God contradicted Himself, because it is God’s word that these two men were writing. And to say that God contradicted Himself is wrong indeed. So let us examine these two writers, Holy Spirit inspired men, and how they are not contradictory, but are in harmony in their teachings.
Paul, in Romans chapter four, shows that works without faith would not justify and thus lays his emphasis on faith. It is true that man does not gain justification by meritorious works (works by which we “earn” our salvation). This is the very point Paul is making. Paul also spoke of this in Titus 3:5, where he said, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Again, Paul declares salvation is not of personal meritorious works, in Ephesians 2:8,9 when he said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” So, Paul was speaking of the importance of faith separate from a man thinking that he can earn his salvation by meritorious works.
Now James, in James chapter two, deals with the topic that faith without works will not justify, thus James lays the emphasis on the work of faith. However, these works that James speaks of is not the meritorious works that Paul was speaking of in Romans chapter four. James is speaking of works of righteousness (works of obedience). Jesus Himself was asked a question along these lines, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Peter showed that it is by works of righteousness one is acceptable to God. “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34,35). So, James spoke of the importance of righteous works and that should accompany our faith.
We should bring out that neither Paul nor James teaches that you could be saved by faith alone, nor works alone. Paul himself realized the worthlessness of faith alone, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). When people say that Paul and James contradicted each other it shows that they want to hold to a false teaching as faith only or works only. In order for one to see that Paul and James did not contradict each other, one must understand the context of what the writers were speaking about. Paul, in Romans chapter four is writing to correct the misconception that those people had that works alone justify a man. James, on the other hand, in James chapter two, was writing to correct the misconception that those people had that faith without works of righteousness will justify.
One must recognize that neither Paul nor James is saying that a man can earn his salvation. They are both saying, however, that faith is necessary as well as obedience (works of righteousness), and one without the other is dead. One must also recognize that both Paul and James understood the importance of obedience (which is a work of righteousness). Both Paul and James use Abraham as an example to prove that one must have the works of obedience in their life if they wish to be acceptable in the sight of God (James 2:21-24 and Hebrews 11:8-19). Yes, Abraham had an obedient faith. Abraham had a working faith, for he did as God commanded. Abraham had the right kind of faith, and because of that he obeyed God in his work and his faith was then made perfect (James 2:22).
We must also have faith as well as obedience to be pleasing to God (Romans 4:12 and 5:1). But let us never think we can earn our salvation, because salvation is the gift of God (Romans 6:23). It is entirely because of God’s grace, that we have the opportunity to obey Him and have the hope of heaven and eternal life as our reward for our labors (Revelation 14:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:58). Let us remember our responsibility of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and seek to search the scriptures and allow God’s word to direct our lives in the proper understanding of God’s will.
May God bless us as we study His word and let’s remember to pray for wisdom so we might properly discern His will for our lives!