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Salvation, Works or Grace?

The Bible vs The Book of James

by Daniel J.M. Galpin

Many Christians both today and of old have struggled with the book of James contained in the Holy Scriptures. Their contention is that James promotes salvation by works rather then by grace. This of course, is of high concern. Is the claim valid? Does James promote a works salvation? Or is the matter merely an error in interruption? Is the book of James consistent with the rest of the Bible?

Both Paul and James and of course others speak of salvation throughout the Bible. Many claim that Paul speaks of salvation by faith only and then comment about James saying salvation is not by faith only. It appears to be a contradistinction! Is it? Is James proclaiming salvation by works and Paul salvation via faith without works? I’ve always found it best when there appears to be a contradiction in the Scripture to let the Scripture resolve it. In doing so, if the contradiction is a true one, it will be evident and the Bible can be place equal with all other books in the world and thus have no more merit then any other. If the contradiction proves to be in appearance only and not a contradiction at all, then the Scripture will remain in it’s elevated state.

Romans 4:1-5 tells us that Abraham’s salvation was not of his own works and thus he could not glory in it, but that he was credited righteous because he believed God. How do we know Abraham believed? Heb 11:8-10 and 11:17-19 tells us Abraham’s faith was evident by his actions: he left he homeland for a land unknown and he gave up Isaac as he was told to do, believing that God would fix the situation. In both cases Abraham’s faith produced actions.

We’re told in Gal 3:11 and Heb 10:38-11:1 say the just shall live by faith. That implies action! It doesn’t say, the just shall have or possess faith, rather they will live by it. The Greek word here and in the majority of the New Testament is defined as a conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it, the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ, the religious beliefs of Christians, fidelity, faithfulness, the character of one who can be relied on. This definition shows us that faith does not merely mean to believe with one’s mind; it also means a conviction one lives by. It also means a set of beliefs of Christians and reliance on the character of Christ. To limit the meaning of faith to any less would be to distort the true meaning of the word. The American Heritage dictionary defines faith in much the same way: Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, an idea, or a thing; Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence; Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance; The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will; The body of dogma of a religion; A set of principles or beliefs. Again: faith is more than a belief. It’s also one’s convictions, allegiance, and an acceptance of God’s will and a set of principles of one’s beliefs. Therefore, it is not an error to say that faith includes actions, which living by faith implies.

Hebrews 11 gives evidence to the meaning by one’s actions is one’s faith made known: Abel gave the better sacrifice, which made witness of his faith (vs. 4), Noah’s faith was shown in that he built the Ark (vs. 7), Abraham’s faith was noted earlier (vs. 8-10 and 17-19), Sarah gave birth when beyond her age because she judged God as faithful (vs. 11), Joseph commanded his bones be taken out when Israel left Egypt, having full confidence such would occur (vs. 22), Moses was hid at birth because of faith (vs. 23), Moses disregarded the wealth of Egypt and took on the suffering of his brothers because of faith (vs. 24-28), Israel was spared when crossing the red sea because of faith – looking at the historical account they had to step into the water before it opened wide (vs. 29), Jericho’s walls fell due to faith, they did as the Lord said in faith and then God lowered the walls (vs. 30), and Rehab was spared because of her faith which caused her to hid the spies (vs. 31). Heb 11 mentions numerous more whose actions showed their faith. Our faith is one of action not merely a mental acknowledgement or consent.

In deduction, if one’s faith always produces actions, one would be right in saying that true belief will have actions. It’s not that we don’t receive it by faith alone because we do, but actions will follow our claim or our claim is not a valid one. James merely brings this to light in a very thought provoking manner. Yes, James did say, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. “ James 2:24, but if taken in context this appearance of a contradiction is clear. James is merely holding us accountable to examine ourselves, if we have a claim of faith and not the actions with it, question the sincerity of our claim because true faith will be evidenced by action. James even uses some of the same examples as used in Heb 11 of Abraham and Rehab.

Words are an empty shell, it’s one’s actions that fill them and bring them to life. There’s no easier an example then that of an airplane. I can have a belief a plane will fly by watching it do so or I can have faith the plane will fly by entering it and using it to travel. Faith is more that belief. Faith will require an action, while belief merely allows lip service.

James is not the only book that claims faith is action, he merely says it more bluntly. Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews promoted the same message. Hebrews dedicates a whole chapter to showing how faith has been proved true. The very definition of faith dictates it. Where salvation is not of works comes into play is that we are not able to do it in and of ourselves, rather it is Christ that does the work through us. Thus by Him we are saved and no one can boast.