June 7, 2007

James vs. Paul

I've begun to study the book of James. I have never studied this book very intently before. I've sort of been scared of it a little, I guess. There is a lot of talk in it about "faith without works is dead", "you see that a person is justified by works and not faith alone."

Statements like that make me, and many Christians shudder. This doesn't match up with what Paul talks about, most heavily, in Romans and Galatians. Paul says that "we are justified by faith alone apart from works."


What do we do with this apparent disagreement on something so central to the gospel message?

Here's something that I found helpful while studying the book of James.

We have to take into account the context of each author's letter.


* He had a view point that was primarily pastoral (meaning meant to teach, rebuke, and encourage Christians)

* He saw faith and works in light of what God requires of those who have already become Christians.

* He saw "works" as acts of ministry, mercy, love and justice done in obedience to the demands of God's indwelling Spirit.


James is calling out (rebuking) the Jewish Christians in this particular church for having an empty faith. A faith that isn't apparent by the way they live their lives. For example, he talks at lenght about how they show favoritism to rich people, how the rich are treating the poor like crap, how their tongues (how and what they talk about) are not in check. He is basically saying that our outward expressions and activities should mirror our inward affections.


* He had a view point that was primarily missionary.

* He saw faith and works in light of what God requires for a person to become a Christian.

* He saw "works" as acts performed legalistically in obedience to the letter of the law in order to earn salvation.

Paul is calling out (rebuking) the Jewish religous leaders who are not fully accepting the idea of faith in Christ alone for salvation. He is arguing against those who stand opposed to the basic Christian belief that faith alone in Christ is enough to bring us to God.

I think 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 can help give a little insight into how "works" are measured for a Christian.

11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

What Paul seems to be saying here is that a day is coming when God will look at what we've done with our lives. He will judge our works and our motives for our works. This judgement is not for unbelievers, it is for Christians. If what we have done with our lives (our works) are burned up, then we will not be burned up, but we will escape as one escaping through flames.

Strong words.

Is that meant to motive us to do good works? I don't think so, but it does speak truth about what will happen one day.

We should be motivated to do good works by love, the love that dwells within us by the Spirit of God.