JAMES 2:18-19: “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe — and they shudder…You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” CSB
OBSERVATION: What place do works have in our salvation? Why have these statements in the book of James caused such controversy in Protestant circles? Are we saved by grace through faith, or faith and works?
The statement in these verses seem diametrically opposed to Ephesians 2:8-9.
- “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 CSB
In Martin Luther’s day there was a reaction against the focus on works by the Catholic Church. Works were deemed the pathway to salvation. In fact, when someone died, they did not go to heaven, they went to purgatory to work out the remainder of their salvation so they could enter heaven. You could even purchase a release from purgatory for loved ones with money. It was against this background that the Protestant Reformation took place.
Martin Luther and other reformers emphasized two principles – grace alone and faith alone. They viewed works in any shape of form, when added to the pathway of salvation, a gross error against the counsel of Scripture. And, it was for this reason that Martin Luther called the Epistle of James an epistle of straw that should not be in the New Testament Canon.
So who is right? Is it Martin Luther or James? I think they both are right, and here is why. They were both looking at the truth of faith from two completely different vantage points. Martin Luther was looking at faith from the abuse of a focus upon works to earn one’s salvation. James was looking at faith from the abuse of grace in lives that were professing faith, yet did not show any change in behavior. And this is where faith and works intersect.
I don’t know why we only memorize Ephesians 2:8-9 and omit verse 10.
- “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10 CSB
Our salvation is not accomplished in a vacuum. It is not something that transforms only our heart, giving us a ticket to heaven. Our salvation is a radical transformation of God’s grace, received through faith, that transforms our heart, soul, mind, and actions! It leads us to a new way of living. And, this new way of living is good works! This is what James is getting at. If we say we have faith, but there is no evidence of transformation through good works, then our faith is counterfeit.
One of the strongest contrasts Jame’s uses is juxtaposing the believer with demons. James says – “Even the demons believe — and they shudder…”. No one would argue the spiritual condition of a demon. They believe in God, but they have no transforming works. In fact, it is their works that betray and define them. So, faith alone, without works, is dead. True faith, the gift of God’s grace, brings true transformation that is evidenced in works of righteousness.
Yet, you can do a semblance of good works without faith. This is evidenced every day by men and women who do philanthropic works, but they do not believe in Jesus Christ. Yet, you can not have saving faith without works of righteousness. And, it is not our works of righteousness that save us. Our works of righteousness only bear witness to the genuine work of faith wrought in our heart by God’s grace.
Hebrews 11 is the great chapter of faith. It is a chapter of action. Over and over again it says – “By faith they….”. The stories of great victory and suffering are recorded in the annals of faith. How would this chapter read if you took out the works that followed their faith? It would be a hollow account of unchanged lives. Yet, it stands as a call to action to everyone who names the name of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.
Lord, the Epistle of James should call me to action. It should stir my faith and evoke a desire to walk in obedience and good works. Grant me the grace each day so that my actions are a true reflection of the faith that I profess.
In Jesus Name!