Paul and James: On Justification

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Mark F Slaney
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The book of James is one of the most important topics to cover when it comes to faith and works. James is believed by many people to contradict Paul, especially in the book of Romans, making the case that works are an essential component to be the evidence of our faith. While James writes that faith without works is dead, just as the body without the spirit is, Paul states that he who does work will not be made righteous; however, those who do not work but believe in him who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).

Both Paul and James become clear that they do not contradict each other but how do they agree without excluding one of these two concepts? Since both of them believe that grace comes through faith alone, works would not add to that according to James, who writes:

“You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

He presents the point that even demons believe in the existence of God, so how can works apart from faith be useless? Depending on how you interpret the context of what James says and how Abraham was justified by works, we can settle to a point with Paul. Whereas faith without works is dead only in the eyes of men, not in the eyes of God. If that is the case, how is faith made evident according to what other parts of scripture says about the fruit of the spirit? Most people believe that the fruit of the spirit (or works) means to gradually abandon sin or, by having corresponding actions, to go along with our faith.

One of the most common reasons why people believe you must still abandon sin is told in John’s epistle: “No one who abides in him makes a practice of sinning; for whoever is born of God does not sin; you cannot keep on sinning by being in him.” Since he appeared in order to take away our transgressions, there is no sin in our new creation that’s within us, but as for our mortal body, sin still exists daily; it is part of our natural human instinct.

So works never involve deeds of the law as evidence of faith. Whether good works signify our faith is another matter to look at further. As for our sinful nature, which has broken the law of God, that is what the cross was for—to replace us from dying in the flesh—by his work alone, in order to live free according to the spirit.

If Christ’s righteousness is applied to us, then how can the law itself ever negate self-righteousness? For if you mix the law together, what grace could you receive, if Christ didn’t cover it fully? By his atoning sacrifice, his death, after living a perfect life, was sufficient enough to cover the full penalty. What works can add any value to that establishment for us on earth? We were called to be like him through only one way that can grow. Therefore, we should always look to spread his word through the willingness of the holy spirit.

In free grace theology, contrary to lordship salvation (where one must submit to God), opposes that we must gradually obey the law through the process of sanctification. Neither do good works or deeds of the law ever lay the foundation of our faith; all works are as filthy rags, as stated in the book of Isaiah:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment” (v. 64:6).

However, those without corresponding actions may have denied him by not living according to the heart of the gospel teachings. Only by the fruit of this spirit — love, peace, joy, kindness, patience and forbearance — can faith become evident (Galatians 5:22). Those are the corresponding points to what Paul and James taught on the doctrine of justification.

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