Friday, January 29, 2010

justified by works?

James 2:18-26 (ESV)
But someone will say, "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. [19] You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! [20] Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; [23] and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"— and he was called a friend of God. [24] You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25] And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

I suppose this can be reconciled to Romans etc. Often though it isn’t. the attempt isn’t even made most of the time. And I don’t think I want to at this point. Paul says “we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.”(Rom. 3:28) That doesn’t mean that faith is without works. But that really isn’t the problem. Luther determined this text was not apostolic based on the use of the example of Abraham. Scripture pronounces its judgment of Abraham as righteous long before he offered Isaac on the altar. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time running with this passage and accepting it as apostolic. I can be charitable towards James, merciful in my judgment of him, I understand what he is trying to say. I just think he would have chosen better words if he was an apostle led by the Holy Spirit.


Brigitte said...

I think Luther might have said that the Holy Spirit is not this sloppy.

(I mean I think he would agree with that.)

Steve Martin said...

'To one who works, they receive their just deserts, and to one who does not work, but lives by faith, they receive justification, grace, and mercy.'

Something like that. I left my Bible in the car.

With traffic like we have in So. Cal...I need it in there.

Jonathan said...

I guess this is why we have sedes doctrinae and not proof texts. You've got to read James in with all the others, else you just think he's wrong or a contrarian.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

If you look at James the point he is makes is that a Christian does do good works in his life. . . and if one refuses the works of God, faith dies. This is a warning against sinfully spurning the works God calls us to.

I think the issue comes up because for clarity's sake we have narrowed the language that James uses -- James can say that the demons believe. . . meaning simply knowing and acknowledging God and His truthfulness - we generally associate trust and faith with the Word "believe". Likewise, justified here is referring not just to salvation (as we normally do with justification) but with Christian living as well. James is early - language has gotten more specific since him.

Steve Martin said...

And then there are plenty doing "good works" in His name...but Jesus says "depart from me, I never knew you."

This whole good works thing (talk about it)can be very harmful, because it imprints that doing mentality on the minds of people.

Those that He knows will do good works (and you or I do not know what thosegood works are).

They are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Bror Erickson said...

As far as pistis goes and demons you are correct. But I don't know that it was a matter of language getting more specific since he was around. As I said earlier, you can if you work hard, and bend here and there reconcile James and Paul. The other question that needs to be asked first though, Who is James? And did he have apostolic authority to write a letter binding on all Christians? As much as Luther liked the book of James, he opted that it wasn't apostolic, and I tend to agree. Not because the language seemed to disagree with Paul, but that his facts were messed up.
And I don't know how strong an argument you can make that James is here talking about civic righteousness vs righteousness before God that comes on account of faith in Christ according to Paul. Definately, Paul would not have pitted faith against works, but neither would he let works contribute to faith.

Craig and Heather said...

I think the key difference between James and Romans are the two words "you see" in James. Paul and James are not in conflict here. God justifies by faith. "You see" faith in works. Works do not save. But true faith works.

Just my understanding of how the two passages (James and Romans 4) mesh.