James said that faith without works is dead.
James 2 “15 And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;” yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. “
James 2 “21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected. 23 So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith.“
Is James saying that we need faith AND works to be saved?
That contradicts with Ephesians 2:8, Romans 4:5 and Titus 3:4-5 where it states clearly that we are saved by grace through faith without any works. The truth is that believer is made righteous by faith FREELY through grace without any works.
Romans 3 “21 But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;“
The believer is NOT under the Law anymore but in GRACE:
Galatians 3 “23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, confined for the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. “
The Law is only made to condemn the unrighteous (unbelievers):
1 Timothy 1 “9 as knowing this, that law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for homosexuals, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and for any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine, 11 according to the Good News of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”
James was addressing the difference between believers and unbelievers among the Jews. He showed that the difference between a believer and unbeliever is the fruit of the Spirit – LOVE.
James 2 “8 However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
The unbeliever will be judged by the Law because he is not righteous. But the believer is righteous by faith and the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of love in our hearts.
1 John 3 “14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. He who doesn’t love his brother remains in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.”
Galatians 5 “19 Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.“
The believer is NOT under the Law and NOT under condemnation.
Does that mean that believers are perfect? Not at all, because James said that believers stumble in many ways:
James 3 “2 For we all stumble in many things….”
The letter of James is very harsh and filled with warnings compared to the epistles of Paul to the Gentiles. Why is that? It’s because James was written only to the 12 tribes of Israel.
James 1 “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are in the Dispersion: Greetings.”
It was harsh because most of the Jews did not fully believe in Christ but were going back to the Law of Moses due to persecution (as we also see in the Epistle of Hebrews).
James warned the Jews that believing in God is of no use because even the demons believed in ONE God. But the demons didn’t believe in Jesus as their Savior.
James 2 “19 You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? “
What did James mean by “God is one”?
The quote of “God is One” is from the 1st commandment of Israel’s Law:
- Deuteronomy 6 “4 Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one. 5 You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”
These Jews believed in Yahweh (God) according to the Law, but they were not fully convinced about JESUS Christ, the Son of God. They were not saved.
James 2 “14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him?”
James was not saying that they had to “do works” to be saved.
But that the faith of many Jews was not true because they had ZERO love for each other.
They didn’t have ANY fruit of the Spirit – they were hating and fighting each other.
Many of these Jews were not saved – they didn’t really believe in Christ. They came to the Church and heard the Gospel but didn’t really believe in their hearts.
James 1 ” 21 Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
Just like the Jews who came to Christ to see the bread being multiplied, they didn’t really believe. They heard the message but did not fully believe. They HEARD but did not DO the WORK.
What is the WORK REQUIRED? The work of God is to BELIEVE in Jesus:
John 6 “27 Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him.” 28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Paul said that most of Israel didn’t believe even after hearing the Gospel.
Romans 10 “Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is for Israel, that they may be saved. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they didn’t subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes……….16 But they didn’t all listen to the glad news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. 18 But I say, didn’t they hear? Yes, most certainly, “Their sound went out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”……21 But about Israel he says, “All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
The Israelites stumbled because they were trying to attain salvation by works! Their sin was unbelief in Christ.
Romans 11 “30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who didn’t follow after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; 31 but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone;”
The unbelief of Israel resulted in many Gentiles being saved:
Romans 11 “But by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. “
So then James had to warn these unbelieving Jews:
- They were fighting over worldly goods, mistreating the poor, when Jesus commanded the Jewish Church to to sell everything (Acts 2:41-47, James 4:1-11, James 2:1-11, James 5:1-8, Luke 12:31-40)
- James warned them about false teachers just as Christ predicted would happen among the Jews (James 3:1-12, Matthew 7:15-20)
- The Jews were falling away from the faith just as Christ said (James 5:19-20, Matthew 24:10-12).
- Jesus told the Jews that many of them would call Him “Lord, Lord” but would not really believe in Him to be saved (Matthew 7:21-23, Luke 13:22-30). But Jesus said that many Gentiles would be saved from all over the world.
- The judgment upon Israel was imminent in their lifetime just as James and Christ predicted (James 5:8-10, Luke 21:20-24, Matthew 24:1-24)
Christ was selecting the 144,000 FIRST-FRUITS from the 12 Tribes of Israel before their nation was judged in the 1st Century from AD66-AD135.
Revelation 7 ” 4 I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel:“
Revelation 14 “I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a number, one hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. 2 I heard a sound from heaven, like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of a great thunder. The sound which I heard was like that of harpists playing on their harps. 3 They sing a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the one hundred forty-four thousand, those who had been redeemed out of the earth. 4 These are those who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed by Jesus from among men, the first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5 In their mouth was found no lie, for they are blameless.”
James wrote to these 144,000 Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel under strict demands:
- Not married to women because they were fully serving the LORD.
- Following Jesus, carrying the cross as martyrs – full-time serving & dying for Christ.
- They were perfectly blameless in their actions (no lies, etc.)
- The 144000 Jews were the FIRST-FRUITS of the Church.
- James also called the believers from the 12 tribes of Israel as the “first-fruits”
- James 1:18 “18 Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
James was NOT writing to Gentiles. He wrote ONLY to the 144,000.
These Jewish believers were very zealous and kept all the Laws:
Acts 21 “18 The day following, Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he reported one by one the things which God had worked among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 They, when they heard it, glorified God. They said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed about you, that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children and not to walk after the customs. 22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses for them, that they may shave their heads. Then all will know that there is no truth in the things that they have been informed about you, but that you yourself also walk keeping the law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written our decision that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from food offered to idols, from blood, from strangled things, and from sexual immorality.””
But the Gentiles were not under the Law. (This shows that Gentiles were NOT under all of Christ’s strict demands of selling everything, etc.)
Christ commanded only the 12 Apostles to judge these 12 Tribes of Israel – the 144,000 who sold everything and followed Jesus (Matthew 19:26-30).
Why were these Jews required to keep the Law even after Christ’s death on the cross?
Jesus told Israel (not Gentiles) that He came to fulfill the Law and commanded the Jews to follow Him in fulfilling the Law just as He did.
Matthew 5 “17 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.“
The believing Jew was saved by grace through faith in Christ. They were commanded to follow Jesus just like He kept the Law.
But the unbelieving Jew was condemned under the Law.
Salvation is not by works of the Law but by GRACE through faith for both Jew and Gentile.
Acts 15 “11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.””
But the believing Jews had a different calling after salvation.
Jesus told the 12 Apostles that Israel was under a higher calling with a greater expectation – they were called to sell everything to the poor and fulfill the Law. This demand was ONLY for Israel:
Luke 12 “31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also….. 41 Peter said to him, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everybody?” 42 The Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the right times?
The 12 Apostles were the stewards over God’s household. The 12 Apostles were given the great responsibility of shepherding the 144,000 from the 12 tribes. The Israelites received a separate calling to sell everything, follow Christ, obey the Law and die as martyrs.
Matthew 19 “27 Then Peter answered, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many will be last who are first, and first who are last.”
But Jesus also clarified that the salvation is the same for ALL believers (weak and strong) no matter how much they worked for Him, in the parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16.
So then the 144,000 were saved by grace just as the thief on the cross. They all went to heaven by GRACE and not works. But the 144,00 received a greater calling.
The 12 Apostles were only preaching to Jews and not Gentiles. (Paul was later on sent to the Gentiles not under Law). Israel experienced the great tribulation in the 1st century.
Matthew 10 “5 Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. 6 Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. ….. 21 “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. “
Matthew 24 “15 “When, therefore, you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…. 21 for then there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever will be. “
The 144,000 received the same salvation by GRACE but they faced the great tribulation and overcame it by faith even until death. Therefore they reigned with Christ in heaven.
James 1 “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Revelation 20 “4 I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as didn’t worship the beast nor his image, and didn’t receive the mark on their forehead and on their hand. They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. “
That great tribulation of ISRAEL already ended in the 1st Century.
Israel was judged in the 70 year period from AD66-AD136 that witnessed the three Jewish-Roman wars before their nation was destroyed. The 144,000 Jewish believers from the 1st Century are now reigning with Christ in heaven. But the resurrection of the entire Church will happen at Christ’s 2nd coming right before the end of the world.
Therefore, we find that James was specifically writing to the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel.
We are not the 144,000 from the 12 Tribes of Israel. We are not under the Law of Israel.
We are not the First-Fruits of the kingdom. But we are the rest of the harvest because God owns both the First-fruit and also the rest of the fruits.
The first-fruits were the 144,000 Israelites who had a much greater calling.
But we are the regular believers (rest of the fruits of God’s kingdom).
All believers are saved by grace through faith alone without works!
Ephesians 2 “8 for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, that no one would boast.”
Romans 4 “5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
We should not condemn other believers because their works are not as good as our own. If we are boasting in our works, then that’s not gracious at all.
We should not quote “faith without works being dead” to judge other believers unless we ourselves have done the works of selling everything to the poor and loving our enemies like Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles and the 144,000.
Let us not be quick to judge other believers but rejoice in the GRACE of Jesus.
2 Timothy 2 “13 If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.”
Christ even saves the weak and faithless believer. Let us be established in His grace.