James vs Paul: Justification by faith or works?

Paul said justification is by grace through faith and not works of the law.

Romans 3 ” 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

Galatians 2 “16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Romans 3 “19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. “

Paul preached to Gentiles who were not under the law that we are saved by grace.

But James preached to Jews who still kept the law.

James 1:1 “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:”

He said Justification is by faith and the royal law of loving one another.

James 2 “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?…If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker….14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 1 “21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

He said that believers would not be saved if they didn’t obey the law.

They would be condemned if they condemned others (James 2:13, 4:11-12)

He told believing teachers that they would be judged strictly – if they cursed other people, they would go to hell (James 3:1-12). He warned believers for their love of money and pleasures who were fighting each other, calling them adulterers, sinners, and they needed to repent (James 4:1-10).

In Acts 21, we see that James clearly has two paths: One for Israel and one for Gentiles.

– Jews are required to keep the law as James commands them to obey the law

– Gentiles are not required to keep the entire law, but only 4 commands from the law of Moses (avoid immorality, idolatry, violence to animals)

Acts 21 “17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 1Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

This shows that the James and the Jewish Church still believed in faith and law for salvation.

In Acts 15, we see this:

Acts 15 “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this questionAfter much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return    and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild,    and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,    even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— 18     things known from long ago. 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

– The Pharisees and Judaizers wanted Gentiles to have faith AND keep the law for salvation

– Peter opposed it saying that the Law was hard for even the Jews, so then why trouble the Gentiles because the truth is that both Jew and Gentile believers are all saved by GRACE.

– James agrees with Peter that Gentiles can be saved by faith and don’t need to be circumcised/keep entire law of Moses BUT that they need to keep 4 commands in order for it go WELL with them BECAUSE the Law is still preached in Gentile nations.

So then James was trying to keep Gentiles under a reduced version of the Law.

This was because the Church was transitioning from the Law to Grace. They could not drop the law entirely in one day. The Holy Spirit told them to transition out of the law into the new covenant within one generation, just like Israel took one generation to enter the promised land of the old covenant.

But later on Paul tells the Gentiles, that idols are nothing, and that if your conscience is strong, you can eat meat to idols (1 Corinthians 8-9) He tells them not to commit immorality because their bodies are temples of Spirit (1 Corinthians 6).

James was still believing in Faith + Works for salvation because he followed the teachings of Jesus pre-Cross to Israel : Faith + love for salvation

James in his epistles does not talk about Ceremonial laws but he focuses on Christ’s law teachings in Matthew 5-7, Matthew 19, etc…

– love radically (even your enemies)

– don’t judge others

– help the poor and widows (sell everything)

– salvation by faith and works of law

– judgment if they don’t keep ten commandments

– don’t love money but love God and men

These are exactly what Jesus preached in Matthew, Mark, Luke gospels in his earthly ministry to Israel before the cross. James was preaching to Jews just like Jesus did before the Cross.

– The Jews obeyed all the ceremonial commandments like the Pharisees taught but they also copied the evil behavior of the Pharisees who hated others and were self-righteous hypocrites who loved money and sin but condemned the poor/lepers/prostitutes/etc.

– James tried to correct them saying to truly obey the law to be saved : accept the word planted in you to be saved – be DOERS of the law and not hearers.

(Paul said same thing to the Jews that it’s not hearers of the law but the doers of the law who will be saved. See Romans 2 – “12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” But the truth is that nobody can be righteous by the works of the law. Romans 3 “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;“)

Therefore James was clearly not on the same page as Paul.

James believed in the pre-Cross teachings of Jesus (faith + law)

He did not fully understand Paul’s Gospel of Faith alone.

Does this mean that his writings are not inspired by Holy Spirit ? Not at all. All scripture was inspired by God.

First of all we don’t make the Bible an idol. We don’t make the Apostles an idol that we worship.

We worship Jesus and He saves us. The Bible and the Apostles don’t save us.

1 Corinthians 1 “12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

John 5 “39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

The Bible is the collection of writings inspired by the Spirit to people according to the context, and the understanding they had in a given time.

Jesus said that the law is required for salvation in Matthew 19, Matthew 5-7 because the Law was still in full effect. But that was before the Cross, to Israel teaching them that they are not righteous by the law. Why? It is because the Jews were deceived by Pharisees into self-righteous zealous obedience to the law (especially all the ceremonial and minor commands but ignoring the meaty things like radical love, repentance and humility that Jesus preached).

Therefore James was still preaching Faith and law to Israel to make them realize their sinfulness and come to Jesus for salvation.

The epistle of James was only written to Jews.

Why is James not writing to Gentiles? He has nothing to say to us because we were never under the law of Israel.

This epistle of James was most likely written before Paul’s Gospel of Faith alone was revealed to the world in Acts 13 onwards.

We know that Peter and James did not accept Gentile converts to Christianity until Peter had a vision in Acts 10 for Cornelius to be saved.

If you had asked Peter before Acts 10, he would have said that Gentiles cannot be saved unless they become Jews. Therefore we have to look at the context of the Bible.

Or if James was written after Paul came, then James was trying to make sure that Jews were not deceived by Pharisee teachers. He wanted to use the law to bring people to Christ for salvation. He thought that many Jews were still not saved but were like the self-righteous Pharisees. He may have not full understand the grace teachings of Paul and was still holding on to the Law teachings of Jesus before the cross.

We know that there was a great falling away / apostasy of Jewish Christians in the AD66-70 tribulation. This falling away was due to lawlessness by Pharisees and zealots.

Jesus and Paul predicted this would happen to Israel (See Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2)

James warned against it in his epistle. So then the Bible is not contradictory..

We can now know why James wrote that way to the Jews.

The Jews still obeyed the Law until the Temple was destroyed in AD70.

We see in Acts 21, that Jews still were zealous for the law…doing all the rituals and works….

Why was this? Didn’t they know the Gospel ?

Why were they still going to the Temple and doing all those rituals and laws of Moses?

Didn’t they understand that Jesus had made a New Covenant and canceled the law as Paul said in Colossians 2 where he told the Gentile believers to not have to worry about ceremonial laws, dietary laws, sabbaths, rituals, etc…that the Jews were still obsessing over.

It seems that they did not fully understand it.

That is why you see the writings of Paul in the letter to the Hebrews trying to convince the Jews to finally forsake the law of Moses and embrace the New Covenant of Jesus Christ because the Temple and Old Covenant was going to be destroyed in AD70 just as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24/Mark 13/Luke 21.

The Jews mostly did not understand what Paul said !! Many of them still were overly-zealous for the law.

This time period from the Cross to AD70 was a transition period between Law and Grace

The Jews had a hard time letting go of the law.

That is why James preached faith and works for salvation because the Jews were still transitioning out of the Law.

The law finally ended in AD70 when the Temple was destroyed

Hebrews 8:13 “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”

The law does not even exist today and it is not preached in the nations today.

Therefore the commands from James to the Gentiles in Acts 15 are not relevant anymore.

Of course, that does not mean we should worship idols or be sexually immoral. We should have faith in Jesus and be led by His grace into fruitful living by His power and not by our efforts. If we do bad deeds, our salvation is not affected.

But this is the truth : Justification is by Faith and not by Works.

Faith does not need works for salvation.

Romans 4 “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness…. God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Justification is for the ungodly sinners by FAITH in Christ alone and not a single work.

It is because Jesus died for my sins and was raised to make me Righteous.

I am Justified by the blood of Jesus and not my works.

James says nothing about the death and resurrection of Jesus in his epistle but he speaks about faith in Jesus and the law for salvation. James is mainly focused on the “doing” of the law and not the Cross of Jesus.

But Paul says it is all about faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus and not by the law. Paul says that he wanted to know Christ and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

The Cross of Christ is what saves us. It is not our works !! It is Faith alone in the Cross of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 2 “18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God

The power of God is in the cross. It is not in our works.

1 Corinthians 1 “22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

The wisdom of man is in his own works and abilities. But the wisdom of God is in the Cross of Jesus – that we are saved by Grace and not our works. We boast in Jesus and have nothing to boast in our works. Therefore faith does not require works for salvation.

1 Corinthians 1 “26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.””

Paul had the more advanced knowledge of Grace, and his gospel was the most recent revelation of Jesus after the Cross. Why do we know that? It is because Paul preached to the Gentiles who are not under law who needed the most grace.

But James preached to Israel who was hardened by the blindness of Pharisees, so they needed the law based teachings to truly know their sinfulness and come to Jesus by faith and receive grace. The Pharisees were too blinded by self-righteousness to be convinced by the grace preaching of Paul. They needed the full extent of the law that Jesus and James preached so that they could finally accept the Grace of God.

In the end, we all need to be convinced on our own, by seeking the Lord for the truth.

We need to ask Jesus for the truth. Is it Faith or Faith_and_Works for salvation?

In my life, after many years of Christian experience, I see that Romans 4 is the truth.

I used to be zealous for the teachings of Christ and James and was trying to be righteous by faith and works. Eventually I realized that salvation is by grace through faith and not works.

I did not do any works to be saved in 2002. When I tried to be zealous for works, I only became more depressed and anxious about my salvation. I lost all peace until God showed me in 2013 onwards, that I am righteous without works but by faith alone

I don’t need to do any works to be justified. Faith does not need works for salvation.

Jesus made me righteous without any works! This is the Gospel of Grace.

Justification is by faith in Jesus without any works.

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