When I preach that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and not by works, the common response I get is from James 2, that faith without works is dead. Many Christians love to quote James and say that faith alone cannot save, that faith needs some works.
The epistle of James was written to Jews in the 1st century who were under the Law and not us Gentiles.
James 1 “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:”
James preached a message of faith AND law for salvation
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 says. 23 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.”
James 2 “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism….8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 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.”
James preached to JEWS telling them to keep the Law for salvation. They had to be PERFECT in keeping the Law.
This was similar to the PRE-CROSS teachings of Jesus to the 12 tribes of Israel in Matthew 5-7 where Jesus told the Jews to keep the law for salvation in Matthew 5, Matthew 19, etc.
The reason Jesus and James did this was because the Jews trusted in the Law for salvation as we see in Acts 21 where the Jewish believers were zealous for the law, but mostly the ceremonial laws. Therefore Jesus and James used the full extent of the law to show that they cannot be saved by works! They were using the Law to bring them to realization that they cannot be saved by works and that they need to understand GRACE.
The epistle of James is an epistle of Jewish Law, and it has not a single instance of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It does not even mention the Cross even once!
This is why the Epistle of James only contains the LAW and not the GRACE of God.
But the epistle of Paul to the Gentiles mostly talk about GRACE through the CROSS of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 2 “2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. “
Galatians 6 “14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
Paul defines Salvation by Grace through Faith alone WITHOUT works in Romans 4.
Most Christians don’t even know the passage of Romans 4 where the Apostle Paul wrote to us Gentiles telling us that we are saved by faith without works!
Romans 4 “4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness….13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed ……18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom 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.”
James was saying that Abraham was righteous by works, quoting his works AFTER he was circumcised. The work of Abraham was while he was a Jew!
James 2 “21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”
But Paul says that Abraham was righteous by faith before he was circumcised.
Romans 4 “9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! “
Galatians 3 “6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…..Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith. 12 The law is not based on faith;”
Nobody can be made righteous by the Law.
The Law is the opposite of Faith.
The Law demands perfection of works (as James said) while Grace is guaranteed by GRACE ALONE and not works!
Therefore faith CANNOT be mixed with the Works of the Law.
Faith has to be without works! Grace has to be without works!
Abraham was righteous by faith WITHOUT works, while he was a Gentile. He did works after he became a Jew. This is why James preached Faith + works to the Jews to show them that they are still trusting in the works and need to come to GRACE.
But the Gentiles didn’t have that problem, they were not trusting in the law, so then Paul could preach FULL GRACE to them!
This is why Paul preached the CROSS to the Gentiles who were ready for GRACE but James preached the Law to the Jews because of their stubborn resistance to the GRACE of God.
Romans 9 “30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. “
Acts 13 ” 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’” 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”
The reason Christians love to quote James to refute Grace is because they have not fully understood the CROSS of Jesus Christ. They have not surrendered the Grace of God but are still trusting in their works. They cannot fully believe in the Gospel but want to add their own human efforts (works, repentance, confession, ten commandments, church-going, etc…)
No amount of works can save you!
No amount of works can “prove” or “manifest” your faith.
We are saved by GRACE alone.
We are saved by FAITH alone.
Our Faith does not need works, otherwise it would need to be PERFECT works for salvation.
We are saved by FAITH without works.
Our Faith is in the Finished work of Jesus Christ alone.
The evidence of our Faith is the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The evidence of our faith is our reliance on the Perfect work of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus and not our imperfect works.
Even if we don’t have a single work, we are saved by GRACE through FAITH and not works!
Look at the thief on the cross, he did nothing but simply believed in Jesus to be saved.
Everyone who believes in Jesus is forgiven all sin and made righteous without doing a single work! This is the True Gospel of GRACE.