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Faith and Works

(James 2:14-26)

The above passage of Scripture raises questions in peoples minds mainly because James says: “Ye see that a man is justified on the principle of works, and not on the principle of faith only” (verse 24). Luther whose main theme was justification by faith effectively rejected the epistle of James, saying that it was a straw epistle (a reference to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Luther no doubt thought that James was contradicting Paul who said: “A man is justified by faith, without works of law” (Romans 3:28) See also Romans 5:1.

However, certain things should be noticed. Paul was speaking of works of law, whereas James simply speaks of works. The examples James cites of works were not works of law. One example was Abraham offering up Isaac his son; something that took place long before the law was given and the other was concerning Rahab the harlot who was a foreigner and not under the Mosaic law.

Another point: Paul says: “If Abraham has been justified on the principle of works, he has whereof to boast: but not before God” (Romans 4:2). The point is that Abraham was justified before God on the principle of faith only. However there is also the side of being justified before men. Men cannot see into our hearts, but God can. Before men it is a question of doing works that they can see. This is what James says: “Shew me thy faith without works, and I from my works will show thee my faith” (James 2:18). Note also that the example that James gives of Abraham offering up Isaac took place long after the Scripture had said that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. (Compare Genesis 15:6 with Genesis 22) In Genesis 22 God tried (tested) Abraham’s faith. In James we not only have the thought of the testimony to our faith before men, but also the idea of faith being tried. The trial shows whether there is real faith or not. Abraham’s faith did not break down under testing showing that it was real. James speaks of “the proving of your faith” (James 1:3).

What has been said above is not peculiar to James. In Hebrews 11 we have many examples of persons doing things by faith. There is no idea of faith being inoperative, in other words, dead. Paul says in

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