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Is Salvation By Faith Or Works? (Reconciling Paul And James) — Part 3

(If you missed Part 1 of this series, Click Here)

Are Paul And James Teaching Two Opposing Doctrines?

It has been said that Paul and James were not standing toe-to-toe, fighting it out over what constitutes Salvation. They were really standing back-to-back, both defending the citadel of faith from two different types of attackers. Paul defended faith as the only means by which a person can be justified with God against those who would come to God on the basis of their own merit. James defended genuine faith as something that would motivate the believer to trust God and commit themselves to Christ against those who claimed to have faith, yet did nothing with it. The “faith” apart from works that James  refers to is not the genuine, saving faith that Paul refers to:

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man SAY he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14, emphasis added)

“…[show] me thy faith without thy works, and I will [show] thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)

James is talking about a professed faith. A real, genuine faith in God is going to result in action. What kind of action? Is James talking about obeying the Law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments?

“But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:9-11)

James certainly was not teaching that Salvation came by keeping the Law of Moses. He knew as well as Paul did that such was impossible. James actually speaks of the same liberty that Paul refers to (Compare James 1:25, 2:12, and Galatians 2:4, 5:1, 13). So what about charitable deeds? Random acts of kindness? Is this what James had in mind when he mentioned “works?”

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21)

“Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (James 2:25)

If we want to emulate the exact “works” mentioned here, we should consider that Abraham’s “work” was to be willing to kill his son and Rahab’s “work” was treason against her country. I do not mean to sound irreverent in the least, but it is obvious that these are given as examples. If we are going to take the example of a good work in James 2:15-16 and say that this is specifically what James is instructing us all to do, then would it not be appropriate to do the same with James 2:21 and 25?

The works that James is talking about is putting our trust in God, regardless of the consequences. It is believing God above all else and obeying His will. No, we will not always be able to perfectly obey God, but our desire should be for His will and not our own. We do not obey Him in order to be saved, but because we are saved. We do not become His when we obey Him, we prove that we already are His when we obey Him. The difference might not seem to be much, but it’s all the difference in the world.

Fruit On The Branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:1-6)

An apple tree branch doesn’t bear apples so that it can become part of the apple tree, it bears apples because it is part of the apple tree. If it is unconnected to the apple tree, then it cannot produce any apples. An unconnected branch is dead and lifeless. If we claim to be a branch connected to the Vine that is Jesus Christ and yet no fruit is growing on our branch, who are we really fooling? It isn’t the Vine’s fault, it’s because we really aren’t connected to the Vine in the first place.

The tendency when we think of “fruit” in this context is to think of acts of righteous behavior, or charitable deeds for the poor and needy, or giving away our belongings. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul talks about the “fruit of the Spirit.” This is the type of fruit that we are talking about. The fruit of a changed life. Notice that it is not the “fruit of the believer”, no, the Holy Spirit is the One Who produces the fruit when we are in Christ. We do not produce the fruit in order to be accepted by God, God produces it in our lives because we belong to Him.

A Sober Warning

Neither James nor Paul offer any comfort to those who make a shallow, superficial profession of “faith.” The whole lesson behind the Book of James is that we all ought to test our “faith” to see if it is real or not. If we say that we have faith in Jesus Christ, are we living like we really do? Are we being conformed into His image or have our lives remained unchanged since we first “believed?” Paul offers the same advice in 2 Corinthians 13:5. The idea is not to prove to God our worthiness, but to prove to ourselves that our faith is genuine. God is not going to be fooled (Gal. 6:7) but we might fool ourselves ( Proverbs 14:12). Is our faith in Christ genuine and is it producing fruit in our lives? If there is no fruit growing on the branch, are we sure that we are connected to the Vine?

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10 responses

  1. This is so good – again – Loren. That the Holy Spirit produces the fruit in our lives when we are in Christ , not us having to do it to measure up to others, strengthens me. Thank you so much! deb

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  2. Thanks, Deb.

    Praise God that He accomplishes in us that which we could never accomplish ourselves :)

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  3. Hi Loren,

    As you said, the distinction of obeying Him because we are saved vs. obeying Him to prove we are saved may not seem like much but it is so much that it can be seen who is saved vs. who is not. Many grow weary after a while of trying to maintain.

    The apple tree will produce apples but the branch has to be attached to the apple tree to produce apples.

    I think the big distinction is those that Christians that produce fruit are producing His fruit.

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  4. Loren,

    How very important this is to everyone’s eternal life….. Many people who want to be Christians get confused by those who promote false doctrines about faith and works….. I hope this clarifies things for those who are unsure about what is the correct biblical teachings.

    Margaret

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  5. Thanks, Margaret. I hope that this will help to clarify things for those who struggle with these passages, too :)

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  6. Those apples look soooo good. It’s a perfect “picture” of a tree producing good fruit.

    I’ve been doing hard labor all day long so those apples look especially appetizing. :mrgreen:

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  7. They do look yummy!

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  8. Loren, I just read this awesome 3-part series. Your interpretation is right on – you were definitely led by the Holy Spirit in writing this. I wrote on this same topic back on March 22 – http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/faith-hope-and-love/ – and would love to hear your comments on it.

    I am also adding you to my blogroll so I can come back and read more of your teachings.

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  9. Thank you for the kind words, Linda :)

    I will definitely visit your site soon. God bless you!

    In Christ,

    Loren

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  10. If I am not mistaken, this “James” is the brother of Jesus that watched for 20 to25 years, at least, as Jesus interacted with His environment and people. James more than likely remembered back to many, many events, and saw this FAITH in action, and described just what Jesus did!

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