For centuries James 2:14-26, has been the occasion of much controversy; and, it was this passage which prompted Martin Luther to regard the Epistle of James with considerable contempt, and to describe it as “a right strawy one.” Others, who entertain no doubts regarding the inspiration of the book and passage have nevertheless engaged in much useless and vain speculation thereon in an effort to harmonize an alleged conflict of teaching between James and Paul! There are those who believe that Paul, in Rom. 4:1-6, teaches that justification is by faith without works of any kind; and, inasmuch as James, in this passage (2:14-26), quite obviously affirms that there is no justification apart from works, it poses quite a problem for the advocates or the doctrine of salvation by faith only. Moreover, Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9, wrote: ‘For by grace have ye been saved through faith: and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory” Yet, James asserted: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works. and by works was faith made perfect” (James 2:21-22).
It should be apparent to the must casual reader that Paul and James are discussing two different kinds or works in these passages. Paul refers to works which are excluded from God’s plan to save; James discusses works which are included in it. Each writer gives the characteristics of the works under consideration. Those excluded, discussed by Paul, are works in which one might glory (exult in, boast of); the works included (mentioned by James) are those which perfect faith. Of the first category, works of which a man might boast and in which he might glory, are human, meritorious works, works of human achievement, works the design of which is to earn salvation. Were it possible for man to devise a plan by which he could save himself, he could dispense with grace, accomplish his own deliverance from sin, and glory in God’s presence. Such of course, is utterly impossible. All such works are excluded.
The works included, and discussed by James, are the commandments of the Lord, obedience to which is absolutely essential to salvation (I John 2:4; II Thessalonians 1:7-9.) Humble submission to the will of God as expressed in his commandments, far from involving works of the type excluded, demonstrate complete reliance upon God, and not upon one’s self. Only those who seek to exclude all work, even the commandments of the Lord, such as baptism in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16.15-16; Acts 2:38), have any difficulty in harmonizing Paul and James! Paul taught the necessity of obedience to the commands of Christ as plainly, positively and emphatically as did James (Romans 6:3-4).
Guy N. Woods