Why Does James Say We’re Justified by Works?

This week, Pastor J.D. answers a listener question from Cameron who asked, “Why does James say we’re justified by works?”

Show Notes:

  • That’s a great question and one that I hear a lot and it’s one that I used to ask a lot as a young college student. 
  • Just so we’re all clear and you seen where the tension is, Paul says in Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
    • And yet, James 2:24 says: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
    • So a lot of people read that and they think it’s a contradiction. What James is teaching is actually not a contradiction to what Paul had said. It actually harmonizes the discussion. It shows us what faith that saves really is.
  • The key point in this whole discussion is that works are the evidence of a decision to follow Jesus and make him Lord of your life.
    • I always compare it to sitting down in a chair… how do you know that you made a decision to sit down in that chair? 
    • It’s probably not because you remember the mental process it took to sit down. The best evidence that you made a decision to sit down in the chair is that you’re seated there now—that’s proof that at some point you made a decision to or not.
    • In the same way, the best evidence that you put your faith in Christ as your Lord and Savior is that you are living a life of works that demonstrate that he is Lord.
    • What Jame is saying is that if what my mouth says about what I decided and my posture says differ, my posture is a more reliable indicator. Your posture is the evidence of your decision to sit. In the same way, your obedience is your evidence of faith in Christ and recognition of his Lordship.
  • You are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone
  • As we’re recording this, our church is in a series on the book of James, and coincidentally, one of our teaching pastors–Curtis Andursko–just addressed this question in his sermon on James 2. I thought he did a great job explaining this, and he even addressed the “Paul in Romans versus James” confusion directly.
    • For Paul, justified: made right with God,
    • For James, it means the the reality of your faith is proven before others
  • Paige Benton Brown talked about how Paul was writing more like an OBGYN—he was talking about how we are born into true faith. 
  • James is writing like a pediatrician—his goal is to talk about how we are living out that faith.
  • Both Paul and James both point to a couple places in Abraham’s life where we see this kind of obedience.
    • In Genesis 15, God covenants with Abraham
    • And in Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (and of course, God takes him right up to the point of obedience and then he provides a ram)
        • Paul points out that Genesis 15:6 occurred before that dramatic act of obedience. All there was a promise and Abraham believed it.
        • James points to Genesis 22 as the proof that Abraham had really decided to really trust God and follow him because now he is willing to sacrifice his son in obedience.
  • Bottom line: James and Paul do not contradict—they harmonize. And that’s actually a really good principle to take whenever the Bible seems to contradict itself. Usually the greatest spiritual truth is found beneath something that looks like a contradiction.

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