James 2: 20 – 26
So far, we have been able to identify the different perspectives from which Apostle James and Apostle Paul wrote from. James wrote from the perspective of the Old Testament while Paul wrote the New Testament and particularly, the message to the Church. James had written his epistle as one of the very early books at least before the debate and meeting of the council in Acts 15.
James had written to some of the Churches at that time but when Apostle Paul got to know of his writings, he went back to the council at Jerusalem making a case for the Gentiles who had started to positively receive the message of the Gospel but were taught through the writings of James that they had to keep the Law of Moses and observe the custom, rituals and circumcision. It was made plain to them that without circumcision, they couldn’t be saved, even though they had received Jesus into their lives as Lord and Savior.
Until Apostle Paul penned down his Epistles, no one was exposed to the Gospel of the Grace of God, the reason why James was read by the little number of Churches formed then. James had no choice but to write from the purview of the Laws of Moses and the Old Testament tenets.
In defense of his (James) writings, he had no choice but to recall and give examples of his gospel of “faith without works is dead”. He cited Abraham and how he became righteous. He quoted that Abraham was not made righteous until when he got to Mount Moriah, when he placed Isaac on the altar with the intention of offering him up to God as a sacrifice. The idea was that Abraham believed God (FAITH) but had to add some element of WORKS as he placed Isaac on the altar all tied up.
The question therefore is when was Abraham declared righteous? Was it when he took Isaac to Mount Moriah or when he left his father’s house after he heard the voice of God saying he should leave his kindred to go to a Land he had never been before?
Please note that throughout the Book of James, emphasis was never on the Holy Spirit or the Grace of God – in fact neither was ever mentioned through the Book rather, there was emphasis on works. He believed one could never have faith without works to show. He said to his audience, “Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?”
James quoted from Genesis 15 that Abraham believed God and it was accredited to him as righteousness even before the story of Isaac came to play. Again from the platform of the Old Testament, I wouldn’t fault James on his writings but when we decide to look from the platform of the New Testament and especially from what the Apostle Paul wrote, we will find out that his writings on Salvation, righteousness and the place of works are different.
According to the great Apostle Paul, Abraham’s justification came well before he gave birth to Isaac, the moment he left his father’s house to that land God was taking him to. The Apostle puts it this way, “If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own. If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. It’s sheer gift”.
Abraham, according to Apostle Paul was able to believe God at His Word even before he stepped out. Therefore, Paul would come to a conclusion that we can only be saved by FAITH alone through the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus and not when it is combined with works.
Looking at this from another perspective, what happens to someone who does good but never believes in the message of the Gospel? The said person, in accordance to the Pauline gospel could never be saved.
The template for Salvation therefore, is to believe in the message of the Gospel alone (FAITH) then we can be declared saved. The same can be said of the second example that James gave in this part of his Book. He gave the example of Rahab, the harlot. James, in pushing his gospel of works declared that Rahab was saved as a result of what she did by keeping the spies from being killed.
Rahab had heard about all that God did in saving his people, which prompted her belief in the God of Israel, she said, “I know that God has given you the land. We’re all afraid. Everyone in the country feels hopeless. We heard how God dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and what He did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, Sihon and Og whom you put under a holy curse and destroyed. We heard it and our hearts sank. We all had the wind knocked out of us. And all because of you, your God – the God of the heavens above and God of the earth below. Now promise me by God. I showed you mercy; now show my family mercy. And give me some tangible proof, a guarantee of life for my father and mother, my brothers and sisters—everyone connected with my family. Save our souls from death!”
She simply believed and therefore when the time came she was saved.
Where is the place of works then?
Saving is all His (God) idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
It is good to do good works, but to say our Salvation depends on the good works that we do is to put ourselves in the place of God, thereby nullifying the work that was already completed when Jesus was raised from the dead.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” – Clive Staples Lewis