After Norm’s discussion on Baptism last night, I thought it might be worthwhile to show this blog’s participants a discussion I had with Jason Hairston after his “debate” with Jeff Black, the Presbyterian pastor. There are some important issues dealing with the idea of “justification by faith” that speak to some of the things Norm said last night, and the way these folks use James 2 to justify their doctrine that denies justification by faith apart from our works.
My point was:
Nathan: Looking at your debate question of “justification by faith alone”, I’m interested in the words of Scripture, which plainly say, on the one side (and not including Romans 4):
Ro 3: “…because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
Ro 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Ro 5:1: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Ga 2:16: “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
Ga 3:11: “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
Ga 3:24: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
And on the other side, we have James:
Jas 2:21: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?”
Jas 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Jas 2:25: “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”
Now, it’s a given to any Bible-believing Christian that these two seemingly opposing ideas have to mesh. What your guest tried to explain to you was that you needed to examine the context of James to understand that James wasn’t speaking counter to Paul (do you think he was? I don’t think you do). Rather, James was speaking to a specific context where people were not acting properly (2:1), dishonoring the poor, showing partiality towards the rich (2:2,3).
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters,” James writes, “if you say you have faith but do not…” …feed and clothe the poor. “Can that faith save him?” (h pistiv swsai auton?) Of course that faith can’t save him, because it’s not faith when you claim to follow the Lord and don’t take care of the needy in your community.
James goes on to reiterate this point by showing the stupidity of someone claiming faith but not having any works to show for it (2:18). The passage you quote (2:24) is not hard to understand when looked at in light of these other passages – James is plainly saying that the two go together – that if you have one, you have the other, or conversely, that one without the other is useless. Singer Rich Mullins put it this way, “faith without works, like a song you can’t sing, it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”
I know about Martin Luther’s problems with James, but I personally like the book, especially James 5:15, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” Good stuff.”
You can find that conversation and more over at http://www.bibleqna.com by following this link: