POST OVERVIEW. The first in a series of articles on James 2:14-26. The purpose of these articles is to give the believer a correct understanding of this passage by providing a number of different approaches to this text. Through these studies, the believer will see that James’ teaching here does not conflict with the New Testament’s doctrine of justification by faith. (Also see previous Post #393, 4/26/2021, on this same passage.)
“But how can a man be in the right before God?” – Job 9:2
THE CRUCIAL QUESTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
From the time of the fall of man in Genesis 3 until the apostolic preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Job’s crucial question went unanswered. But after Pentecost, first the apostles and then the faithful church began to proclaim the good news that, now that Jesus has atoned for sins on the cross, all who repent and believe in Him can be declared righteous and can receive eternal life. That is the gospel we proclaim and by which we are saved. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone.
HOW ARE WE JUSTIFIED?
But with this as a background, how do we understand James when he declares in his epistle, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” (James 2:21)? Perhaps even more unsettling is what we read a few verses later in James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Then finally James writes, “Was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works?” (2:25). Is James teaching another gospel in which the sinner is justified by faith plus his own works? Has James abandoned “justification by faith alone,” the central doctrine of the Reformation? Does the Holy Spirit-inspired Bible teach that there are actually two ways to be saved, one by faith in Jesus and another by faith plus works?
These are important questions that I want to address in a series of articles which consider James 2:14-26 and discern what James is teaching in this section of his epistle. As we go through these teaching articles, there are several key points that we will consider.
- The word that is translated “justify” (δικαιόω in Greek) or, in the passive, “to be justified,” has two different meanings depending upon the author’s intent. Therefore, we need to understand more about this word “justify.”
- An understanding of “works” in the New Testament. What do we mean by “works?” The difference between the role of works before salvation and the role of works after salvation must be considered.
- The personal relationship between Paul and James and their complete agreement on the content of the gospel.
- The New Testament’s abundant, explicit teaching that justification (God’s declaration of righteousness) is never by works.
- A comparison of Hebrews 11 with James 2 allows us to conclusively determine that James is using “justify” in a non-salvific sense.
- Finally, a careful, unbiased reading of James 2:14-26 makes the author’s purpose and meaning unambiguously clear.
This, then, will serve as an introduction to this mini-series on James 2:14-26. My plan is to work through each of these points in the list above (not necessarily in order) so that we remove any confusion about justification that might be created by this passage and we also pay attention to the warning that James is communicating here.
My next post will be about the meanings of “justify.” (Point #1 from the list above.)
Soli Deo gloria rmb 5/24/2023 #652