Did you know that the early church had an theology MMA match? James vs. Paul.
Paul said Faith doesn’t work.
James said Faith does work.
Each was an important leader in the early church. Paul its greatest missionary. James the bishop of its biggest church (and brother of Jesus). They really seem to conflict with each other.
I’ve mentioned that Ephesians 2:8-9 is a critical verse when considering Sola Gratia and Sola Fide. There Paul puts these two Solas together, teaching that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.
But right up against it, we have James 2 who says that faith without works is dead.
What gives? Is faith just in our mind? Just a set of beliefs that we think? In other words is faith “not works”?
Or is faith without works dead? Meaning, if faith is just a set of beliefs in our mind, is it an empty, worthless faith?
Is Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 a contradiction of James 2:14-26?
I think we need to look at Abraham a bit more. Turn to Romans 4, and let’s take a deeper look at Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith.
Read verses 1-3. Paul says Abraham believed, and God credited righteousness to him.
Paul explains this in verses 4-5. Read this. We employees understand what Paul is saying. How many of you are hourly employees? You work one hour, you earned one hours pay. How many of you are salaried? You work and do your job, and you receive your pay. But when you believe in God, you haven’t done any work, you haven’t earned anything, you deserve no pay, no grace. And this is where grace comes in. Though you don’t deserve it, God credits you his righteousness anyway. That is grace, received by faith, not by works.
Paul talks about this a bit more, but jump down to verse 18. Here he really gets to the heart of the matter. He explains that though Abraham was old, as good as dead, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith!” He was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised, and this is why it was credited to him as righteousness. What is more, we can ALL have God’s righteousness credited to us the same way if we do what Paul says in verse 24-25.
“Believe in God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
Now jump down to Romans 5, and let’s keep reading. Read verses 1-11. This is the message of salvation in Christ that is the by grace through faith.
Praise God! Though we are sinners, God loves us, and through faith in Christ, we can be forgiven!
Remember what Paul said Ephesians 2:8-9? We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. There Paul is describing faith at the moment of salvation. We might say this is where a relationship with God starts. But note what Paul says, it is not by works. Jesus had to do the work. We cannot earn our salvation. We have to place our faith in what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection.
But how do we place our faith in God? Let’s review what we have learned so far.
We have seen the intellectual side of faith:
- I believe that God exists.
- I believe that I am separated from God because of my sin.
- I believe that God graciously forgives my sin through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection.
But there is also a physical side of Faith:
- God, I give my life to you, and I want to know you, to serve you, to live for you. You are now my leader, you show me how to live.
- And then you actually make life choices based on God’s pattern of life, most clearly displayed by Jesus in the Gospel. A life of faith is a life that says “Jesus, teach me how to live.”