Galatians 3:1–9; Galatians 5:16–18; James 2:18–26 (read online ⧉)
Is it faith or works? What saves you? That’s a pretty important question.
From a historical Jewish perspective, it was works. The entire sacrificial system seemed to be about works. This meant that from their perspective, salvation (and the Messiah) would only come through perfectly performing the Law.
Christians tend toward the faith side. In fact, while Martin Luther struggled with this exact passage in James. He wanted to toss out the book of James because it seemed contrary to grace. Martin Luther chose to respect the “doctors” of the church and kept the book of James even in the first Lutheran bible.
As the doctors of the church discerned that James was an inspired book of the Bible, we cannot ignore it, either. Nor should we fall into an extreme view of works.
Martin Luther struggled with how the Christian life was often lived out among Roman Catholics. They would perform acts (such as penance) without change. He saw a conflict there. It was a significant point to Luther as during his monastic years he was known for returning back to his confessor moments after he left due to some errant thought that might be a sin.
Imagine living that way! The reality is that many Christians did and do live that way. This even among those who would hold Roman Catholicism as a bad way to live, especially in Evangelical circles. The constant weight of guilt kills hearts and souls!
Most of James’ concerns were with consistency between espoused faith (what we say) and a lived-out faith (what we do). In James’ time, some believed that they could have faith, but that works were unimportant. The private faith was what mattered. The public faith was nice, but not necessary.
Paul, however, was concerned with people trying to be like the Jews, and doing all these “things” to get their salvation. He drove the point with grace, not works. Paul’s constant push on it often causes the church, as a whole, to put it first (which it is) and only (which it isn’t).
James didn’t want people to emulate the Jews, he wanted them to live out their faith. Live like your faith means something and has transformed you. Paul didn’t want actless Christians. In his letters, there was quite a lot about behavior. Works (or faith lived out) were important to Paul, too.
For both Paul and James, works were lived out as a response to God’s grace and movement in the lives of believers. Works were what got you saved. Works are a result of you being saved.
Lord, by grace you have called us into your family. By grace, we are called Childen of God. By grace, let us act like it. Amen.
1) What acts show the world that you are saved? How do they do so?
2) If a person does not display (via acts) a so-called Christian life, are they saved? Why or why not?
3) How do you balance question 1 and question 2?