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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

Saving Faith Leads To Good Deeds

JAMES 2:23-24: “23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

James cites the example of Abraham, making his case that genuine saving faith in God always leads to participating in good works.

Specifically, James points to the moment when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. In obedience, Abraham set out to do exactly that, right up until the moment God told him to stop (Genesis 22).

Some see a contradiction here between James and Paul. Paul's writings are renowned for emphasizing that we are saved by grace, through faith, and without any contribution from our good deeds. James does not dispute this; rather, this entire passage is James's discussion of what kind of faith is "saving faith." James's point is that faith alone saves, but the faith which saves is the kind which leads to good works. Paul emphasizes our eternal salvation in God, James highlights how our actions prove the nature of our faith.

The fact that these two men are in agreement is shown in other similarities. For example, both Paul and James quote Genesis 15:6. Paul quotes it in Romans 4:3 as part of his teaching that salvation is available only through faith. James quotes it here in support of his teaching that genuine faith always leads to good works. James and Paul present arguments which do not contradict, but rather complement each other.

One must be counted by God as "righteous" in order to be in relationship with Him. Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers are clear that our only hope of being found righteous by God is to trust in Christ. That is "saving faith"—a submissive, repentant trust in Jesus Christ. When we express that faith, God forgives our sin and gives us credit for the righteous life Jesus lived while on earth. No good deeds can earn this, and none are required to keep this.

Here in this extended passage, James reminds us that those made righteous by faith in Christ will proceed to do good works. James also adds that Abraham was called a friend of God. Jesus, too, called His disciples friends (John 15:15). It's hard to imagine being God's friend, but that is available to those who trust in Christ and, in faith, obey the Father who loves us.

James continues to make the case that those who truly trust in God naturally end up participating in good works. As James showed in prior verses, no one can be saved by good works. Works are not required for salvation—they are a "symptom" of saving faith. In verse 22, he used the Greek word eteleiōthē to explain good works as the "completion," or the natural end result, of saving faith. James is urgently making the case that all those who are saved through faith by God's grace will participate in good works.

It is in that spirit that James writes that a person is "justified" by works and not by faith alone. In verse 21, James used the concept of "justification," which some see as a contradiction to Paul's use of "justification" in passages such as Romans 4. Here, it is common for a reader to assume a contradiction with Romans 3:28: "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

It's important to remember two things, however. First, James is not claiming works are required for salvation. His entire argument has been about what kind of faith actually saves. He is on the attack against the attitude that one can be saved by a faith that has no works. He has stated repeatedly that such a faith is dead, useless. He is not saying that faith is not the means through which we receive God's grace; he is saying that a so-called-"faith" which results in no actions is not a genuine faith. A "works-less" faith cannot justify anyone.

The other thing that is important to remember is this: James has been consistent in upholding faith as necessary for salvation. This includes his quote in verse 23 that Abraham was counted as righteous for believing God.

Context is the key to all Bible study, and especially for resolving apparent contradictions. In Paul's writings, it is clear he is describing "justification" in the sense of salvation: being declared righteous by God. James, according to this context, is referring to "justification" in the sense of proof for human beings. Faith saves, says James, but "saving faith" cannot be a mere intellectual opinion, which produces no resulting actions.

SUMMARY: Genuine saving faith in God leads to good and loving actions: ''works.'' In chapter 1, James discussed the importance of acting on the words of God, not merely hearing them. Favoritism to the rich over the poor demonstrates a lack of faith. In fact, this is a sin. Following up on these ideas, James insists that ''faith'' which doesn't result in good works is dead. Such belief is merely intellectual agreement. It is not trust, or true, biblical saving faith. James doesn't deny that belief in God is essential to salvation, nor does he claim that works are necessary to obtain salvation. Rather, he makes the case that works are to faith what the breath is to the body: a sign of life. A ''faith'' without works is like a body without breath: dead.


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