Listen: 63 Question 1

Let’s start by reading a couple of verses from James, chapter two.  James 2:14-17 says “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

We read in James 2:21-24, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?  And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”

I realize these verses present a problem to many people; especially verses like James 2:21, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” and James 2:24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”  These words seem to contradict other scriptures concerning salvation coming strictly through faith.  Romans 4:3 says, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”  Titus 3:5-7 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;  That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Historically, some very godly men have had a problem with how to understand the book of James.  Martin Luther said this about this important book: “In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. But more of this in the other prefaces.”  He called James an “epistle of straw” as if it lacked importance and was close to being worthless.  He just did not understand what James was trying to say.

Let’s look at James 2:18, which is a key in understanding this book.  It says, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  James taught that a man’s righteousness will be evidenced by his works.  So, works is what justifies a man before other men.  We can’t see other people’s hearts, only the Lord can do that.  We can only make a determination about someone’s salvation by their testimony AND their works.  We read in Matthew 7:20, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

So, before God, Abraham was justified by believing, or having faith, in the Lord.

Before men, Abraham was justified by offering Isaac, his son.  In other words, Abraham’s justification was shown in his works.  But, the Lord knew his heart and counted his faith as righteousness as we read in Romans 4:21-25, “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

Once we understand the purpose of the book of James, we will appreciate the teachings that the Lord has given us through this book.  (63.1)