Paul vs James
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. - James 2:18-19
We are wrapping up the book of Hebrews, with great explanations of faith. Hebrews defines faith as "...confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
This is a fitting end to this section of the Bible. While we don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, they were obviously influenced by Paul. The author stresses that faith is believing in the things God can do. Story after story is recounted in Hebrews 11 of women in men who did amazing things with their faith.
Now we turn to the book of James. James, quite famously tells us that "faith without works is dead". Some theologians don’t like this. Martin Luther call James “an epistle of straw” because he thought it worked against justification by faith alone.
Are Paul and James at odds with each other?
When we understand their individual contexts, we can begin to see that they’re not standing against each other in combat. Rather, they are standing back to back, defending a common truth against different enemies.
Paul is writing to people who are trying to earn salvation. They thought they had to get circumcised, keep kosher, and follow the Mosaic Law. To these people, often from Jewish backgrounds, Paul has to stress the idea that our works can’t save us. He essentially teaches us that works without faith are dead.
James seems to be writing to people who have grown complacent in their faith. They say they believe in Jesus, and that they are His disciples, but their lives are not changed, and their generosity is not evident. They throw out theological platitudes, then go on living as if Jesus had nothing to do with them in a practical way. To these people, James appropriately says “faith without works or dead."
Back to back, they are defending the gospel of the kingdom of God. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is at hand. Our job is to repent and believe the good news. Repentance looks like changed lives. Selfish people becoming generous. Exclusionary people learning to embrace others, who are different Self-righteous people learning humility and grace.
Which message do you need in your life right now?
Are you complacent in your faith and lacking in generosity and other good works? Then James is for you. Let him challenge you to temper your tongue, clothe the homeless, and feed the poor.
Or, are you working so hard for your faith that you’ve lost assurance of your salvation? If so, then Paul is for you. Let him remind you that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works, so that no one can boast. Rest in God‘s grace,
And for all of us, especially as we draw closer to Thanksgiving, letour hearts be overflowing with gratitude that we are saved from works, and saved to good works
Upcoming Daily Audio Bible Readings
November 17 Ezekiel 35:1-36:38, James 1:1-18, Psalm 116:1-19, Proverbs 27:23-27
November 18 Ezekiel 37:1-38:23, James 1:19-2:17, Psalm 117:1-2, Proverbs 28:1
November 19 Ezekiel 39:1-40:27, James 2:18-3:18, Psalm 118:1-18, Proverbs 28:2
November 20 Ezekiel 40:28-41:26, James 4:1-17, Psalm 118:19-29, Proverbs 28:3-5
November 21 Ezekiel 42:1-43:27, James 5:1-20, Psalm 119:1-16, Proverbs 28:6-7
November 22 Ezekiel 44:1-45:12, 1 Peter 1:1-12, Psalm 119:17-32, Proverbs 28:8-10
November 23 Ezekiel 45:13-46:24, 1 Peter 1:13-2:10, Psalm 119:33-48, Proverbs 28:11
November 24 Ezekiel 47:1-48:35, 1 Peter 2:11-3:7, Psalm 119:49-64, Proverbs 28:12-13
November 25 Daniel 1:1-2:23, 1 Peter 3:8-4:6, Psalm 119:65-80, Proverbs 28:14