Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Contradictions of Scripture?

“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"-- and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

(James 2:20-26 ESV)

Skeptics are quick to say that the Bible is full of contradictions. They do so in order to discredit the Scriptures. It’s their intent to undermine the faith that many place in the Word of God.

One example of this can be seen above. Scripture is clear that we are saved not by what we do. It is clear that our works play no role in our salvation. It tells us that we are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. However, in the words of James, we read that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.

As we run into something like this, it can be quite troubling. And it’s caused quite a stir throughout the centuries. Many have assumed that James contradicts the teaching of Paul, as well as that of Jesus.

What are we to do? Does this prove to us that Scripture is not inerrant? Does it prove to us that it’s not infallible? Does it reveal to us that we have to determine, with our reason, which parts of Scripture are true, which parts are God’s Word, and which are not?

The Bible does not contradict itself in any way. As all Scripture is God-breathed, as it proceeds from the mouth of a perfect, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, it cannot contradict itself. Differences such as the one we’re discussing do not contradict one another. They, instead, complement one another.

We must first begin by looking at the context in which James makes this statement. He’s been telling us that faith, apart from works, is dead and cannot save. He’s been telling us that genuine faith is more than a mere profession of belief. It’s something that impacts the way that we live our life.

What James is telling us, in this passage, is that a mere profession of faith cannot justify us. It’s only a true, genuine faith that can do so.  And such a faith is expressed in our actions. It’s demonstrated in the way that we live our life.

Paul would not dispute this. However, when said that we are saved by faith, apart from the works of the law, he was speaking against those who believed they could earn their salvation. He was telling them that we can play no role in our justification. It’s a free gift of God, given to those with faith in Jesus.

It’s not a matter, then, of who is right. They’re both right. We are saved through faith. Our works play no role in our salvation. But, at the same time, our works are necessary. They are the essential result of our faith in Jesus.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

No Separating the Two

“But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder!”

(James 2:18-19 ESV)

The issue of faith and works, and their role in salvation, is one that’s troubled the church for centuries. The conflicts surrounding this issue have been numerous.  And it’s something with which believers continue to struggle today.

Some say that works alone are enough for salvation.  They say that by simply being a good person we are saved. Others say that faith and works together provide for us salvation. They insist that, along with faith, works play a role in our salvation. And still others say that it’s by faith alone we are saved.

According to Scripture, we’re saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone. Our salvation is not something of which we are deserving, nor is it something we can earn. It’s a free gift of God bestowed upon us as we trust in Jesus Christ.

This, however, does not mean that works are unnecessary. It doesn’t mean that, because we have faith, we’re able to live as we please. We find that a genuine faith cannot be separated from works.

In the previous passage, James told us that faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. In other words, works are a necessary result of our faith. They are necessarily produced by our faith. And if this product is not present, neither then is faith.

This is the point James makes above. One person cannot claim to have faith while another has works. Works apart from faith are meaningless. And so too is a professed faith without works.

“I will show you my faith by my works,” James says. His works provided evidence of his faith. And the same is true of us. They demonstrate the faith that resides within the heart.

Even the demons believe in God, he points out. Even they know that God exists. Even they believe that God is God. Yet, none of us believe they are saved. We do not believe they are saved because they do not receive him as their God. Even knowing his power, they actively oppose him.

The same principle applies to us. Many people profess faith in the Lord. They acknowledge that he is God. Yet, even though this is true, they continue to oppose him. They continue to live for sin. They continue to live in a state of rebellion against him.

If this is true of us, we are not saved. A true faith in Christ involves repentance. It involves a turning from our sin to the Lord. It brings forth the new life God has provided us.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Natural Result of Faith

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

(James 2:14-17 ESV)

Our beliefs govern our actions. Our actions are determined by our beliefs. This is something we all recognize to be true.

Because we believe in the law of gravity, we are careful as we approach a high cliff. Because we believe in gravity, we don’t jump out of airplanes without a parachute. If we didn’t believe in gravity, these precautions would seem completely unnecessary.

In the same way, because we believe that life is precious, we do what we can to protect and preserve it. We try to make healthy choices. We make use of the medical care that’s available to us. And we encourage others to do the same. If we didn’t believe that life is precious, if we believed that it was worthless, we’d behave in the opposite manner.

This is the argument that James is making in the above passage. If we claim to have faith, but we do not have works, our faith is not genuine and it’s not able to save. Our faith will naturally produce good works.

He uses the illustration of someone in need. If we wish them well, but do nothing about their need, is it genuine? Of course not. If we truly care about their well-being, we’ll do whatever we can to help them in their time of need.

Scripture clearly teaches that we’re saved not by what we do, but through faith in Jesus. Realizing this, some of us take this truth to an unhealthy extreme. We think that it doesn’t matter what we do, we feel that we’re free to live as we please, because God’s salvation is a free gift.

This mindset, however, is not fitting with a life of faith. If we truly believe in the Lord, if we truly believe that he’s saved us from sin and death, we cannot continue to pursue these things. Our faith will lead us to repentance. It will lead us to turn from our sin to Christ.

So, although our works play no role in our salvation, they are a necessary result of our faith. It’s impossible for us to possess faith without works. Our trust in the Lord will naturally lead us to produce the fruit of faith.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Faith & Mercy

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
(‭‭James‬ ‭2:12-13‬ ‭ESV)

As believers in Jesus, we have been justified by faith. In this way, we have received the righteousness of Christ, having been forgiven of all our sin. We are, therefore, saved from sin and its consequences.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re free to live as we please. It doesn’t mean that we can live in sin, trusting that we’re forgiven. Even as believers, we are answerable to God.

James reminds us of this truth in the above passage. He had been speaking about the sin of partiality, and reminded us that, even if this is our only sin, we are guilty before God. No matter how good of a life we live, a single sin alone makes us guilty in God’s sight.

For this reason, as people who have received the mercy of God, we must show mercy to others. We must bestow upon them the great blessing God has given us. If we will not show mercy to others, then we ourselves are unable to receive the mercy of God.

The sad reality is that, in our nation, the church is known for a lack of mercy. And this is especially true in conservative, Bible believing churches. We are known for a focus on truth at the expense of love for those in need.

According to James, this cannot be. Believing the Bible to be God’s Word, we must show mercy to those who are in need. Our faith requires this response.

A lack of mercy reveals a lack of faith in the Word of God. It reveals that we are hardened to the mercy God has shown us. We cannot separate the two because faith and mercy go hand in hand.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Judging Ourselves Rightly

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

(James 2:8-11 ESV)

We like to think of ourselves as good people. And, if questioned about it, we can offer up a pretty good defense of this position. We can point to areas of life where we have done quite well.

We might point out that we are good parents to our children. We may point out that we go to church most weeks. We may point out that we give to charities that benefit those in need.

However, in reality, we’re not the good people we believe ourselves to be. Even if there are areas of life where we feel we’re doing well, even if there are areas of life where we are doing well, this changes nothing. It changes nothing because there are also areas of life where we are not doing well.

Even if we are good parents to our children, we may demonstrate a lack of concern for other children in our sphere of influence. Even if we are going to church most weeks, we may be relying on our effort rather than the grace of God for salvation. Even if we are giving to charities that benefit those in need, we may be ignoring people in need in our own community.

The point James is making above is that we are all lawbreakers. We are all guilty. In fact, committing only one sin makes us a lawbreaker.

Even if it were possible for us to keep all of God’s commands, save one, we’d be guilty. We’d be just as deserving of God’s judgment as everyone else. And we’d be just as in need of his salvation.

However, realistically speaking, that life is not possible for us. Our sin is much greater than that. Even in areas where we think we’re doing well, sin is present. We fall short of God’s standards in ways we don’t even perceive.

We, then, must judge ourselves realistically. We must recognize our sin, and confess it to the Lord. And we must look not to our goodness, but to the grace of God, for salvation.