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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Conflict Over Salvation!

In my last posting I began with a full quote of James 2:14-26. Here James wrote that faith within the believer without any works to accompany such faith makes his beliefs lifeless. A "dead" faith does not impress the beholder or in interested inquirer, so I reasoned, especially if the believer says that God exist yet "sucks up" to the rich man at the same time show contempt to the poor man who also happens to walk into the assembly. Snobbery is murder, according to James 2:11.

It was likely that James was rebuking snobbery right through to verse 26, even though there were no verses or chapter breaks in his original letter. We are to this day aware on whether our faith makes an impression on the beholder or not. Nothing can make a finer example on this issue than Christian parents, who attend church regularly, and the way they bring up their children. Children have this distinctive knack of spotting phoniness or hypocrisy in their parent's faith, and snobbery is certainly one of many faith-killers. Statistics indicate that more children of church-goers grow up as atheists than as Christian believers. If the parents' faith is not issuing good works, the child is less likely to take to such faith and will conclude that church attendance is a waste of time.

The core of this issue is verse 14, which reads:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

Most Christians and many churches indicate that the "him" in the emphasised question means that the believer himself was not saved because there were no works to prove or endorse his salvation. It is reading such verses which makes me wish that both James and Paul were still alive and I can talk to them. I would ask why the two apparently disagree on this issue - Do we need to work for our salvation? Or to prove our salvation? Or to secure our salvation? Or even because we are already saved? In fact I would go even further and knock their heads together, telling them to be more specific in what they are telling us, reminding them that the Roman Catholic Church has always used James 2:14 to justify that works are necessary for salvation - and had been doing for the last 1,600 years. And even Martin Luther, who was converted by just reading Romans 1:17 - The just shall live by faith - totally rejected the epistle of James as heresy!

And how do these two apostles apparently disagree? (Note the word apparently.) James asks, "Does such faith (without deeds) save him?" - indicating that the answer to that is "No."

Yet Paul made it very clear, especially in his letter to the Christians in Rome, on how one can be saved. He writes:

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10.

Earlier in his letter, he wrote:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about - but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord would never count against him."
Romans 4:1-8.

Then just for further backing, I quote what Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. (2:8-9)

So here we see what looks like a blatant contradiction - James versus Paul.

But in Romans 10:9, Paul adds confessing with the mouth that Jesus as Lord as part of the plan. But what does Paul mean when he addresses Jesus as Lord? Those who believe in Lordship salvation believe that the Lordship of Jesus is meant in the realm of an employer - that the believer submits to Jesus in toto as a worker does to his employer. That is not the meaning of the verse.

In the days of ancient Rome, every citizen had to swear his allegiance to the Emperor with the words, Caesar is Lord. Very much like if here in the UK I were to swear my allegiance to Elizabeth II as Her Royal Majesty the Queen. Police and military recruits do this to this day. But this does not make the Queen my employer, but an admission of being a subject in her Kingdom and supporter of the Constitution. While swearing allegiance to the Queen as Head of State and also head of the Church of England, to the Roman citizen, by swearing allegiance to Caesar was admitting that the Emperor was God.

The resurrection of the body was something no one in history had ever achieved, except Jesus Christ, and to this day, nobody else had ever risen from the dead. Instead, the bones of even the greatest saints are still with us, including those of Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, John and Paul. The resurrection of Christ was the ultimate proof that he, and not Caesar, was God. So during the days of the Roman emperor, if the believer confessed Jesus as Lord, he was literally putting his own life in jeopardy. Many were executed for confessing that Jesus was the Christ, not Caesar. Since self-preservation is the greatest instinct in all humans, confession of Jesus being God in the face of persecution can only come from the heart. And to have such a conviction is proof that the heart has been regenerated and has become the seat for the Holy Spirit to dwell in. It's the only way that the fear of death is overcome. Therefore we can conclude that it is the regenerated heart-belief which comes first, which leads to the verbal confession.

The Colosseum in Rome was the site of many Christian executions in the days of Caesar.

Unbelievers in general do not confess Jesus Christ as Lord, even in peaceful times, as at present, in the Western world. But the Bible also indicate that at the Judgement, many of the unsaved will cry out "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in you name, and in your name cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works?" (Matthew 7:22.)  According to this, it does look as if  one does acknowledge that Jesus Christ was Lord in the sense of aristocracy, a great teacher, or as one setting an example. But not as God incarnated who died and rose physically from the dead. I once read in a popular national newspaper that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but fell unconscious. Still apparently lifeless, he was taken down from the cross and later recovered to the extent that he was able to walk away to some distant location, never to be seen again. This was a parallel story to that of the Muslims, who believe to this day that it was Judas Iscariot who died on the cross, not Jesus Christ. And not to mention the array of scientists and academics who use the media to deny the reality of Divine Creation in favour of Evolution, which is another way of denying that Jesus Christ is God.

So we can therefore conclude that on a once-for-all-time heart belief in the Resurrection of Christ and the ability to confess this to another person guarantees salvation. It is a reminder of what was stated by the apostle John when he wrote:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (and not because he failed to produce appropriate works.)
John 3:14-18.

Now we need to ask: Is there a conflict between Paul and James?

No there is no conflict. By reading the whole letter of James, one should be able to see that it was a rebuke for favouritism, snobbery, chasing after riches and planning for the future without any consideration for God's plans and his will for their lives. It was written mainly to Jews assembling in their local synagogue, although it is easy to imagine a Christian meeting in a Gothic church building with stained glass windows, and inside filled with pews and fronted by a pulpit, and an ageing bell tower outside. But the context of the letter is the same for both. But it appears that James was concerned on how the church looked to an outsider visiting. Would the visitor be judged according to wealth and social status? How would the poor visitor feel after following a rich man into the building and being treated with disdain after watching the rich man being fawned upon? Rather than convert to Christ, he would more likely walk out feeling disgusted.

James wrote:

You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did...You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (2:22, 24.)

Justified by whom? By God? God looks on the heart and seeing his belief that Christ was resurrected and therefore must be the true Lord rather than Caesar, fully justifies him. But although his faith is clear before God, it is invisible before men, who cannot see into the heart as God can. So the only way that faith can be manifest is through works. And James takes up the issue here.

Since last week, after posting my last blog on the subject, the feedback which followed has made me sit down and think things over. The words for concern were these:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

Abraham had his faith tested by God by telling him to offer his son Isaac upon the altar. But was this because God did not know beforehand how Abraham would respond? There is a serious problem with this idea, namely, the denial of God's omniscience. In other words, God did not know what was going to happen next! So why did God test Abraham's faith, even already knowing the outcome before he was even born? For the benefit of his descendants, and for the benefit of us who believe. Isaac himself told all in the community, and of course, both Jacob and Esau and their sons would have known about it. Not to mention the group of relatives and perhaps hundreds of servants and other associates. Abraham's act of faith had placed his name in the Hall of Fame for all eternity.

But Abraham was justified by faith many years earlier. During that time, there were no specific works done by Abraham. His justification was a heart matter between God and himself. So this is why I believe that the lack of works in the believer would not impress the inquirer or the curious. Such faith is invisible to them.

But there is one more issue that needs to be looked at. In my last article, the words would such faith save him? I had applied this to the inquirer, not to the believer himself. Here is the core of the misunderstanding. If those words were referring to salvation, then indeed, faith alone does not save, we must work to obtain, secure or prove our salvation before God. That was why I believed it was the inquirer if salvation was referred to. And I still believe in this. However, there are other options that may be considered.These are:

1. The verse has nothing to do with salvation. Instead it has to do with the welfare of the poor man. The poor man will not benefit physically if the believer simply says, "I believe in God," but gives nothing to eat or any spare clothing to keep him warm. In this context, the word save, means the poor man saved from the cold and going hungry, with the "him" referring to the poor man, not the believer himself. This is, in my view, a very valid option.

2. The verse refers to the poor man being the unsaved inquirer who, unimpressed with his snobbery and cossetting up to the rich as well as lack of generosity, walks away disgusted. To the poor man, the Christian faith was not worth further consideration. This view is the main subject of this blog and the previous one, and it is the view I more likely to consider, after reading the testimony of not only Charles Dickens, but seeing how people perceive the churches today.

3. The word "him" in verse 14 referring to the believer, not the inquirer or the poor man. If this is true, then this "faith" is only a nominal profession, such as one baptised as a baby, and grows up in a "Christian Country." He would then only attend church for baptisms, weddings and funerals - and perhaps on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday as well. Such nominal adherence to the faith does not regenerate the heart with a new birth of the Spirit which would result in good works. This view is upheld by many Christians and churches alike.

4. This verse agrees with the view of the Roman Catholic Church that faith coupled with works merit salvation. If true, then James contradicts Paul, who insist that faith alone is required for salvation. Akin to this is the view that works is needed to "stay saved," an opinion held by those who believe that salvation can be lost if one does not remain faithful to the end.

These are, I believe, the four different views of James 2:14. Every Christian would adhere to one of these views. As is with this fact that I wish the apostles were alive today, to "blow the gaff" on any views that would turn out to be false. But without any of these apostles, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, that's all about learning about the Kingdom of God. We are students, and I admit that now and again I can get things wrong, as even the apostle Peter also got it wrong (Galatians 2:11-14.) I thank and praise God for his patience and love, and will always correct the thinking of his children with gentleness as a loving Father would.

James, Paul and you too, John - let us enjoy a good hug...


  1. You're right, Frank -- how awesome it will be to have all eternity to discuss this, and other theological points, with Paul and James and even Christ Himself!
    But you're also right that there is no contradiction. By their fruits ye shall know them. One who is born again is a new creation in Christ, wanting to turn away from sin and to do good works not because it is necessary for salvation, but from a heart overflowing with thankfulness and love for God's grace. That doesn't mean that believers won't ever sin and won't grow spiritually cold or rebellious at times. But if there is no evidence at all of a changed life, we would have to wonder if they were ever truly saved. But only God knows the hearts.
    Thanks as always, Frank, for your excellent, thoughtful, and thorough post!

    God bless,

  2. Hello my friend! The Believer without any WORKS?
    to accompany.
    A great post once again from a good man.

  3. The beauty of these two passages is that they don't contradict but rather, they complement. When James says "can SUCH faith save him?" He's referring to a faith that is without content or foundation. In short, it's a counterfeit faith! Paul tells we are saved not by our works. This is an incredible blessing. Now James tells us that if we have true faith, works naturally proceed! The book of James is so interesting and encouraging to read.

    1. Dear Stanley,
      James 2:14-26 as always been an issue since I was converted out of Roman Catholicism, just as it was to Martin Luther. But unlike Luther, who rejected the epistle of James as heresy, I preferred to look for how James and Paul complimented each other.
      The main blog has now been modified.
      God bless.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hi Frank,
    I know there appear to be contradictions, but I have never found any contradiction in the Bible because I think of it not as a book but as a vocabulary spoken by the Lord to me. Just as I would not say 'yes' and 'no' at the same time, although I have both in my vocabulary,neither would the Lord speak two contradicting things to me from His word in order to teach me. It depends what situation is in my life, which word He will speak to me. Some might say, when someone has not been very nice to me 'If anyone has anything against you, you should go to that person', but the Holy Spirit might be showing me in the Bible 'Make no friends with an angry man'. So I do not think that we can look at one part of the Bible and look at another part of the Bible and say that they contradict. I feel that certain scriptures are used to speak to us as individuals at specific times to allow us each to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (which does not imply that we do not contribute to our own salvation), just as the believers were encouraged to do by Paul and Timothy in Phillipians ch.2 v.12. I believe that the Holy Spirit can use simple language through certain verses to encourage the 'babe in Christ', and deeper verses which cause the more mature christian to examine themselves, the difference really between the milk and the strong meat.

  6. Another great post Frank-how do you do it?! You put most Biblical scholars to shame.

    I have read the Bible a number of times, and I am re-reading it again for the umpteenth time, but sometimes I struggle with the theology of some of it; you manage to explain things very well without dumbing down-that takes skill, it really does,

    Anyway, I get the feeling from the Bible that God never sides with injustice; He is fair, impartial and utterly just in all His dealings with human beings. In so much of life, people are, even at their best, partial, corrupt and biased towards other people; even when we try our best to be 'good' we often aren't, and we mess up all the time. God's standards are there for a purpose; to show that we can all aim higher in life and we can all aspire to genuine perfection and what is truly good in life.

    You wrote: 'By reading the whole letter of James, one should be able to see that it was a rebuke for favouritism, snobbery, chasing after riches and planning for the future without any consideration for God's plans and his will for their lives.' I needed to hear that a whole lot; all ambitious people who are Christians need to hear and understand that. We can all go off gallivanting into our future without regard to God or His will for our lives.

    Thanks for posting such a well written and comprehensive post.

  7. One can believe that a chair will support him, but unless he acts on that belief and sits down, the belief will produce no benefit. As you state, there is no contradiction between Paul's and James' statements. James is demonstrating that many practices by so called Christians indicate little or no understanding of the things of God.