Ephesians 4:3-6; One Faith – Clarifying James 2.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021


The great problem passage of Jam 2 – “Faith without works is dead.”


Jam 2:14-15

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?


Jam 2:17

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.


The most used verse in the scripture to teach that either salvation is by works or that salvation can only be confidently asserted by works is in Jam 2 – “faith without works is dead.”


If you are learned on this epistle then a reminder is always useful. If you are not, the odds are not small that you will encounter it and find yourself confused.


James wrote his letter to Jewish Christians who had drifted from their spiritual life and become friends of the world.


Jam 1:1

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.


Some Greek scholars believe this epistle to be written very early, possibly the first, around 34-35 AD. If the date is that early, there would not have been a great number of Gentiles in the church as of yet. So, we cannot conclude that James is singling out Jewish believers. James calls them “my brethren” or “my beloved brethren” at least fifteen times. No other author of Scripture, in a single epistle, addressed his audience this many times.


They were dispersed by the persecution of the church at the beginning. The first Jewish converts were persecuted by fellow Jews who saw them as abandoning Moses. Remember how many believed at Pentecost and so many of them were from outside Jerusalem. These returned home with the gospel and in the next several years many were converted. And, as persecution increased in and around Jerusalem, some of the believers, most Jewish, moved to these places outside Jerusalem. James remained in Jerusalem, leading the church there. He must have received reports from those who were dispersed, and what he heard would have saddened him. Many of the Christians had immersed themselves in perpetual carnality, living for the world in a state of spiritual degeneracy.


It is clear that James had discovered that many of them


Jam 4:1-10

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.


Adulteresses would have to be married to God. To submit to God and draw near to God could only be commands for a believer. Also, reading the passage out of context, one might think that being a Christian is to be weeping, mourning, and gloomy. But we see that these believers were laughing, lusting, and rejoicing in the world. James is telling them to repent and return to the life of Christ.


James believed that eternal life was a free gift from God.


Jam 1:16-17

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.


Notice that he calls them “brethren,” and that is not because they are fellow Jews.


James: Every perfect gift is from above (anothen).

Jesus: “You must be born again (anothen = from above).”


Then James states:


Jam 1:18

In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.


“first fruits” used of Christ in 1Co 15 and of all believers in Rom 8 as having the first fruits of the Spirit, meaning the first to receive the indwelling Spirit and thus be the new humanity. James is referring to them and himself as either the first believers or believers in the church who are the first in the history of mankind to be in Christ. The main point to be taken is that he is sure they are secure in their salvation as he is.


Did Paul and James disagree on how eternal life was attained? Certainly not.


Jerusalem Council:


Act 15:6-14

And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."


12 And all the multitude kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, "Brethren, listen to me. 14 "Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.


We should start with Jam 2:14.


Jam 2:14-15

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?


We’re not going to alter what James writes. Can that faith save him? The only answer to this question is no. That faith doesn’t save would disagree with Paul and the Lord Jesus and Peter, and all writers. James would be a stand out, and for this reason some think that his book is not inspired and shouldn’t be in the canon [Luther thought it should be put in an appendix], which is a hasty conclusion. We find from reading James’ letter that the “save” that James is referring to is not the same as salvation from the lake of fire or final judgment.


James repeats:


Jam 2:17

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.


Are Paul and James writing about the same thing?


Rom 3:18

because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.


Rom 4:5

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,


Rom 5:1

Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ


Rom 11:6

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.


Gal 2:16

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.


Paul clearly asserts that if works are the condition of attaining some goal, that goal can no longer be said to be attained by grace.


Yet, in James’ epistle, he is making works a condition for the salvation he speaks of. If we deny this, we will miss his meaning and come up with something false.


Are Paul and James talking about the same thing?


“save your souls” or “save your lives”?


Jam 1:18-22

In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.


19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.


This seems to say the same as “Can that faith save him?” But when we read it, we see that James is speaking to “beloved brethren,” and tells them that “the word implanted is able to save your souls.”


In the Western world the phrase “save your souls,” is almost always interpreted as salvation from hell. But the Bible is an Eastern book.


This phrase “save your souls” (sosai tas psuchas humon) to the East could easily imply “save your life.”


Mar 3:4

And He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life (sosai psuchen) or to kill?"

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