James 2:14-26, faith or works?

Discussion in 'Free-For-All Archives' started by Matt Black, Aug 10, 2004.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    This is the gist of the sermon I preached on Sunday evening:-

    "We recently had a well-earned holiday in Croatia and on one of our day trips ventured into Montenegro, which is a very mountainous country, and whilst the coach was winding its way up a particularly scary section of hairpin bends our guide decided to cheer us all up by telling us a joke, which goes like this: a priest and a bus driver die and go to heaven and are met in the usual way by St Peter at the Pearly Gates, where the priest is shocked and horrified to hear that he is to be sent to Hell whereas the bus driver is to be admitted to Heaven, and he protests at this news. St Peter replies “Ah, my son, you see when you were praying in church everyone else there was sleeping, but when this bus driver was doing his job, all his passengers were praying!”

    And that is really similar to the question raised by this passage from the Letter of James – which is more important, your faith or your actions? Scholars and theologians, often from different sides of the Reformation fence, have traditionally portrayed the issue like this: in the red corner, we have Paul, arguing consistently for justification by faith alone ; in the blue corner, here’s James, arguing salvation by works. But I do not believe that the message of this passage is at all at odds with Paul’s teaching on the subject; it does however contain a wake-up call for all who would desire to be true Jesus-followers.

    Broadly speaking, there are two errors into which Christians can fall with regard to the salvation and associated issues such as grace. The first is the legalistic, works-based error in which I was brought up. I was raised and educated in a Catholic environment; at the age of ten I went to a Catholic independent school in Farnborough which was run by priests who were, shall I say, a bit odd. For instance, we had for Latin this guy called Father Bourne, who was outwardly quite normal but prone to sudden and irrational outbursts of temper. He was also the spitting image of the wrestler Big Daddy, so quite a scary bloke. One of the more frightening moments would be when his huge hands would plonk down on your desk, his face loom up in front of you and he would utter the words “Well, boy, conjugate the verb laborare.” Happy days….

    Anyway, the theory of salvation that these guys taught was something like represented by this (I don’t know to what extent this is official Catholic doctrine, but this is how it came across to us): you’re born in original sin, and then when you’re a few weeks old, you get baptised, which saves you. So you get a good start, but you can lose your salvation by doing bad things, particularly serious sins such as sexual sins, which can drop you under the bar. But help is at hand, because you can go to confession and get your sins forgiven by a priest, which takes you back up again. But you also need to go to communion or Mass at regularly (at least once a week) to ‘feed’ your salvation otherwise, even if you aren’t particularly bad, you begin to slip again. And so you go on, mostly above the bar, but always a bit worried that you’re not making the grade.

    Now, no prizes for guessing that all of us think that model is wrong. The classic evangelical model is: you are born into sin and without Jesus you remain below the bar. But as soon as you acknowledge your sins, believe that He died to take the punishment for those sins, and ask Him to be Lord and Saviour of your life, which means repenting of your sins, trusting in Jesus to save you from them and agreeing to follow Him, you are saved. There are fluctuations as you can see, which I will explain in a minute, but the bottom line you don’t go below the bottom line.

    However, many Christians live their lives, often unconsciously, as if they were still in legalism. They pay lip service to the idea that they are saved freely by grace but still live as if it has to be somehow earned. Like the Unforgiving Debtor in Matt 18, they think they have to keep on working at their salvation and make demands on themselves to do so. They become very legalistic, and their faith becomes too much a matter of what they do or do not do, and less a matter of who they are in Christ.That is the first error.

    The second trap into which Christians fall is at the other end of the spectrum: to think that it doesn’t matter where you are above the 'salvation-line', that it doesn’t matter what you do, how often or not you pray, meet with other Christians, do God’s will etc, and this manner of licence is just as wrong as the legalism referred to earlier. Grace is free, but not cheap, and licentious behaviour cheapens grace. Tonight’s Scripture I believe addresses that problem on two levels: firstly, if you profess to love someone, you would expect to communicate with them and do things to please them on a regular basis and, secondly and more drastically, if you don’t, James is saying that he is actually doubting that you are saved, because a saved person would do those things . For instance, I got married to Sarah by saying a few words and signing a piece of paper – in the eyes of the law, we were married. But if I never spoke to her, spent any time with her or did things to please her, people would doubt that we were actually married - and certainly Sarah would! Similarly, if all you do is pray a prayer of repentance, but then never spend any time with God, never try to seek and do His Will, then I would doubt your sincerity in praying the prayer in the first place. It is important to aim as high above the bar as possible in developing and maintaining our relationship with the Lord, and this should flow naturally from the fact of our salvation.

    So, James isn’t really in conflict with Paul; he is saying, in effect that, having been saved by grace through faith alone, that salvation should evidence itself in how we live our lives, both to demonstrate our salvation and also to develop our walk with God. Salvation is the beginning, not the end of the story, and we would do well to remember that; James provides such a reminder for us."

    Over to you!

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  2. Briguy

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    Matt, Good work of this sometimes tricky subject.

    In Christ,
    Brian
     
  3. NaasPreacher (C4K)

    NaasPreacher (C4K)
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    Good job Matt.

    Where there are no works, there is a dead faith.
     
  4. Bro Tony

    Bro Tony
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    Thanks Matt,

    I think you did a good job of dealing with the text. [​IMG]

    Bro Tony
     
  5. qwerty

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    Yes, the Apostle Paul agrees with James.

    2Tim 2:19 Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription:

    "The Lord knows those who are his,"
    and,
    "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."
     
  6. Matt Black

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    Thanks, chaps! Disappointed that no Catholics have yet waded in...

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  7. John Gilmore

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    Matt Black,

    The classic evangelical model is: you are born into sin and without Jesus you remain below the bar. But as soon as you acknowledge your sins, believe that He died to take the punishment for those sins, and ask Him to be Lord and Saviour of your life, which means repenting of your sins, trusting in Jesus to save you from them and agreeing to follow Him, you are saved. There are fluctuations as you can see, which I will explain in a minute, but the bottom line you don’t go below the bottom line.

    That does not seem to be the classic evangelical model but rather a curious mix of Arminianism ("ask Him to be Lord and Saviour", "agreeing to follow Him", etc.) and Calvinism ("you don't go below the bottom line").

    Although your sermon had many good points, you did not proclaim the classic evangelical model: the free forgiveness of sins through grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone.

    [ August 11, 2004, 07:18 AM: Message edited by: John Gilmore ]
     
  8. Matt Black

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    Explain, please! (I've always thought that most forms of evangelical soteriology are a mixture of Arminianism and Calvinism in one form or another!). So what do you mean by the classic evangelical model...??

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  9. John Gilmore

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    Matt Black,

    I revised my post to add a definition of the classic evangelical model before I saw your post. The classic evangelical model from scripture, "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved", is grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. It does not add any work or merit as you and the papist Catholics require.
     
  10. Matt Black

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    ISTM that you are promulgating the classic Calvinist model, not so much in your asserting 'grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone'(with which I wholeheartedly agree) but in your (ironic) ignoring of the first part of your post where you quote Paul's words in Acts 16:31 - salvation requires belief. We then have to discuss what is meant by 'believe' here. Let me explain: there are two types of belief. One is an intellectual agreement, a mental assent, which has no effect whatsoever on the person believing it.For example, I can believe that the square on the hypoteneuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides of a triangle but as I am a lawyer not a mathematician or engineer, it makes absolutely no difference to how I live my life. I also believe that $1 multiplied by 2 = $2; that does affect my life - I will resolutely refuse to pay more than $2 for 2 cups of coffee priced at $1 each. I witnessed recently to a lady who said that she accepted the Gospel and believed it was true, but "I won't let it change my life or how I view God". That's another example of the first type of belief; I have to say with some sorrow that I do not believe that this lady is saved.

    I do not see how in any way this is Catholic; a bit Arminian, perhaps...but there is a whole separate Board where that old chestnut is done to death

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  11. John Gilmore

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    Matt Black,

    Yes, there is no reason to continue the Arminian/Calvinist debate here. The elect of your flock understand that asking Christ to be Lord and agreeing to follow Him are not works of righteousness that save them, just as the elect of Roman Catholic parishes understand that confession and the mass are not works of righteousness that save them.
     
  12. Matt Black

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    So Paul is in error, then? Another question - the lady to which I referred - based on what I've told you of her, saved or lost? And, please, my congregation would be quite upset by your equation of them with Catholics!

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  13. John Gilmore

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    Matt Black,

    Where does Paul tell anyone to ask Christ to be their Lord and agree to follow Him in order to be saved?

    Your task as Pastor is to preach the gospel and to tell the lady that the fruits of the spirit always follow faith. Repeat as necessary but do not remind her of she did in accepting the gospel but rather what Christ did in saving her.

    I'm sure the Papists would be quite upset with being equated with Baptists!
     
  14. Matt Black

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    What then does Paul mean by 'believe'? What does Peter mean when he calls upon the Jerusalem crowd at Pentecost to 'repent'? What is your understanding of these words - is it the same as my belief in Pythagoras' theorem or my belief in the price of a cup of coffee?

    Would you prefer someone to deny Jesus as Lord and not agree to follow Him? Would this be a 'work of unrighteousness'?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  15. John Gilmore

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    Matt Black,

    Justifying faith can be defined as a faith that at least tries and wants to lay hold on Christ:

    Justifying faith never looks to itself and what it has done ("ask Him to be Lord and Saviour", "agreeing to follow Him", etc.) but rather to the object of faith, Jesus Christ.
     
  16. Matt Black

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    OK, now I think we are approaching convergence. I suspect (only God knows the heart) that the lady concerned does not have that kind of faith...yet (one is always hopeful).

    At what point then, would you say that someone becomes a Christian? What has to happen for someone to be saved; what is the 'moment of salvation' and is there any kind of 'act of repentance' on the part of the recipient of divine grace?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  17. Matt Black

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    Saw 'King Arthur' last night (the film, not the bloke!) and Pelagius is frequently referred to there. Wondered what your views were on him (bear in mind we don't actually know what he taught, just what Augustine and Co alleged him to have taught), with particular reference to this article by Sproul:- http://www.leaderu.com/theology/augpelagius.html

    I think it's fairly germane to our discussion, with particular reference to the '1%'

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  18. BobRyan

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    Though you may not like the term Arminian or Calvinist -- the problem is that the core issue in that debate is the SAME as the one in James 2, Matt 7, Romans 2, Romans 6, Romans 8, Matt 18 ...etc which is the SAME one you are debating here.

    "Not liking those terms" does not change that fact.

    In Christ,

    Bob
     
  19. John Gilmore

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    Matt Black,

    Someone becomes a Christian when he believes his sins are forgiven for Christ's sake alone. This faith does not come about through any act of repentance, prayer, agreement, etc. on his part. The Holy Spirit works faith when and where it pleases God in those that hear the gospel.

    Yes, Pelaguis is germane to our discussion. The Reformers restored divine monergism to many churches. But, Pelaguis was never defeated. Today, the teachings of Pelaguis have returned with a vengeance and threaten to overwhelm the entire earth. A few arks of monergism float in a sea of Pelagianism.

    The old Pelagians were obvious in their appeal to man's works. But the new Pelagians are more subtle. The new Pelagians say man really does very little. He simply accepts Christ, asks Jesus into his heart, and agrees to follow Him. Then God does His part and saves man. The new Pelagians say that this is the classic evangelical model but it is really the classic Pelagian model.
     
  20. Matt Black

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    So, why are you a Lutheran and not a member of a Calvinist denomination (yes I know Luther espoused Augustinianism but ISTM that a Calvinist denomination would be a more natural port...). This is a genuine question, BTW, not a criticism of you

    I prefer to see it as a mystery; I think Augustine erred and was influenced too much by Platonic dualism when he tried to pin God's grace and its action down in this way and introduced a false dichotomy between determinism and free will

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     

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