“You see that a person is justified (saved) by what he does and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) At first glance, this sounds like a works-salvation verse. Further, it seems to indicate that the Bible is not in agreement over how salvation comes about. But this isn’t so.
Too often we individualize deeds and faith. We separate them into two separate camps. This is why the verses in James seem to be contradictory to the Bible. In context, the meaning of this verse become more clear. In earlier verses James makes the point that a man cannot claim to have faith and not have deeds. For if faith is “not accompanied by action” his faith “is dead” (vs. 17). We must realize that deeds confirm our saving faith in Jesus Christ. They do not complete it, but they confirm and prove that we have a relationship with Our LORD. James gives examples of this in the following verses. He says, “Was not…Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” He then makes the point that works and faith go hand and hand, and that works complete our faith. “[Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” This must be why God said, after Abraham showed a willing attitude, “Now I know that you fear God…”* By performing a faith-based action, Abraham, in a sense, completed his faith that was in his heart.
There is something necessary in us needing to transform what is spiritual into something more physical and tangible. I believe this is why actions are a necessary part of faith. As humans, we are both spiritual and physical beings. Faith is surely a spiritual thing that is possessed in the soul and the heart. What James tells us is that we need to transform this faith from being solely a spiritual thing and into a physical thing. He tells us that this is accomplished by our actions that are done in faith and that our physical actions confirm the faith that is spiritually within us. And so the gap between the physical and the spiritual is bridged and we see faith in more tangible ways on a day to day basis. This is crucial as our actions and not our spirit will be judged and observed by others. And if they see faith in our actions they will see Christ. But, without actions they will see nothing.
Another thing worthy of mentioning, is that James does not specify what kind of works are confirming works. Although we may desire a list of things to do, this is not the point of faith-based works. I think that he purposely does not tell us things to do because there really isn’t anything we can do that will complete our faith. Rather, it is necessary for faith to be in place already in order to do actions that confirm our faith. Thus, there is not list of things one can do to become saved and finish what Jesus started; but rather, it is a heart issue of whether or not we are doing these actions because we have faith. For although faith without deeds is dead, deeds too without faith are dead.
*- Fear does not mean fear in the sense of being afraid, but rather having a deep respect and a deep passion for having an intimate relationship. See Proverbs 2:1-8.
In verse one, Jesus warns his disciples of false theologies, salvations, and leaders. They are the ones who bypass the gate and climb in some other way. These men, women and ideas are thieves and robbers.
Then Jesus goes on (verse 3) to describe how his disciples will know him. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out [of the sheep pen].” But, he goes on to say that the sheep follow him, “because they know his voice”. This is very important, because it reminds us that we need to passionately pursue Christ’s voice. We need to learn to listen and recognize his voice.
In verse five, Jesus says that his sheep “will never follow a stranger”. This is because they will “not recognize a stranger’s voice”. Rather than being confident that you will never follow a stranger, we should focus on following Jesus. For if we can recognize his voice, we will recognize the fallacy in the stranger’s voice. Therefore we should test every teaching and “hold on to what is good, [and] reject every kind of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22).
In verse seven, Jesus essentially states that He is the only way to heaven. There can be no multiple ways to get to heaven because everyone must “[enter] through me” and he who does this “will be saved”. This is a very important point and one that we all should strive to focus on, for “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14). Though this path is difficult, Jesus promises us that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10) if we follow him and enter through The Gate.
Good works, apart from Christ, are worthless. As Isaiah says in chapter 64, ” all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. This is why I think that without Christ Jesus, none of our “good” works are really all that good. When religions say that you can “work” your way to heaven by making sure that your “good” acts outweigh your bad ones, I say that their good acts are really bad ones? Why do I say that? Well, because when they do the good acts they are not doing them out of love. They are doing them out of self-preservation. They are doing them so that “I can go to heaven”. I also think that when a good act occurs it has nothing to do with the individual. Philippians 2:13 says that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Therefore it is really God who is doing the good act and it it only the individual displaying it. God willed the individual to desire to do the good work. Therefore, when and individual displays a good work it is really God who is doing it. This means that an individual does nothing and God does everything and therefore the individual’s salvation by works is controlled by the One and Only.
You may wonder how then we have free will. Well, and again I cannot say “this is what it is”, but I can take a shot (and this is not necessarily what I believe, but is the only way I can explain it when going through with this thought train). We have free will; and when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden they had free will to choose God’s ways or Their ways. And when they chose the bad option, they lost their privilege of free will. They became enslaved to the sinful nature and no longer had the power to choose good. But God can and does! And He chose every elected individual and enabled them to have the privilege of free will again (no longer enslaved by the sinful nature). Now that we are in Christ we can choose good once again! Only by his grace, however, are we able to do this.
Another thought, we have free will (even when we are enslaved) in the sense that we can and do make decisions everyday (neutral decisions).
With this thought train it seems that free will and election are both possible when coexistent.
This is a rather sad and unfortunate event in the Catholic Church’s history (unfortunately probably for political reasons). No longer is Jesus the source of salvation. You are the center of salvation now according to this new revelation. But that leads to a question: “Why did Jesus have to come and die?”
It looks like the Catholic Church is on a very slippery slide down to some very sorry and fiery place. I do hope that leaders in the Catholic Church will rise up and take a stand for truth*.
*- see Ephesians 2:8-9; 1John 5:11-13
“Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people He has made” – Francis Chan
And this is why I believe that any good works you do to either gain salvation, or that you just do outside of faith in Jesus Christ, are not really good works at all but are sinful works. Any good that you do to try to earn salvation, is not motivated by love for God or His people, it is motivated by selfishness. It is, “if I do this, look what I’ll get back from it: salvation!”. Also, any good that you do apart from Jesus is (90% of the time) for you own benefit, image, or just pride and is therefore not a good work, but a bad one! Man is born evil, therefore apart from love (and love is given by God and defined by God) he can do no good.