From the Pastor
After last week’s sermon, a couple of people asked me about James’ view of faith and works. While Paul writes “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom 3:28) James writes “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” (Jas 2:24)
On the surface it appears Paul and James disagree. A closer look at James reveals more; James likens faith without works to extending well wishes to the struggling person but doing nothing to help. The wishes are hollow, meaningless, even dead.
The sort of faith that says it believes in God, but takes no practical steps of faith following God, is likewise hollow, dead. Such faith is a mere intellectual assent – it does not save.
We are not the first to notice the tension between Paul and James. Luther and Calvin developed a saying to explain this tension. “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
Rather than suspecting Paul and James contradict, it is better to think they complement each other, with each writing to correct a different misunderstanding. Paul is writing to those who thing we can be saved by works of the law – he is correcting legalism. James is writing to those who think they can be saved by intellectual assent – he is correcting a mind body split that separates beliefs from action.
Here is a take home: We need to read the Bible canonically, that is to say, as an entire Canon. The whole will of God is revealed over all of Scripture. We can’t just cut and paste our favourite bits, and ignore the bits we don’t like.