Study # 43
Thesis: Can a profession of faith that is not works-productive be effective to salvation?
Introduction: As we move into the latter half of James' presentation of the solution to the temptation to turn to monetary acquisition for security, we see that he makes an absolute (non-negotiable) demand for a linkage between faith and what it sponsors.
This extended text is one of the most hotly debated texts in theological circles when the issue of salvation's method comes up. Are we saved by faith alone, or are we saved by faith plus works? However, before we can even get into the debate, we have to understand James' words correctly. What is it that he was actually saying?
Therefore, this evening we are going to begin to look carefully at what James wrote in order to understand what he meant. Then we will consider whether he was actually in contradiction to Paul's Gospel of salvation by faith without works.
July 1, 1998
- I. The First Issue: James' Purpose for Chapter 2.
- A. James' overall intent was to deal with the issues of temptation and to provide exhortation designed to enable his readers to effectively escape the snares of temptation.
- 1. It is fundamentally fruitless to think of temptation only in terms of actionless thought.
- 2. Temptation is designed to achieve actions of death-consequence.
- B. James' sub-intent, contained in chapter 2, was to address the temptation that is called, "the lust of the eyes", in order to provide a contrast between a genuine confidence in Jesus Christ as the Source of True Security and the behavior of his readers which argues that their confidence is resting upon the apparent efficacy of material wealth to satisfy the need for security.
- 1. The first half of the chapter addresses the pernicious desire to acquire material resources by flattery and special favor.
- a. James is addressing actions that are the fruit of desire and confidence (love and faith).
- b. His focus on the destructive actions of his readers does not negate his understanding that something sponsored them.
- 2. The second half of the chapter addresses the pernicious desire to retain material resources by gratuitous words coupled with denial of those resources to needy fellow believers.
- a. Again, the focus is upon what is done.
- b. And, again, this focus does not negate the recognition that something is driving the actions.
- 3. Both halves of James' exhortation rest under the thesis that there are certain types of behaviors that are inconsistent with holding on to the faith that is focused in Christ.
- a. This thesis, that there are certain behaviors that are inconsistent with faith in Christ, is actually undebateable.
- b. That the thesis is undebateable means that faith has certain and real implications in respect to behavior.
- II. James' Question.
- A. He questions the profitability of profession of a kind of faith that has no works.
- 1. Key to the issue is the fact that he questions the "saying".
- a. He adapts himself to the identity of the "faith" that exists in the mind of the one professing to believe what does not motivate to action.
- b. He is not crediting that "faith" with what the Scriptures would call "faith", but he does use the same word.
- 2. Key also to the issue is the fact that faith is consistently used in Scripture as a mechanism word--which means that it is viewed as a way to accomplish what love requires.
- B. Key also to the issue is the fact that he is addressing the issue of "salvation"--i.e., achieving some kind of result.
- 1. The issues of salvation, in James, are not the issues of the present, but the issues that are resolved at the judgment.
- 2. The issues of salvation, in James, are not divorced from the Gospel that says that salvation is a gift of God by the grace of God.
- 3. The issues of salvation, in James, are not divorced from the teachings of Jesus as to the response of God to faith even as small as a mustard seed.
- 4. The issues of salvation, in James, are not divorced from the reality that salvation is not primarily defined in any terms except those of relational unity with God.
- C. Conclusions:
- 1. James is asking whether a profession of faith can save.
- 2. James is asking whether a faith that is merely profession can save.