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The Persecuted Church


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Without works your faith is dead!

One of the common denominators of cults and biblical error is to teach that something other than Faith alone, is needed for salvation. While it is faith alone that saves it is always accompanied by works proving it is alive. This distortion  takes the form of a faith PLUS some activity or effort on the individuals part.  ( what God has  provided in Christ Jesus is complete and sufficient in itself so this teaching is a challenge to the Gospel itself)

The favorite passage run to by these groups supporting the grace plus" works"  is James 2:14-26 - "..faith without works is dead."   There it is, proof that one needs to be_______

(you fill in the blank with a. to m. from the list below)      

a. baptized for salvation  

b. become a disciple by giving up everything    
c. go door to door  
d. feed and help the poor
e. live by the laws of the church     
f. live by the 10 commandments
g. baptized in the correct formulae      
h. live without sinning 
i. tithe 10% or more, giving  to get God's blessing 
j. have miracles occur  
k. speak in another tongue

l. join their exclusive church or organization

m. drive without getting a ticket (only kiddin').

The cults always have something else needed to REALLY get into God's favor or to keep salvation. This concept can easily be refuted by dozens of passages that state just the opposite, but the challenge is from James letter so we need to go to the immediate context of James 2:14-26.

Before we do, a good rule in reading is to ask who, what ,where, why, when (the 5 W's). This should clear up things that may be unclear and bring into focus the context of the writing.

When we read we should open our Bible, have a paper and pen to take notes, then pray. Spend some time in the text instead of only reading it through. Think over what is being said (biblical meditation). Your intention is to rightly divide the word and this takes time. look at ALL the letter of James first to be familiar with the theme, then go to specific passages. Read it carefully.

Who is the AUTHOR? What do know about him from his letter? Is he mentioned elsewhere in scripture. What is his background from other letters . Is he an apostle or someone who knew a apostle?

WHAT is he talking about? What is his theme, the major subject, or teaching. Every letter has a overall theme.

WHAT is his reason or purpose for writing? WHY is he saying this to these particular people? What are they thinking or doing or believing that that has prompted this letter to be written to them.  Is there any biblical error in doctrine or practice that he wants to correct? Is he following up on a former letter? Is there new knowledge to be revealed to them? Is he speaking figuratively or literally?

Who are the recipients of the letter ? What is he saying about them from this Epistle? Is it a church or a single person ?

WHEN was it written? What was taking place just before,  or at the time the  epistle was being written?  Where was the Author located when this was written? Was he there at one time? Or did he hear about the recipients from another, does he plan to return to them? Does he include himself with the people he is writing to, or is he not at all involved. Is he giving them new information or reminding them of what he formerly said (such as Paul in 2 Thessalonians) The difference can be important in determining what is taking place or what will occur in the future.

Are there key words or phrases? What words are used most often?  HOW does he use them and define them in the letter and in the passage? (the words Faith, Works and Dead) how is he applying it to their situation. Is it a contrast or a comparison?

Define what is the major point of the passage is first? What does he want them and YOU to know about his point and teaching? What is the Spirit of the text. Then go into specific words.

Is there any other biblical support from other books for your interpretation of the passage. Do they have you arrive to the same conclusions? If not then you must go with the majority of evidence written on this particular subject. Have you gathered all the scriptures pertaining to this subject to arrive at your conclusion?

Keep honest to the text and keep it in its immediate context. These are a few of the basic rules of Biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics).

Why do two people who can do the same study in the same scriptures come to different conclusions?  Instead of yielding to the text and its plain literal meaning when they see it,  they look for a way out of what it actually says. They no longer follow the route of biblical logic to its conclusion. Because it may upset their already preconceived notion they have been taught.

Now lets look at the text in James that is misinterpreted. What we will find  it to mean is nothing like the meaning the cults pour into to it.

James 2:1-4 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2    For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,3    and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4    have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Jm.2:1-4 James is trying to correct the Church addressing how they act on their faith. They were being hypocrites showing partiality to the rich. The reason for this is the Church in Jerusalem was a very poor and persecuted church. those who converted to follow the Messiah lost everything. This is the historical background for this epistle.( 1Cor.16:1)

James 2:8-12 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;9    but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.10    For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.11    For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.12    So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.

vs.8-12 they did not keep the NT command  of love but then became transgressors of it. They have violated all the law vs.10

James 2:13   For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

vs.13 they will receive no mercy because they show no mercy to those who are in need.

James 2:14: "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" 

vs.14 Faith (their belief) does not help them if they do not act on it. you can't neglect your brethren around you and say you follow Christ (1 Jn.2:9-11; I Jn.3:17-18 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?V.18  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.)
This is not saving faith. He is describing someone who only professes to have faith but nothing in his life is showing it. They break the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

James 2:15-16: " If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

Vs.15-16 their neglect for their brethren in the practical needs and saying bless you is not faith but hypocrisy. It profits neither the hearer or the one saying it.
This is putting into action Jesus' command recorded by John in chpt. 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Now we get to the controversial passage

James 2:17-18: "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

Vs.17-18 faith that is not accompanied by works is not living faith. It is sterile. It is not an either or. James challenges them to show him their faith without works. It's impossible because only God can see the heart so he challenges them by giving himself as an example. I'll show you my faith by my works." James is not asking to show their salvation but their faith.

Going back to the first part of James 2:17 " Even so, faith if it has no works is dead, (being alone).

The word alone is not in the original Greek text. The literal translation "So indeed-faith, if it has no works, dead is itself." Vincent (1, p.744) "In itself." Expositors Greek testament : ( IV, p.444) " In its very essence, dead." A.T. Robertson: (VI, p. 35) " In and of itself inwardly and outwardly dead.

James is explaining what kind of faith results from salvation. If it is true faith it is alive. All works are acts of faith which one must possess beforehand. This is clearly understood ,"God does not need to see the works  because he has already justified us by our faith in Christ (Rom.8:33)."  (New Commentary on the whole Bible Jamieson, Fausset and Brown on James 2:14-18)

He's not saying we're saved or kept by faith plus works. This would make ones works a savior also. There is only one savior, that is the person of Christ and is work that was done on the cross. James is pointing out what kind of faith is actually saving faith. If they possess it, they should show it. Actions are a result of what we believe, James is saying show me what you believe.

He goes on in vs.21"Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he offered Isaac, his son, on the altar?"

In what sense was he justified since he was already pronounced right before God years prior to this? James is saying, in contrast to Paul, that God was able to see that Abraham was righteous, he already he imputed it to him. But until Abraham lifted his knife over Isaac in obedience, only God knew his righteousness. By doing this he demonstrated physically his trust in God.  Abraham was put in the position to prove the genuineness of his faith.
Then James poses the question James 2:22  "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?"
So his faith was working together with his works. His work proved what he had all along. You need to have faith first to have any works approved by God. This is what James is concerned with in the church.

If James meant that Abraham was justified by his works he would have a conflict with Paul who extensively writes on this subject through Romans, Galatians and mentions it elsewhere numerous times. That we are completely justified and sanctified by faith.

Paul states in Rom. 4:2 "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say?" This is a good question. Let’s look at the answer. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."

If we go to Gen. 4:10, we find that Abraham was justified before he obeyed God and was circumcised. This all occurred before his son Isaac was born, so he had the righteousness imputed from God by faith only. In Romans 4:23-25 we read, "Now it is not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification."

For James further states in 2:23-24  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Paul and James are discussing two different concerns. Looking more carefully this so-called tension is resolved. Paul discusses theologically how a sinner is considered righteous before God. James is concerned with what kind of faith results in salvation, since he is addressing a particular problem that has arisen in the Jerusalem church. If one has no works springing out of their confession of belief, is this true faith? Can it be saving faith? Works wrought in Christ flow from a living source. We are not doing good works to be created in Christ, which is what this would be, we have already been created in him to do the good works (see Eph.2:10)

This is the point that James is trying to emphasize, we show our faith by our deeds to our fellow man. This is true faith. Just as Jesus said to do your works before man that they may glorify your  father in heaven

The Bible never condemns faith alone, but a faith that is dead, an empty profession. Its inward deadness is demonstrated by it's lack of an outward life. Good works and obedience demonstrate our faith to the people around us, they glorify God.

Biblically our faith is alive before baptism or any other work, it does not become more alive later. Faith is active principle in every aspect of the Christian life. Rom.14:23 "Whatever is not of faith is sin." Therefore all is by faith. We live from faith to faith.

Now if we go to find other biblical support, other clear passages that prove James is not saying works save.

Eph. 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,    not of works, lest anyone should boast.10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."   If works are what saves then we are doing good works to be created in Christ Jesus. This is the very opposite of what the text states.

We are saved by faith alone but it is not alone - it is accompanied by works. Our works have no merit before God for salvation, however, we are created in Christ to do good works.

Titus 3:5:" Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us his mercy he saved us." Over and over the bible makes the point it is not in man to inherit salvation. Its origin is found in God who saved us.

Again Rom.4:4  "Now to him that works the wages are not counted as grace, but as debt. 5: But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."

Paul further states in Rom.11:6:  "And if by grace then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. but if it is by works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." It is either on or the other it can't be both, these are two different covenants. It is either on or the other it can't be both, these are two different covenants.

Phil. 3:9: " And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law (by works), but that through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. It is God’s grace given to us through faith, it is a gift.

As Gal. 3:22: "that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."

In 1 John 5:4: " for whatever is born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." vs. 5 shows us who possesses this faith " Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the son of God." Real faith is born before any ceremony or deed, it is active.

1 Jn. 5:1: "Whosoever believes (faith) that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Jn.20:31: "But these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that believing you may have life in his name."
  James 2:26 :" For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. 

Works demonstrate what is ALIVE ON THE INSIDE. Ones works declare and manifest outwardly the reality of faith which is not visible. Only God can see inside to the heart, man can only see the outside. The fruit that a tree bears shows that it is alive, healthy and productive. The fruit of a tree is not what makes the tree alive, but its the inner nature. Faith is alive first for the good works to proceed, showing what is invisible on the inside outwardly to all.




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