[What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.] - James 2:14-17
I recently saw a friend on Facebook, a protestant, jump through a ton of mental hoops to reconcile James 2:17 with Romans 4:5, which is below:
“However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”
The post mentioned considering “scriptural paradoxes”, “deeper reflection” and “deeper truth” in order to reconcile these teachings.
None of that is needed to reconcile these teachings if you consider the context of the writings. (This is the problem with plucking a verse here and there and sticking it together into a theology….sigh).
Take the 2nd verse above for example, Romans 4:5. It is cited frequently as proof that God does not require “works” to achieve righteousness. But that really depends on Paul’s definition of “works”, doesn’t it?
Was Paul discussing works of “charity”, “morality”, the Levitican Law, or of the 10 commandments?
You may be saying to yourself “Why does it matter?”. Because these are important differences that are key to understanding these epistles within the context of their audience. These letters were written to believers in the first century, when part of Judaism was being converted into a whole new religion: Christianity.
The audience was of a completely different makeup and mindset than Evangelical Protestant America.
If you say “Paul was obviously discussing all of them..all works are the same”, I’ll pray for you.
So how do we discover what Paul was talking about in Romans 4:5? Well, it would help if we read ALL of Romans 4 and we’ll stumble upon a clarification of 4:5 that exists in verses 9-12:
“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
We can see here that Paul makes a lengthy statement about how circumcision doesn’t play any part in your righteousness. Circumcision was required as part of the Levitican Law, specifically in Leviticus 12:3.
Paul goes on further to say that the failure to follow the LAW brings wrath. It is clear here that Paul is talking about works of the Levitican Law, not works of Charity.
Consider the context to which this letter was written: first century Rome, a multi-cultural city of Jews and Gentiles alike. The topic of whether or not the foreskin had to be removed would be a very hot-button issue.
If you read Acts 15, all of it, you’ll see that the early Church, sent an authoritative letter to some gentiles. These gentiles were highly concerned that they were also going to have to cutoff their foreskin. Why? Because that’s what the Jews had always had to do (since the inception of the Levitican law)!!.
The Church tells these gentiles that the Levitican Law is largely moot. They can keep their foreskins!! REJOICE!! #WINNING!!
Furthermore, Galatians 3 is often mentioned as being a pivotal piece of scripture that denies that “works” are required for your salvation. If you just flip to Galatians 3 online, in the NIV, you’ll quite clearly see that once again Paul is talking about works of the law, not works of Charity.
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?
But why do so many protestants attest to a theology that claims that these passages absolve them from their requirements to do “works” including being charitable?
Because it allows them to avoid the sins of omission.
”I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts, and in my words, in what I have done and in what I HAVE FAILED TO DO..”
It absolves them from our own personal responsibility.
“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault..”
“Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa…”
It’s allows them to ignore James 2, the first New Testament epistle written, which is exactly what Luther wanted when he tried to exclude it from the Protestant Bible. As we see in verses 14-24.
[What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and NOT BY FAITH ALONE]
Charity is required.
No writing of Paul absolves us from this.
As Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical “charity is the fundamental option of a Christian’s life”.
It is charity that is the Opus Dei.
Peace Be With You!