When Can Works Justify

By Justin Johnson

The opposite of faith is doubt. Faith is always required for salvation. Doubt towards God in salvation is unacceptable.  Likewise, grace from God is always needed for salvation. Our good works are but filthy rags before a righteous God and also are unable to save us; we need God’s grace.

But there remains confusion about where in the plan of salvation do ‘works’ come into play. The confusion enters when the plain verse from James 2:24 is compared with the plain verse in Romans 4:5.

“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” – James 2:24

“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. ” – Romans 4:5

These are theological opposites. Some might call it a contradiction. Pastors are told in seminaries that the contradiction is only imaginary and that they mean the same thing; black is white; up is down. I don’t buy it.

The theological opposite of justification by faith and works is justification by faith without works, just as the verses suggest. The plain reading of these two verses present a seemingly irreconcilable contradiction unless we understand the fact that James did not believe the same gospel that was given to Paul.

Paul presents his faith in Romans 3 which is placed in the propitiatory work of Christ on the cross. His blood offered as payment for our sins (Romans 3:24-25). Since his faith was in the finished work of Christ there is nothing else for the sinner to do but to believe.

“To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. ” – Romans 3:26

Of course, James could not have understood this mystery information as the book of James was most likely written before any contact with Paul and the gospel of the grace of God.

James’ faith is described as the belief in the one God, Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and in doing every part of the law with mercy (James 2:13).

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. ” – James 1:22

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” – James 2:19

After all, Jesus taught doing the commandments if you truly had faith: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me:” (John 14:21)

Although works could never in themselves save sinful humanity, they were required under the law for the obedience of faith. Since James’ faith was in the obedience of the law according to the commands of the Messiah, then a faith in works without works would be vain indeed.

Works were needed for justification before the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery.

Thank God that now we have been delivered from the curse of the law and we now know it is the work of Christ paying for our sins on the cross that justifies the ungodly by faith alone! Put your faith in the living Jesus Christ and his blood atonement for your sins.

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Published: October 27, 2008
Last Modified: May 4, 2016
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