Paul’s Faith and James’ Works
May 22nd, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL’S FAITH AND JAMES’ WORKS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-22-60 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. You have just heard John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea, crying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:1-2]. I do not think John the Baptist did it any better than our choir did this morning, nor any louder. That is the way I like it. "In those days came John the Baptist, kerusson in the wilderness of Judea." That is what the Book says, "kerusson, heralding, announcing, proclaiming"; you could hear him clear to Jerusalem.
The title of the sermon this morning is Paul’s Faith and James’ Works. In our preaching through the Book, we have come to the fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Book of James. And if you would like to follow it in your Bible, you can easily do it. James 2:14:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
That’s my text for tonight, The Orthodoxy of the Devil. "The devils also believe, and tremble."
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God.
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
That’s the passage.
Ever since there has been a New Testament, ever since men have read Paul and James, they have wondered at the apparent contradiction of one and the other; the great pastor at Jerusalem, James, and the incomparably effective missionary to the Gentile world, the apostle Paul. Well, on the surface it is most explicable why commentators, and exegetes, and preachers, and ministers, and students should suppose that here is an irreconcilable contradiction. Now I read it so you can see what most apparently, apparently is a flagrant contradiction. James says, James says, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" [James 2:14]. Then James says again, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" [James 2:21]. Then he says again, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" [James 2:24].
Now, this is the apostle Paul: in the greatest of all of the epistles, in the Book of Romans chapter 4, "For if Abraham," Paul says:
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Something that God owes you, you work for it and it’s a payment.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
And once again, in Galatians 2:16, these are just typical passages from Paul: "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Now those are the two positions.
Now to begin with, when you look at the passages, both of them use Abraham. Paul says, "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For the Scriptures saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him, it was counted unto him, it was put on his side for righteousness" [Romans 4:2-3]. And then James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" [James 2:21]. Now the first thing that I see here is, they are speaking of altogether two different incidents in the life of Abraham; that’s the first thing I see. When Paul talks about the justification of Abraham, he was talking about Abraham back in the day before the rite of circumcision was given. He was talking about back in the days when Abraham trusted God, when he looked up in committal and in faith and gave his life and his soul to God [Genesis 15:1-6]. Now, James is talking about Abraham at an altogether different time, and in an altogether different season. He’s talking about Abraham when in the after years, many, many, many years after Abraham gave his life to God in faith, in trust, in committal, and in belief, he’s talking about Abraham many, many years after, when Abraham was at least a hundred thirteen or a hundred fifteen years of age. And God tried him, and Abraham offered up his only begotten son unto the Lord as a sacrifice [Genesis 22:1-14]. That’s the first thing I see here: they’re altogether two different incidents in the life of the patriarch.
I see then that these two are speaking of separate exhibitions. Abraham is looking up to God in trust, and in faith, and in belief. And this thing that is exhibited by the apostle Paul is something in Abraham’s heart between him and God, between his soul and God; when nobody was there but just God and Abraham, and Abraham trusted God, and believed in God; and God imputed it to him, charged it to him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6]. James is talking about an exhibition in this earth, where you could look at it, you could look at it, Isaac did look at it; if there were any shepherds or passers-by, they could watch it also [Genesis 22:5]. It was something done down here on a mountain top, with his boy Isaac [Genesis 22:6-11]. That first exhibition was between God and Abraham’s naked soul, when Abraham trusted God, and God imputed it unto him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6]. And this second exhibition was down here in the eyes of men, where you could watch it and see it. There he climbs to the top of the mount; there he lifts up the knife [Genesis 22:10].
So they’re altogether two different questions. Paul is talking about, "How can a man’s soul be justified before God? How can a sinner man, a lost man, how can you and I, how can we be justified before God? For if Abraham," Paul says, "was justified by works, he hath whereof to boast, to glory; but not before God" [Romans 4:2]. For God knew him, God knew him. Abraham might walk up and down in the presence of his fellow men, and say, "Look at me, what a fine man I am: righteous in all of my ways, and perfect in all of my deportment, and holy in all of my visions and aspirations. Look what a fine man I am." He might have whereof to glory before his fellow man; but he couldn’t glory before God, because God knew him, like God knows you. And no man is holy and pure and righteous in the eyes of God. As Isaiah 64:6 says, "Our righteousnesses in His sight are as filthy rags." You can come down here and stand up before this congregation that doesn’t know you very well, and say, "I’m the best man in this city, and I’m the best man God ever made"; you can do that before us, and maybe no one of us will dispute it. But you don’t say that before God, because God knows you. And all of those derelictions, and imperfections, and blots, and stains, and blemishes, He sees them in your soul. And you don’t boast of your righteousness before the holy God. That’s what Paul says. That’s what he’s talking about. How can a man, a sinner man, be justified in the sight of God? How can he? How can he?
Now James is talking about something altogether different. James is talking about the man who has believed. How does a man who’s a Christian justify his faith in God? Well, James says, and here he goes: "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, it is nothing at all" [James 2:17]. Then he says again, "Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" [James 2:20]. Then he says again, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead" [James 2:26]. Then he gives an illustration, as Paul gives an illustration of Abraham, who he might be able to boast of his goodness but not before God; now James gives an illustration of a man’s faith, a Christian man who believes in God: "If a brother or a sister is naked and hungry, and one of you say to him, Be filled and be warm, and send him away without something to wear and something to eat, can what you say feed that man and clothe that man? It is just empty words!" [James 2:15-17]. Now that’s what James is saying about a man’s faith: if a man says, "I believe in God, and I have given my heart to Christ, and I’m a Christian man," but it’s just sound and syllable and sentence, James says it is nothing; it’s dead, it’s sterile, it’s barren, it’s fruitless. James says that the justification of a man’s faith is to be found in the works to be discovered in his life. So, they’re altogether two different things. Paul is talking about a man’s soul, justified in the presence of a holy God; and James is talking about a man’s faith, justified in the presence of his fellow men.
Paul is looking up to heaven. Paul is looking up to God: "And how can a sinful man be justified in the sight of God?" And James is looking out on the earth: "How can a man’s faith be justified before men?" by exhibiting those virtues, and those characteristics, and those dedications that come from heaven. So, we have here two distinct things; and for the moment, may I speak of them?
Paul is speaking of how a man can be saved, how a man can be justified, how a man’s soul can someday be without stain and blot and blemish in the presence of Almighty God. How is a man going to stand in the face and in the presence of the Almighty some of these days? How can he? For example, it says here in the Book, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the face of God" [Hebrews 12:14]. Holiness: "Except a man have a holy character," perfect, spotless, stainless, without blemish, "Except a man have holiness, he cannot see the face of God." That’s what Paul is talking about. How can a sinner man, you, how can a sinner man, I, how can we stand in the presence of God and without holy character? All of our dispositions, all of our affinities and affections are tainted; we fall short. All of us are alike. Ecclesiastes says, "There is not a man upon the earth that is holy, that is righteous, that sinneth not, not one, not one" [Ecclesiastes 7:20]. The third chapter of the Book of Romans says, "For we all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23]. For there is no difference, "There is none righteous, no, not one" [Romans 3:10]. You may be a little better than you neighbor, and he might be better than the fellow over here, but in God’s sight we’re all undone and lost, all alike. There is no difference.
In the second chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul says, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Paul says in the second chapter of Ephesians that, "We were born in trespasses and in sins, and are dead therein" [Ephesians 2:1, 5], all of us, all of us alike. Some of us may be a little nearer the standard of human perfection and morality and acceptability than others; but all of us in God’s sight are pretty much the same: we’re lost sinners. Now Paul’s problem is, "How can a man who is lost stand in the presence of God?" Then he preaches the gospel. It is done by casting ourselves upon the mercies of the Lord. "Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner." That’s what the publican said; not "a sinner, "the sinner." As though I were the only one in the earth, "Lord, be merciful unto me, the sinner" [Luke 18:13]. And Jesus said, "He that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out" [John 6:37].
We are saved by casting ourselves upon the mercy of God. As Paul wrote in the third chapter and the fifth verse of Titus, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us [Titus 3:5],For God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. A man is saved by committing his soul in trust, and in devotion, and in love, and in committal to Jesus. "Lord, here I am, here I am, sin and all, imperfection and all, and weakness and all, and taint and tarnish and pain. All, Lord, such as I am, here I come." A man is saved by casting himself upon the mercies of Jesus. "Lord, remember me, remember me." Now that’s the gospel of Paul.
Now, this message of James is, a man casts himself upon God, and he trusts in the Lord, and he’s a Christian now, and he’s saved; how is that man’s faith justified in the eyes of men? Well, there’s only one way; and that’s the way of the Book. Now you look how the Book will say this: "Ye are the light of the world, let your light so shine before men" [Matthew 5:14, 16]. Not talking about God: God doesn’t need your light to shine for Him to know how you are. "Man looketh on the outside," it says in the Book of Samuel, "but God looketh on the heart" [1 Samuel 16:7]. He knows all about you; you don’t need to go out here and do a work that God might know you, and you don’t go out here and need to demonstrate your faith that God might see it. He doesn’t need that at all; He knows all about you. But our works demonstrate to the world and justify to the world our faith. "Let your light so shine before men!" And that’s what James is talking about: the justification of our faith before men, down here in this earth; "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 5:16].
He closes the Sermon on the Mount, same kind of a vein, "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" [Matthew 7:16, 20]. It says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" [Matthew 7:1]. Well we’re not judging anybody when we watch their lives, we’re just fruit inspectors, that’s all, just looking at them, just looking at them, and making decisions concerning it. All of the Book is that way. Right after Paul says, in the third chapter of the Book of Titus and the fifth verse, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" [Titus 3:5]; all right, now take a following verse, the eighth verse in the third chapter of the Book of Titus, "This is a faithful saying, and this I will that you always affirm, that we who have believed God be careful to maintain good works" [Titus 3:8]. There they are together. One, justified in our souls by trusting Jesus; and the other, that faith justified in the sight of men by the good works, the fine committal of life and nobility of character and purpose of God’s people. There they are together.
Now I want to illustrate that between God and a man. Let’s say we have two fellows here that were saved in a revival meeting; and one was Jim, and one was Joe. Let’s say Jim came down that aisle and took this pastor by the hand and said, "Preacher, I have turned, I’ve repented. I take Jesus as my Savior. I want to be baptized. I want to follow the Lord." So Jim comes down there and he stands before you. And down this aisle over here Joe comes, and Joe takes my right hand, and he says, "Pastor, I turn, I repent. I want to be a Christian, and I want to be baptized, and I want to follow the Lord." So there they stand together, Jim and Joe. So I tell my evangelist goodbye, and he goes to some other place to hold a revival meeting, and the years pass. And I run into that evangelist that held that revival meeting at the Southern Baptist Convention. And he comes up and shakes my hand, and greets me warmly, and he says, he says, "Pastor, do you remember that day, down there in the First Baptist Church, when Jim came down one aisle and Joe came down the other aisle, and gave you their hands and said they wanted to be Christians and be baptized and join the church? Do you remember that?"
"Oh," I say, "I remember that. Wasn’t that a great day? And wasn’t that a great hour?" And he says, he says, "Pastor, I’ve been thinking about those men many, many times. How are they doing, and how are they coming along?"
"Oh," I say to the evangelist, "That fellow Jim that came down there and shook my hand and gave his heart to Jesus, and I baptized him, listen: you ought to see that man. Every day since then he’s grown in grace. He’s one of the finest Christian men I’ve ever known in my life. He made a real turn. He made a real change. And he’s one of the pillars of our church. He’s one of the finest Christian men you could ever know. And the next time you’re in Dallas, let’s call him up and have him take us out to lunch, or we take him out to lunch. He’s a great man. God bless every memory and every thought that we have of Jim."
"Well," says the evangelist, "what about Joe?"
"Oh," I frown and I bow my head, and I say, "Well, I just don’t want to think about Joe. Joe came down that aisle, and gave me his hand, said he wanted to be a Christian, and he wanted to be baptized, and he wanted to be a member of the church, and he wanted to follow Jesus. And in three weeks, and in three weeks, you never saw Joe anymore. He was out there drinking again. He was out there gambling again. He was out there cussing again. He was out there living in the world again. The dog returned to his vomit, and the sow to her wallowing in the mire. And I haven’t seen Joe since. And all of our prayers, and all of our appeals, and all of our personal solicitude, nothing at all to him, nothing at all to him."
All right, now the difference. When Jim came down that side, and Joe came down that aisle, and both of them gave me their hands, I didn’t know the difference. To me, Jim and Joe had taken Jesus as their Savior, and they committed their lives to Him. And they were both saved, it seemed to me. God knew. God looked on the inside of Jim and saw that Jim meant business; it was real. God looked on the inside of Joe and wondered what he was doing standing down there before the congregation of the Lord. God knew it when it happened that morning. I didn’t know it until a long time after, by their fruits. A man’s faith is justified, says James, by his works! And what it is to be a Christian is to have a disposition, a disposition and affinity, heart, for the things of God. That’s what it is. And if a man doesn’t have the disposition and the affinity, he doesn’t have the faith, he doesn’t have the conversion, he doesn’t have the turning, he doesn’t have the commitment, the devotion; for that’s what it is! A man that is a Christian man has in his heart a hungering and a thirsting after God.
I like to hear them sing, like to hear the choir sing. I’d rather hear the choir sing than any jukebox rock and roll outfit going on in the whole earth; sounds to me better. And as I look to the people that like that stuff, I think they ought to have their heads examined, as well as their hearts changed. Just a difference. Just a difference. And I love to go to church; I like it. I’d rather be here than any vaudeville or any show you ever saw in your life. I like to go to church. And I like God’s people. I like to associate with them; I like to visit with them. And when I go into a town, I don’t get acquainted with the bootlegger, I don’t know anything about the narcotic peddler, I don’t know anything about the underworld; when I go to a city, I’ll be introduced to the finest people in the city, and I like it. I like Christian folks. It’s in my heart, it’s in my soul. You don’t need to twist my arm or to make appeal; you don’t need to put pressure on me; I like it. I like you. And I like folks like you. And that’s what it is to be a Christian. And I love the Lord. It may be in a sorrow kind of a way, and a feeble kind of a devotion; but some of these days, some of these days, I hope, I pray, and in my heart I know that I shall see the face of God. It’s in me, and has been ever since I was a small boy, ever since I trusted Jesus as my Savior.
That’s what it is to be a Christian. For a man to be saved is in his soul, to look to God. For the world to see that he’s saved is to walk in the fellowship of the Savior. And that’s what the two are talking about, James and Paul.
Now, if I had an hour, I would love to preach a sermon on faith made perfect by works. And I’m going to preach until that clock gets to twelve, and then I’ll quit. I want to speak of this text here, "Seest thou," this is James 2:22, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" Now that’s it: the perfection of our faith by our works. Any time that Christianity is ever delineated, is ever, any time Christianity is ever defined as being only correctness of doctrine, it loses its dynamic and its drive and its meaning. Back there in the Dark Ages you can read about the leaders of the church, who themselves were right and correct in every ritual and in every so-called orthodox doctrine; but they were the vilest of men you could ever read in history, like Cesare Borgia and a thousand others like them. Christianity is never to be defined as correctness of doctrine and the ritualistic accouterment, all things just in order, and all things just in place, and all things just so and apropos, but unrelated to the great dynamic of life.
Another thing, Christianity is never to be defined in terms of disquisitions and dissertations. Whenever Christianity becomes a matter of juggling possibilities, and choosing and balancing of alternatives, it goes into neutral and becomes weak and anemic and insipid. Christianity came upon an evil day when it went off of the front page of doing, to the editorial page of philosophy. Whenever Christianity is strained thin by philosophical, metaphysical, possibilities and discussions, it washes out. Christianity is pertinent and real and dynamic only as it is manifest in this world, as you can see it, and watch it. For example, when Ignatius, the pastor of the church at Antioch, went there about 70 AD, when Ignatius was pastor of the church, the emperor called him to Rome to be fed to the lions. And he was the first Christian martyr, they say, in the Roman Coliseum. And on the way to Rome to be fed to the beasts, Ignatius saith, "Now I become a disciple!" When the faith left the academy into the arena, it became dynamic and alive! And that’s the way it ought to be with us. As long as it is discussion, or sermon, or philosophy, or possibility, or contingency, it is nothing! But when it reached down into life, then it becomes real and genuine; and the whole earth can see it.
You have that so aptly illustrated here in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. It says here, "By faith Noah," How do you know "by faith Noah"? Because Noah moved with fear, built an ark, to the saving of his house [Hebrews 11:7]. I know he had faith. Why? Because he got him a saw and a hammer, and began to work! [Genesis 6:14-22]. "By faith Abraham," How do you know by faith? Because when God called him to go out, he went out not knowing whither he went. That’s faith [Hebrews 11:8]. Says here, "By faith Moses," How do you know "by faith Moses"? Because "When he became of age, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season," and renounced the throne of the king that he might suffer with the people of God. That’s faith [Hebrews 11:23-25]. The whole fabric is just the same, just the same. When we’ve got a great devotion in our hearts to God, you will see it in the life.
And that’s the appeal that I’d love to make to us this morning, all of us. Come, Jesus said, "Come, take up your cross, and follow Me" [Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34]. And this is what it’s like: one of these travelers went to see his friend in the Orient, and the man over there in the Orient had a native worker with him; and the native was to take the luggage of the new coming friend, and the fellow didn’t have but one suitcase, one piece of luggage. And the native had a long pole – and you’ve seen pictures of it if you haven’t seen them yourself – had a long pole, and a sling on that end, and a sling on that end, and he put the pole and balanced it on his shoulder, and away he went. Well, this traveler didn’t have but one piece of luggage, so the native put that one piece of luggage in the sling on this end of the pole, and then he got him a big rock, about the weight of the piece of luggage, and he put it in the sling on the other end of the pole; put the pole balanced on his shoulder and trotted easily away. I want to invite you to do that: double your burden and it’ll be half as light; double it. Double your burden and you’ll double your blessing; double your burden and lift.
"Oh, preacher, you don’t understand. Yes I do! Somebody’s going to consume us; we’re going to give the energy of our lives and the love of our hearts to some thing: it’s going to be the world, or it’s going to be God. Give it to God. Give it to God; double your burden for God, and see if the load isn’t again half as light. That’s what James is talking about: loving God in our hearts, and demonstrating it to the world in the commitment, and the devotion, and the works of our lives.
And that’s our invitation to you this morning. Give your heart to Jesus, and come, join with us in this pilgrimage from this earth to the earth that is yet to come [Revelation 21:1-3]. Would you do it? In this balcony round, this throng in this balcony, somebody you, come down one of these stairways at the front, at the back, and to the pastor, "Pastor today, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God. And I’m putting my life with you here in this blessed church, and we’ll pray together, and sing together, and worship together, and work together. Here I am." A family you, on this lower floor; or just one, into this aisle and down here to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to Jesus. And I want to be in the church, I want to be baptized; and I want to work by your side, serving God." Or a family you, coming by letter, as the Spirit shall open the door and lead the way, would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, "Here I come, and here I am," while we stand and while we sing.