Paul’s Faith and James’ Works
September 15th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL’S FAITH AND JAMES’ WORKS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-15-74 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you on television and radio who are sharing with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas this hallelujah and triumphant hour. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled, Paul’s Faith and James’ Works; the faith of Paul and the works of James.
In our preaching through the Epistle of James, who was pastor of the church at Jerusalem and the Lord’s brother, we read the later part of the second chapter [James 2:14-26]:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and hath not works? can that kind of 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; not withstanding 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 that thou hast faith, and I hath 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 that doctrine, 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 had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Thus the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was counted for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Likewise also was not Rahab the innkeeper justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Now I shall read from Paul a discussion of the same subject and using the same illustrations, but coming apparently to a diametrically opposite conclusion. Reading from Paul in the fourth chapter of Romans:
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
For if Abraham were justified by works, he had whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
If a man works for you and you pay him, you haven’t given him anything. He worked for it. You owed it to him. You paid him a debt. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace,” not of the free merit of God, “but of debt” [Romans 4:4], God owes it to you and He just pays what He owes. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness” [Romans 4:5]. And I add to that a typical verse from Paul in Galatians 2:16:
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.
I would suppose that the oldest, most ancient of all of the supposed and alleged contradictions to be found in the Bible is the one I have just read to you just now, that James says we are justified by works and Paul says we are justified by faith, and it can’t be both [Galatians 2:16]. It is one or the other; for in themselves they are contradictory. So for the centuries, the centuries, this alleged discrepancy in the revelation of the Word of God.
For example, as brilliant, and as able, and as dynamic a Christian leader and theologian as Martin Luther—Martin Luther who so stressed justification by faith—his text was “The just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17].
Climbing up that Scala Sancta before St. John Lateran Church in Rome on his knees, in order to do good works that he might be acceptable to God, on the way up, that text like a thunderbolt out of God’s heaven hit his soul, and his heart, and his mind. And he went home and nailed those ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg and the Reformation was on. And the text was, “The just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17]. That was Martin Luther.
So he referred to this epistle of James as an epistle of straw and unworthy to be included in the Word of God. That’s just typical of that supposed violent discrepancy between the theological stance of James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, the Lord’s brother, and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15; 1 Timothy 2:7]. Now the message this morning, and I beg you to listen with your mind as well as your heart, the message this morning is concerning the truth that God reveals to us in these two apostles.
First, may I point out to us that they are speaking of two different incidents in the life of Abraham? The apostle Paul is speaking of Abraham in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis: when Abraham came before the Lord and said, “I’m eighty-nine years old, and thou hast given me no heir” [Genesis 15:3]. And when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, there was no heir born in his home [Genesis 17:1-5]. And he came before God and said:
This Eliezer of Damascus is the heir in mine house, and I am eighty-nine years old, and You promised me a son in whose seed the world should be blessed, but no son has been given me, and I am like a dry tree. The root has perished in my physical frame. I do not understand.
And God took his patriarch, Abraham, the friend of God, out under the chalice of the blue firmament and said, “Count the stars.”
Abraham said, “I can’t. They are innumerable.”
And God said, “So shall thy seed be that shall come out of thy loins” [Genesis 15:5].
Now what would you think about that? If somebody—God were to tell you when you were ninety-nine years of age that you were going to have a son? The Book says Abraham believed God: and his faith was counted for righteousness, was placed on the side of righteousness, an imputed faith [Genesis 15:6]. Now that’s the way the apostle Paul says Abraham came into that conversion experience of regeneration, before the rite of circumcision, before Isaac was born or even Ishmael was born. God took Abraham’s faith and made it for a righteous life to his account on that side of the ledger [Romans 4:1-5].
Now James is speaking of an altogether different incident in the life of Abraham. James is talking about the twenty-second chapter of Genesis when the Lord said to Abraham, “You take your son, the child of promise, Isaac, and go to a mount I will show thee, Moriah; and there offer him up as a sacrifice unto Me” [Genesis 22:2]. And Abraham took his son and bound him, and on the appointed mount, in the appointed place, in the appointed way, raised the knife to plunge it into his heart [Genesis 22:9-10], believing that God would raise him from the dead [Hebrews 11:17-19].
They are two different incidents. One when without hope, Abraham trusted God for the promise [Genesis 15:4-6]. And the other pointed out by James [James 2:21-24], when Abraham demonstrated and exhibited that hope by offering his son, his only son, the child of promise, before God in sacrifice [Genesis 22:1-10].
So they are two different exhibitions of the spiritual life in Christ cited by these two apostles. The apostle Paul is speaking of that inwardness when a man stands before God alone and trusts Jesus as Savior. And Abraham is a demonstration of that when he trusted God and God placed it on the ledger side for righteousness [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:4-5]. James is talking about the outward demonstration of it when Abraham took his son and offered him, openly, as a sacrifice unto God [Genesis 22:9-10; James 2:21-24].
So the two men are answering two different questions. Paul is answering the question, “How can a man be justified in the sight of God?” How can a sinner man be saved when he’s lost, and unholy, and unrighteous? How can a man be declared holy and pure in the sight of God? James is talking about, “How can a man’s faith be justified in the sight of men?” How can it be demonstrated before his fellow humanity?
Paul is talking about a man’s faith in God’s sight, and James is talking about a man’s faith in man’s sight. They are two different things. So, as we look at the vantage point of the discussion, we can easily see how each one follows through the truth that God would teach us in the sacred Book.
Paul is saying, “How is it that a man who is a sinner can be justified in the sight of God, can be accepted as righteous in the sight of God when he’s not righteous?” In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews it avows, without holiness, no man shall see God [Hebrews 12:14]. But no man has that character; no one of us is holy and pure. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]; “There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10].
Isaiah declares, “Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight” [Isaiah 64:6]. Even our prayers are not perfect. Our worship is not perfect. Our thoughts are not perfect. Our deeds and lives are not perfect and without holiness no man can see God [Hebrews 12:14]. Then how can a man be justified and stand in God’s presence when he’s unholy and impure? Paul says the only way a man can be saved and justified is by the grace of God [Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8]. He must cast himself upon the mercies of the Lord [Titus 3:5].
God has to do something for us. And that’s what God did: God made Jesus to be sin for us . . . that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [2 Corinthians 5:21]. For by grace—unmerited favor, the mercy of the Lord—for by grace are we saved through faith: that not coming of us, but of God; not of works. It is by faith and trust, not of works, lest any man should say, “I did it,” lest he should boast [Ephesians 2:8, 9]. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy God saves us” [Titus 3:5].
In the fifty-first penitential Psalm, David is crying unto God after his grievous sin [Psalm 51:1], and he says, “If thou desirest sacrifice, I would give it” [Psalm 51:16]. Offerings, bullocks, calves, goats, sheep, “offerings would I offer unto Thee.” But the sacrifices of God are a broken heart; a broken and a contrite spirit, O God, Thou wilt not despise” [Psalm 51:17]. That is, in his sin, and impurity, and unholiness, he cast himself upon the mercies of God. That’s the only way that a man can be saved. He can’t justify himself. He’s not good enough. He’s not holy enough. That is the apostle Paul, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13].
That’s the way a man is justified. The publican went down to his house, justified, accepted as righteous, when he cast himself upon the mercy of God [Luke 18:13-14]. That is the apostle Paul [Galatians 2:16].
Now James is talking from an altogether different vantage point. James is talking down here. He is addressing, as a good pastor, his words to men: here is a man who has faith; here is a saved man. How does he demonstrate that, exhibit that, justify that before men? How does he do it?
He says here that faith without that justification, without works, is dead [James 2:17]. It’s sterile, being alone. Even as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.
And he gives another illustration: if somebody comes and he’s naked, and he’s destitute, and he’s hungry, and you say, “Peace, go in peace, be warmed and filled.” But you don‘t give him clothes to warm his body, and you don’t give him food for his hungry stomach; could that warm him and could that feed him? [James 2:15-16] No, no. So the apostle James says, when we say we have faith, when we’re converted, the only way that the man can see it, the only justification for your faith, the only demonstration, declaration of it in our sight is that they see it by the new life you live and the works that you do [James 3:18].
Now God doesn’t need that. God knows the heart, and He sees in the deepest inside of us, and He doesn’t need a demonstration of our works to know how we are in our hearts, whether we love God or not in our hearts, whether we’ve committed our lives to Him in faith or not. God doesn’t need the demonstration. He knows the inside of our hearts but we can’t see on the inside of the heart. Only God sees that. All we can see is the man’s outward life, and if his life demonstrates, justifies the faith, we can see it. If his life doesn’t justify it, doesn’t demonstrate it, doesn’t exhibit, then we can’t see it, and the life of faith is dead.
There were two men who came down the aisle in a revival meeting. One was named Jim and one was named Joe. And the years passed, and the evangelist saw the pastor, and he said, “You know, I remember that night in the meeting when those two men, Jim and Joe, came down the aisle and gave their lives to Jesus. How are they? How are they?”
And the pastor replied, “Jim? Oh, Jim is a saint. Jim is a pillar in the church. Jim has grown in grace and he is a strength in the house of God. Joe? Joe went back into sin after three weeks.”
Did that surprise God? No. No, God knew all about it because He saw on the inside of those two men’s hearts. God looked on the inside of the heart of Jim and saw a faith and a commitment, and it glorified God, and the angels rejoiced. God saw that then.
God also saw that Joe just made a gesture, an outward profession, and it wasn’t in his heart at all. God knew all of that but we didn’t. The pastor didn’t know it. The evangelist didn’t know it. The people didn’t know it. It was only in works that we found that Jim was justified by faith, and it was only in works that we found that Joe had no regenerative experience at all.
So Paul says God-ward, we’re saved by trusting the blessed Jesus [Galatians 2:16]. And James says outward, the only way you can demonstrate it is how you are in your life, what you do. So the apostle James concludes therefore, works, works make faith perfect. By works is faith made perfect [James 2:22].
Now in the little time that remains, may I speak of that? As the pastor of the church in Jerusalem looks out over his people and he makes that avowal, that in works our faith is perfected [James 2:22], it is demonstrated. It is glorified. It is incarnate. First: then the Christian religion is something more than doctrinal rectitude. Somehow Christianity loses its heart, its very soul, when it is defined as orthodoxy: cold, removed rectitude.
I see that so often in ministers today. Here is a minister who is doctrinally sound. He is fundamentally orthodox. He believes and he preaches and he teaches the Word of God. But he is vindictive, and he is polemical, and he is forensic, and he’s unloving. And when you look at him, and watch him, and listen to him, you almost say, “You know, I think I’d rather be out here in the world, where at least they are sympathetic and kind to me, and understanding in my sin, or my fault, or my failure, than to be with that man and his crowd who is so censorious, and caustic, and critical, and condemnatory. I think I’d rather be with these that are lost than be with those who are so pharisaical, holier than I.”
Is that the faith? Paul says, no, no. Rectitude, doctrinally, ecclesiastically is not the spirit of Christ. You can be doctrinally sound and be very unloving and unkind, without the spirit of the Lord.
Could I go further in that? When we were in school, we would turn those pages of history and we would read about the Dark Ages, the medieval ages. And you know what you read in those pages of history? That those prelates, and those ecclesiastical bishops and those rulers of the church, they could pronounce every shibboleth just correctly, and they knew the ritual precisely, and they conducted the services of worship in great and beautiful order; but their lives were despicable! They were evil and vile men.
Is that the Christian faith, to be orthodox, to be sound, to say every shibboleth and every word just precisely; to know the ritual and to follow it exactly? No, says James. The faith is believing God and then exhibiting it before men [James 2:17-18]. That is James.
May I point out another thing that James is saying to us, that the faith, the true faith of Christ is far more than metaphysical disquisitions and philosophical dissertations. Somehow, religion, the faith of Christ is thrown into neutral when we juggle it as so many alternatives. The Christian faith was never meant to be strained sin in provincial philosophies.
Could I say that I think it is a tragedy when Christianity was taken off of the front pages of the headlines of the papers and placed in the theological discussions on the editorial page. God meant it to be headlined; it’s good news! It’s the revolution that turns the world upside down or right-side up. And when we make it theological, metaphysical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, ecclesiastical discussions, somehow it loses its drive and its sharp-pointed edge. That’s what the first Christians did: they took the faith out of the academy and placed it in the arena. Took it off the editorial pages and put it on the headlines of every newspaper.
Did you know, or could I recall to you that while the apostles were still living, some of them, Ignatius was pastor of the church at Antioch. He was a mighty preacher and man of God; he emptied the Greek temples. They came to church to hear him preach. He turned them aside from idolatry to the love and worship of the true God, and because of his dynamic effectiveness, he was brought before Trajan, the Roman Caesar, who sentenced him to be exposed to the lions in the Colosseum.
And they say—and I’ve read it many times in books of history—they say that when Ignatius, God’s man, stood there in the arena and they opened the cages for the wild beasts, that Ignatius held out his hand to the leading lion, and above the sound of the crunching of bones and the tearing of sinews, he was heard to say, “Now I begin to be a Christian.”
The demonstration of it is the justification of the faith. Not on the editorial page in a discussion but on a headline, what God’s people are doing—not in the academy, or the Stoa, or the Lyceum, but out in the agora—in the arena, there God’s people justify the faith.
Let me conclude; so much to say. That’s what you read in the sacred page. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews, one of the greatest chapters in the Bible is called the faith chapter, the roll call of the heroes of faith; remember how it reads? “By faith, Noah” [Hebrews 11:7], how do you know, “By faith, Noah?” When God said, “One hundred twenty years, and I will destroy this world in a deluge” [Genesis 6:3, 13-14, 17-18], Noah believed God with a hammer, and a saw, and timbers, and an ark; that is the faith [Genesis 6:22].
On down, “By faith, Abraham” [Hebrews 11:8], how do you know, “By faith, Abraham?” When God called him to go out to receive a country he should afterward have for an inheritance, “he went out, not knowing whether he went” [Hebrews 11:8]; that is of faith!
It says, “By faith, Moses.” How do you know, “By faith, Moses?” [Hebrews 11:24]. When God called him, he forsook the throne of Egypt, “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” [Hebrews 11:25]. He renounced the throne of Egypt, that he might be identified with the suffering slaves of God; that is the faith.
It says, “By faith, Rahab” [Hebrews 11:31]. What do you mean, “By faith, Rahab?” She took the scarlet line, and all of you who have opportunity to be in the pastor’s class on Wednesday night at 7:30 in this auditorium, we’re following that scarlet thread through the Bible, God’s redemptive revelation. Rahab, the innkeeper, placed that scarlet line in the window and gathered her family and waited for the deliverance of the Lord [Joshua 2:18-21]; that is the faith.
Always those two: the commitment in trust and the commitment in deed. “Take up your cross,” the Lord says: one, “and follow Me” [Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23]. The other—both, “Take up your cross, give your life to Me, and follow Me.” That’s the other: the lift and the load, the burden and the blessing, and they’re always together.
There was an Oriental traveler with a suitcase, and he called for a coolie, and the Japanese runner had a pole, a long pole on his shoulder with a sling at that end and a sling at this end. And he took the man’s suitcase and put it in one sling, and he took a rock about the weight of the suitcase and put it in the other sling, and balanced the pole on his shoulder, and went trotting away. He doubled the burden but he made it lighter.
That’s exactly the way God does with us; there’s a load and a lift. There’s a burden and a blessing. There’s a faith and there is a work. And when we do both of them together, Paul and James, we are infinitely blessed. The world is blessed and the name of Christ is honored.
And that’s the appeal of the Holy Spirit to our hearts today. Trusting Jesus as Savior, come [Romans 10:8-13]; or putting your life with us in the fellowship of the church, come [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand to sing, stand coming down that stairway, walking down this aisle. “Here I am, pastor, here I come. I make it now,” while we stand and while we sing.