Paul’s Faith and James’ Works
September 15th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
PAUL’S FAITH AND JAMES’ WORKS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-15-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you to this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Paul’s Faith and James’ Works. In our preaching through the Epistle of James, the Lord’s brother, and pastor of the church at Jerusalem, we have come to the last part of the second chapter. And this is the text:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have 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 him, 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 there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
What 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?
And 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 to 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.
Now I’m going to read to you from the apostle Paul, chapter 4 of the Book 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 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.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
And I add to that one verse from Galatians 2:16: Paul writing,
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 there is no more ancient supposition than the apparent alleged contradiction in those verses—what James says, that a man is justified by his works [James 2:18, 3:13], and what Paul says, that a man is justified by faith [Romans 3:28, 5:1]. Martin Luther, for example, as great and marvelous an exponent of the Word of God as he was; Martin Luther, because he emphasized justification by faith without the works of the law, “Therefore the just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17], said Martin Luther, quoting the Bible— Martin Luther referred to the Epistle of James as “an epistle of straw,” having no pertinency, no meaning, and ought to be left out of the Word of God.
I repeat, there is no more ancient alleged contradiction than what I have read in James and what I have read in Paul. So I’ve entitled the message The Faith of Paul and the Works of James. And there are many pertinent things that it brings to our mind, and I pray that we shall listen to the message with our minds as well as with our hearts.
First of all, may I point out to us, that they are talking about two different incidents in the life of Abraham? Paul is talking about one incident in the life of the great patriarch and James is talking about another. Paul is talking about Abraham before any child was born to him, either Ishmael or Isaac. And Paul is talking about Abraham before the rite of circumcision was instituted.
Paul is talking about Abraham in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, when the patriarch came before the Lord and said, “This Eliezer of Damascus is the heir in mine house, and yet You say that one born of my own loins will be mine heir and the child of promise, and I am now eighty-nine years old, and there is no child born to me” [Genesis 15:2-4].
And God took Abraham out under the chalice of the blue, blue sky, and said to him, “Abraham, can you count those stars? So shall thy seed be, of him that is born out of thy loins” [Genesis 15:5]. And he was eighty-nine years old, and became ninety-nine years old and the promise still had not been fulfilled [Genesis 17:1]. Then the Scripture writes that famous verse, “And Abraham believed God; and his faith was placed on the side of righteousness” [Genesis 15:6]. That is the incident Paul is using when he speaks of our justification by faith [Romans 4:1-5; Galatians 2:2:16].
Now James is referring to an altogether different thing and an altogether different incident in the life of Abraham. James is talking here about the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, when the Lord told Abraham to offer up that son of promise [Genesis 22:1-2]. And Abraham built an altar, bound Isaac his only son of promise, born when Abraham was a hundred years old [Genesis 21:5], and when he lifted up the knife, God saw that Abraham really believed God [Genesis 22:2,9-12], believed God would raise that boy up from the dead, trusted in the Lord, hope against hope [Hebrews 11:17-19]. God’s promise seemed to be against God’s promise, so James says that, “By his works he was made perfect; and a man is justified not by the kind of a sterile empty faith that does nothing, but by a faith that works” [James 2:21-24]. So they refer to two different incidents.
Now, the men refer to two different spiritual responses in the life of God. Paul is referring to a man’s inward response to God; to believe God personally, to trust in God individually, to commit oneself to God privately, how a man is in his heart toward God. “Abraham trusted in God; and his faith was counted for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6].
James, on the other hand, is talking about the outward expression of that spiritual life. Abraham took his son and offered him as a sacrifice upon the altar, by which symbol and sign and type, he received him back again as raised from the dead [Hebrews 11:17-19]. One is private and inward. One is openly and outwardly expressed.
Again, Paul and James are talking about two different questions, and they are all vital, all significant, and all important. They’re talking about two different questions. One, Paul is talking about “How can a man be justified in the sight of God?” [Romans 4:1-25]. And James is talking about “How can a man’s faith be justified in the sight of men?” [James 2:18]. They’re two different questions altogether, to which the apostles are addressing themselves.
Paul is raising the question: how can a man who is a vile sinner stand in the presence of the Holy God? How can a man be justified, declared righteous, holy, pure, when he’s a sinner? [Romans 3:20-24]. How can a man be justified, declared righteous, in the sight of God? [Romans 3:30]. How can he? For example, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans that I read from, Paul, Paul says, “If Abraham were justified by works, then he hath whereof to boast; but not before God” [Romans 4:2]. What does he mean by that? A very simple thing; Abraham might boast of his goodness, and of his righteousness, and of his holiness before men, but he dare not boast before God because God knew him. God knew all of those dark passages in his life, several of which are written here in the Bible by inspiration.
That’s the way with us today. We may boast of our righteousness before one another, but not before God. A man would be ashamed to do it because God knows the inner recesses of our hearts and all the things we’ve done that are hidden out of our human eyes. But God knows them.
Now that’s what Paul is addressing himself to. How can a man that is a sinner be justified in the sight of God? [Romans 3:20-24]. How could Abraham be justified in the sight of God, when God knew all of those dark things in his life? [Romans 4:2].
Now James is talking about something else. How can a man’s faith, his Christian profession, be justified in the sight of men? And he speaks of it here: “Why, if a man’s faith is without works, it is dead, it is sterile, being alone [James 2:17]. And he gives an illustration of it: “If someone is naked and hungry and you say, Depart in peace, be warmed and be filled, notwithstanding you give not him those things that he needs, how can his body be clothed and how can his hungry stomach be fed?” [James 2:15-16]. So they’re talking about two different things. One, how can a man stand before God and live? [Romans 4:2]. And the other, how can a man’s faith be justified in the sight of men? [James 2:17].
Paul is talking about a man looking up into the face and heart of God [Romans 3:20]. James is talking about a man looking out among his fellow men [James 2:15]. Paul is talking about a man’s faith justified before the Lord [Romans 3:19, 26]. James is talking about a man’s faith that is justified in the sight of men [James 2:18]. So, to sum up, the two men are talking about two different points of view. They’re looking at it from two different angles, from two different vantage points.
Paul is talking about how a man who is a sinner can be saved [Romans 3:23-25]. How can he be saved? How can a man who is a sinner ever walk on those golden streets and pass through those pearly gates and mingle with God’s angels? How could a man who is a sinner ever be saved, ever be justified, ever be accepted in favor in the sight of God? For all of us are sinners. We know that by experience and we know it by the Word of God. “All have sinned [Romans 3:23]. There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10]. Well, how can a sinner man ever be saved? He has to be saved by casting himself upon the mercies of God [Titus 3:5]. There is no other way. We are never good enough to be justified, to be declared righteous. Everything we do has in it lack, an element, an overtone of humanity, of sin, of coming short. Even our prayers are not perfect, and our worship is not perfect, and our deeds are not perfect, and our thoughts are not perfect. Paul says the only way a man can be saved is by casting himself upon the mercies of God [Titus 3:5].
And God made provision for us. “God made Him, Jesus, to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. “For by grace are ye saved”—the unmerited favor of God—“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy does God save us” [Titus 3:5].
When we sin we are saved by casting ourselves upon the mercy of God. When David sinned, he said, in the fifty-first Psalm:
Sacrifices and offerings Thou wouldst not. If sacrifice You desired, would I give it;
But the sacrifices of God are a broken heart, a broken and an contrite spirit, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
There’s not anything a man can do to wash away his sins.
If I were perfect from now on, I have no ableness to take the stain of sin out of my soul of the days that are past. The only way I can be saved, that I can be justified before God, is to cast myself upon the mercies of the Lord. “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. That’s what Paul is talking about; how a man can be justified before God, a sinner man, we [Luke 18:14; Titus 3:5].
Now James is talking about something altogether different. How can a saved man, how can a regenerated man, how can a man of faith be justified in the sight of his fellow men, in the sight of man? The only way he can do that, says James, is by his works. There’s no other way that a man can know whether you are saved or not, whether you are really regenerated or not, except just by looking at your works [James 2:18]. There’s no other way.
So he says, “Faith is perfected by our works” [James 2:22]. That’s the only way people can see that we are saved, that we’re Christians, that we’ve given our hearts to God, that we’re regenerate, is just by our works. There’s no other way. For example, the Lord will say, “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]. The Lord will say in the next chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 7, He will say, “Wherefore by their works ye shall know them” [Matthew 7:20]. We have no other way except just to look at a man’s life, to see whether or not he has really given his heart to Jesus.
Jim and Joe came down in a revival meeting and both of them professed their faith in the Lord Jesus. Years later, the evangelist saw the pastor, and he said, “I remember when Jim and Joe came down the aisle to give their hearts to the Lord Jesus. How are the men? What became of them? What did they do?” And the pastor replied, “Oh Jim, he grew in the faith. He’s my right hand man. He’s a pillar in the church. He’s a saint of God. Jim is crowned with glory. Joe went back into sin in three weeks.”
Did that surprise God? God knew that all the time. He knew Jim was really saved. He knew Joe was just making an outward profession. God knew that, but the preacher didn’t know it, and the evangelist didn’t know it. It was in the passing of time and in the works of the two men that it became apparent that Jim was really saved and that Joe had no touch of the heavenly Spirit in his heart. That’s the difference. We are justified in God’s sight by the commitment of our lives to Him. But the only way our faith is justified in the sight of men is by our deeds, what we do [James 2:18].
Now that leads me—listen with your heart—that leads me to the great blessed conclusion of the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, the apostle James, the Lord’s brother [Galatians 1:19]. He says, “So our faith is perfected in our works,” verse 22; “So our faith is perfected by our works” [James 2:22].
First, that would mean that Christianity, the Christian faith, is something more than rectitude in orthodoxy and in doctrine. Somehow the Christian faith loses its sweetness, and its power, and its glory, and its beauty when it is identified just with cold, sterile, indifferent orthodoxy.
I see that so much in the lives of my fellow ministers and fellow religionists. There are men who are doctrinally correct, in every way they are fundamental and given to the word and revelation of God, but they are caustic, and they are polemical, and they are forensic, and they are unloving, and they are volative.
And when I see them and hear them, my heart’s response is, “Well, if that’s the faith, I don’t think I’d be interested in it. I don’t like it. I’d rather be out here with the devil’s crowd, that at least is not condemnatory, than with that crowd that is all the time condemning, and criticizing, and caustic, and unloving, and unforgiving.”
A man can be doctrinally correct but at the same time he can lack the sweetness and the gentleness of the blessed Lord Jesus. Faith needs something else. The Christian religion needs something else other than doctrinal rectitude.
Let me give you an example of that that I think is the most tragic thing you will find in human history. When you turn to the medieval ages and read the history of civilization during the medieval ages, this is what you will find. You will find great leaders of the church, who could pronounce every shibboleth correctly, and who could conduct every ritual service precisely. But the men themselves were vile and evil beyond any way that you could write it in human story.
No, our rectitude and our shibboleths and our doctrines must also be accompanied by the blessedness and the sweetness and the preciousness of the Spirit of Jesus. By our good works do men glorify God [Matthew 5:16]; are we justified in the faith.
All right, a second thing, looking at this from the vantage point of the pastor of the church, James, the religious faith is something more than philosophical and metaphysical disquisitions and dissertations. Somehow, somehow, Christianity is thrown into neutral when it comes down to juggling and balancing possibilities and alternatives. The Christian faith was never meant to be strained thin by our provincial philosophies.
Did you know it was a tragedy when the Christian faith was taken from the front page of the newspaper and put on the editorial page? When it quit making headlines and became subjects of speculative discussion? That’s what the first Christians did; they took their religion and they took their faith out of the academy and put it in the arena!
The wonderful pastor of the church at Antioch, in 70 AD, right after the days of Christ, in the days of some of the apostles, the pastor of the church at Antioch was named Ignatius. He was taken before Trajan because of the power of his message, turning those people from idolatry to Jesus, emptying those Greek temples and pouring the people in the churches of Christ. Ignatius was taken before Trajan and condemned to be exposed to wild beasts in the Roman Coliseum.
He was the first Christian to die in the Coliseum. And it was said, and I’ve read it many times, that when Ignatius stood there, God’s man, and faced those ravenous beasts, as the cages were opened, they say in history that Ignatius held out his hand to the leading lion, and above the crunch of the bones and the tearing of the sinews, he was heard to say, “Now I begin to be a Christian.” That’s it; out of the speculative, out of the professor’s chair, and into the arena. Out of the editorial page, on the headline page, doing something for Jesus; that is the faith.
I read a book one time about Columbus. And that book said there were many universities in Europe who were teaching that the earth was round, but Columbus was the only one who set sail. He believed it enough to move out upon it. You see, that’s what the Bible teaches us. That reality and genuineness in faith is found by our works, by what we do. Look at that great faith chapter, the eleventh of Hebrews, “By faith, Noah.” How do you know, “By faith, Noah?” [Hebrews 11:7]. Because when God said, “A hundred twenty years from now I am going to destroy this world by water,” Noah got a saw and a hammer and timbers and began building an ark, by faith [Genesis 6:3, 12-22].
“By faith,” it says, “Abraham.” How do you know, “By faith, Abraham”? Because when God called him to go out into a country he should afterward receive for an inheritance, he went out, “not knowing whither he went” [Hebrews 11:8; Genesis 12:1-4]; by faith. It says, “By faith, Moses.” How do you know, “By faith, Moses”? Because he renounced the throne of Pharaoh, and refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, “that he might suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” [Hebrews 11:24-25].
It says, “By faith, Rahab the innkeeper” [Hebrews 11:31]—and James uses her here. “By faith, Rahab the innkeeper” [James 2:25]; how do you know? Because she put the scarlet line in the window [Joshua 2:21]. And if you want to be blessed, you can. Be here seven-thirty o’clock every Wednesday night and listen to the pastor teach that scarlet thread through the Bible. “By faith, Rahab,” she placed that scarlet line in the window and gathered her family there, believing God would deliver her if she obeyed the Lord. That is the faith [Joshua 2:21].
Let me conclude. It is in faith’s works that we are revealed to ourselves, our work, and our lives. You don’t really know yourself until you begin to implement the commitment in your heart and in your life. That’s when you really know yourself, that’s when you really begin to understand how weak you are, and how much you must depend upon God. “Abraham believed God; and his faith was counted for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6]. But it was only when he offered up Isaac that God could demonstrate to the world the commitment of that man [Genesis 22:1-12].
O Lord, we know ourselves really when we attempt to implement our faith, to live it out in the world. How we need God’s help, how we need God’s strength when we begin doing things for Jesus. Whether it’s in the church, whether it’s in your business, whether it’s in your house, whether it’s among your friends, it’s in doing it that you find out how much you need God’s strength and God’s help. This is the invitation of our Lord. He says, “Take up your cross, and follow Me” [Mark 10:21]. It is a twofold thing. It is a burden and a blessing. It is a load and a lift. It is both.
A man in the Orient had a suitcase and he called for a coolie to carry the luggage. And the coolie had a long pole with a sling on each end, and he took the man’s suitcase and put it on that end of the pole, in the sling, and he got him a rock, weighing just about what the suitcase did, and put it on that end, and put the pole across his shoulders and went trotting off. It was light, so balanced.
The double burden somehow blesses the Christian life: our commitment to Jesus on one side of us, as Paul speaks [Romans 4:1-5; Galatians 2:16], and our commitment to do God’s will and work on the other side of us, as James speaks [James 2:14-26]. And both of them, the double burden, bring the double blessing; the load and the lift. And to commit one’s heart to Jesus, and to live by His grace and help [Titus 2:11-12], the Christian life is the infinite blessing that God offers to us in Him, and by which we encourage and bless others.
And that’s our invitation this holy hour. To give your heart to Jesus, that’s one thing, and then to implement that faith, to give it incarnation, to give it life, and blood, and soul, and body in the commitment of your life to us in the ministers of Christ in the earth, would you do it now? Would you come forward now? Would you respond now? “Dear pastor, I come.” Out of the balcony, on the lower floor, “Here I am. I make the decision now in my heart.” And when we stand up to sing, “I’m on the way.” God bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.