Doesn’t James 2:14-18 make it plain that good works are required for salvation?

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True saving faith produces good works. Are these works of the Law? No. The Christian is dead to the Law:

“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).

“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Galatians 2:19).

The love of God in a Christian produces the fruit of the Spirit. Paul’s detractors went from one extreme to the other–legalism or license–because they did not understand either Law or grace.

The works that Herbert Armstrong said were required for salvation were works of the Law. For more on this read: Are We Still Under the Law in Spite of Grace? (Includes at bottom: “Aren’t works necessary for salvation?”)

“We never do good works until we do them because we are saved, not in order to be so. A lively sense of many sins forgiven will make us love much and shew it practically.” ~ William Reid, 1866

The book of James was written about 45-50 A.D. which was before Paul wrote Romans and Galatians (57-60 A.D.) Some Bible commentators have stated that the epistle of James shows no trace of the larger revelations concerning the church and the distinctive doctrines of grace made through the Apostle Paul, nor even of the discussions concerning the relation of Gentile converts to the Law of Moses, which culminated in the first council (Acts 15) over which James presided.

Here’s my take on this issue.

 

The contemporary issue of whether the Gentile believers are under the Mosaic Law is a done and dusted issue. This is because there is already a precedent in the Scriptures. Such an incident occurred in Acts 15.

Background

It is pertinent to note that Peter was asked to go to Cornelius’ house to share about the Gospel. He had refused as he was under the impression he was bound by the Mosaic Law (including the 10 commandments) to not dine in a Gentile home. Jesus then had to appear to challenge Peter to radically changed his views. Peter had no idea at that time that the Mosaic Law has already become obsolete. It is here that we find that the Jew and the Gentile were no longer separated by the Law of Moses and that when Jesus died, he abolished the commandments and made the two one. The following Scriptures are reproduced for reference:

Ephesians 2:15
New International Version (NIV)
15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…

With regards to the Cornelius incident, kindly read the following:
Acts 10
Cornelius Calls for Peter

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Peter’s Vision

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

Peter at Cornelius’s House

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Note that till then there were never any Gentile Christians. Note also the reaction of the rest of the disciples:

Acts 11
Peter Explains His Actions
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Were they glad that Peter shared the good news to a Gentile. Surprisingly, they were furious and criticized Peter for breaking the law.

It was only when Peter told them what had happened and that the Spirit of God fell upon Cornelius, the apostles rejoiced.

Peter continues from v. 15 15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

It was at this moment that Hebrew church begins to discover that the Old Covenant had become obsolete. It is interesting to note not all of them understood this. One distinct disciple was James. This is because he was surrounded by Pharisees. Let’s refer to this passage:

Galatians 2:11-14
New International Version (NIV)
Paul Opposes Cephas
11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

See also:
Acts 15:5
New International Version (NIV)
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

Note this is the incident happened in Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. Galatians 2 and Acts 15 are referring to the same incident. Also note that by this time the book of James had already been written. (As such, note at this moment James had not receive the revelation of the Gentiles coming to the Gospel, note also James is written to Jews not knowing the Mosiac Law had become obsolete. That was why James said faith without works is dead. He simply did not have the revelation that Paul or Peter had in Acts 13-15. In truth as you will see from what I am about to disclose, faith is without works. Keep this in mind, note what James said thereafter.)

You note thus in Acts 13 the Gospel spread like wildfire to the Gentiles. The person having the greatest measure of success in bringing Gentile to Christ was of course Paul. However this sparked out a very controversial issue in the church. Should the Gentile believers come under the Law of Moses (including the 10 commandments) and be circumcised? This is the very issue facing the church today. Note we are not Jews. We are Gentiles.

See the following:
Acts 15
The Council at Jerusalem
1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”

Although the issue is with regards circumcision, the issue of the law of Moses was also brought in here:
“5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” This my dear friends is our issue today.

Thus the question here was this “IS THE GENTILE BELIEVER BOUND TO KEEP THE LAW OF MOSES?”

Note what happen next.
“6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Note the following:

a) The “sometime ago” refers to the Cornelius incident.

b) Peter says that our hearts are purified by faith alone. There goes the maxim “faith without works is dead”. Here Peter clearly shows that faith ALONE purifies. Please note James’ comments after this.

c) Peter himself said “why are we putting on the necks a yoke that our ancestors cannot bear”. He clearly is NOT referring to circumcision but the LAW of Moses. This is because they were circumcised on the 8th day. Therefore what they could not bear was the requirements of the LAW.

d) Peter said to put the Law under the Gentiles IS TESTING GOD!

e) Peter establishes the GENTILES ARE NOT BOUND BY THE LAW OF MOSES but there are saved by the GRACE of our LORD JESUS!

Now comes a very interesting development:

“ 12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me.”
Yup. James spoke up!

Let’s see what he has to say:
“19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Note:
a) James said we should not make it difficult for Gentiles to turn to God. He then places 3 caveats.

b) Note these 3 caveats were not introduced by Peter but by James.

c) James at this moment could have established his position and insisted that the Gentiles keep the Mosaic Law. He did NOT!

Now let us look at the collective decision of the church leaders. They wrote an official letter to the Gentiles saying:

“22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Farewell.”

Note:

a) The 3 caveats are NOT LAWS. They were practice directions for the health of the church, “You will do well to avoid these things.” They did not say if you do these things, you will lose your salvation;

b) The HOLY SPIRIT indicated to the apostles to PUT THE LAW ON THE GENTILES is a burden!

c) The letter was given to Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas to be passed to the Jews.

At this juncture, lets’ look at what has been said, and the verdict which had been reached, chronologically. Are the Gentiles required to keep the 10 commandments the Mosaic Law?

Paul: NO
Barnabas: NO
Peter: NO
James: NO
Apostles: NO
Elders: NO
Holy Spirit: NO

Let’s look at the reaction of the Gentile Christians thereafter;

“The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.”

They were encouraged and the GENTILE church WAS STRENGTHENED without the LAW!

The issue as such is a dusted issue. The Gentile church (as well as the Messianic church) is not longer under the Law!

I am not done. I am about to share with you why churches do not grow and why certain churches grow. The reason is here:

Acts 16
Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
1 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. 2 The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

Note that the church grew daily in numbers?

They were strengthened in the FAITH! How were they strengthened in THEIR FAITH? They received the decisions reached by the elders and apostles in Jerusalem. What was the news???? THE GENTILES WERE AND SHALL NEVER BE UNDER THE LAW OF MOSES!

Paul puts in this way “19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.” Galatians 2:19 New Living Translation (NLT)

That is how the Church is strengthen when the believers focuses on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and not only coming under the law. For it is impossible to live for God by keeping the law. You have to die to the law in order to live for God.

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18 thoughts on “Doesn’t James 2:14-18 make it plain that good works are required for salvation?

  1. This is answered prayer. I have been asking Jesus about the Laws.
    and you nailed every piece of the answers

    Thank you for becoming an instrument

    – grace and peace

  2. Pingback: Question and Answer: What about Works, Falling from Grace and Being Disqualified? | His Grace Is Enough

  3. So is the author saying that what James taught the Christians in Chapter 2 is simply a misinformed teaching? That it is a false teaching?

    I’m also not convinced with the explanation regarding the abolishment of the Mosaic law involved the abolishment of the moral law (the 10 commandments). Remember when the Rich Young Man went to Jesus and asked how he can gain eternal life? It is then that Christ recounted the 10 commandments. Christ is asking us Christians that we should obey the 10 commandments. Christ did not abolish the 10 commandments, but he gave us the grace to help us observe them.

    • Dear Vincent,

      The issue is not that James is false teaching. All the apostles were not aware that the dispensation of the law was over when Jesus died. By the way he died to fulfilled the law. You would note that James was written sometime in AD 40 and the council of Jerusalem around AD 50. You would only until Acts 8 did Peter decide (after the rebuke and vision from the Lord) to enter a Gentile’s house. Why? Because the Law of Moses had forbidden him. Just like many of Jesus teaching before he died were spoken to make it impossible for the Jews to enter into the kingdom. That does not mean it is false. Let me give you an example. Jesus says “forgive in order to be forgiven”. Paul says “forgive because you HAVE been forgiven”. One is conditional, one is not. Is Paul right or Jesus right? The answer is both. Before Jesus died to forgive us unconditionally, forgiveness under Moses is conditional.

      With regards the rich man, read the story again, now this time under Jewish setting:

      https://hischarisisenough.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/thoughts-on-the-rich-young-ruler/

      You will find Jesus is not speaking about the law but himself….

      Christ is not asking you to obey the 10 commandments. Read Romans 3, what Jesus wants is to receive a gift of righteousness which is APART from the Law (See Romans 3:20) It has nothing to do with the Law.

      Did Jesus abolish the Law? Yes See Ephesians 2:15. See also: https://hischarisisenough.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/do-not-think-i-have-come-to-abolish-the-law-explained-2/

      Jesus doesn’t give you the grace to obey laws. What he does is to change your nature by writing the Law of the Spirit in your hearts. Understand that under the New Covenant there is a different obedience. It is not an obedience of works or laws but an obedience of faith. The new commandment is no longer the 10 commandments but 1 John 3:23. Believe! I hope that helps. If not read this: https://hischarisisenough.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/if-love-me-obey-my-commandments-does-jesus-ask-us-to-obey-the10-commandments/ and https://hischarisisenough.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/obedience-after-the-cross/. I sincerely hope this helps.

  4. Pingback: Did Christ ask us to obey the 10 commandments? | His Grace Is Enough

  5. Pingback: Faith or works? | Media 4 Life Ministries

  6. Does anyone not perceive what James was truly saying? It is my perception that James referred to ”spiritual FAITH”….without the signature healing & examples of the power of God or…”spiritual Works” … is dead/lifeless/powerless vain words! Every disciple of Jesus truth did signature power works of God! Every believer Jesus sent out was to do all the same things Jesus had been doing!….Faith in God without power works is “dead”! In other words if we say we have faith in God through Jesus….and have no power works/signature of God to confirm the truth….then we really have nothing but vain words! James went on to say…show me your faith….and I will show you my power works from God! Deeds of men are what men can do!…..Deeds of God are only done by God….he doeth the power works!!

  7. I have spent 34years in Bible study. The first 15 were in and about the physical buildings called churches. Having been impressed to leave them because of the truth I perceived….I spent the last 20 years at home, alone with God/My KJV Bible/a Strongs Exhaustive Concordance and great determination to learn. I have found very few sources to test and refine my truth but now deep truth is surfacing world wide. Wonderful confirmations from disciples all over the world. Thanks for your dissertation on the fulfillment of the LAW OF MOSES! Peace to all in Christ…TK

  8. My Take on James was always, he was simple giving us a a example of a true faith and a false faith and The true faith will always be follow by Works.

    I alway seen Justify in The sense of works which approve of one faith Not to be confuse as works needed In order to be saved VS someone who may say they have faith but no works to prove that they were Creation in The new nature to bring them out.

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