Contradiction ... in the Bible? Could it be? James #8
Uh-oh. Did James and Paul need to get their stories straight, their doctrine in order? Did they make conflicting statements about Christian faith and living it out?
Bearing in mind that James is writing to Jewish Christians, many of whom were struggling themselves; he reminds them of a love in action as an outgrowth of their faith. Read slowly and carefully, considering what he writes:
"What's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone.
Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, "Well, good bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well"--but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, it isn't enough to have faith. Faith that doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all--it is dead and useless.
Now someone may argue, "Some people have faith; others have good deeds." I say, "I can't see your faith if you don't have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds." 2.14-18
Hmmm. I remember verses I memorized back in my Bible college days in San Francisco-1978: "For by grace you have been saved, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Paul, writing to the Ephesians. Chapter two, vs. eight and nine
Huh - it seems there is a contradiction in Scripture in these two New Testament passages. James says that it is not faith alone, but we must show our faith through good deeds--whereas Paul says our salvation in Christ is a gift of grace, not of works [good deeds]. So, which is it?
Here again, context is key. Paul was writing to the people of Ephesus, who wanted to believe that their righteous acts would earn their salvation. In truth, I can understand the logic of the Ephesians--we earn wages with a job well done, why wouldn't we earn salvation? Because again, God's economy is not ours--Paul tells his readers that they are saved by faith . . . faith plus nothing. We are saved by grace- how I love that word! Grace . . . where would be without it? We would be striving, at best. This is one of the great distinctives of Christianity, so different from Mormonism, Scientology,
Judaism, Islam . . . through Jesus Christ, we are saved by faith plus nothing.
When James tackles works and faith, he is drawing a contrast between a faith that is real and alive, and one that is rather meaningless. Similar to when Jesus said that a vine should bear fruit, (John 15), so a faith that is alive should be dynamic, growing, and evident to others. Note: our works prove nothing to God, as he knows the intent of our hearts. Have you ever run into someone at church that you met on the soccer field or some other setting? Do you think they were surprised to see you at church? In other words, does your character, your general conduct back up your claim of being a Christian? Hmm.
Here's the thing--when we desire to know and love God- ~>when we experience his presence, answered prayer, divine leading ~ we want our lives to honor him; we want to live in such a way that others will want to know him too. So, while this appears to be a conundrum, (an unsolvable dilemma), it is not. Good works do not save us, but if we are truly saved (if we truly know Jesus), we will naturally seek to be more like him, and our lives will reflect it.
This notion gave utterance in a beautiful song from the 70s by Keith Green, 'Make my life a prayer to you.' It seems that would be the desire of our hearts, that our lives would be a lived-out-loud prayer to God. 'Make my life a prayer to you, I want to do what you want me to, no empty words and no white lies, no token words, no compromise ... I want to shine the light you gave, through your son you sent to save us from ourselves and our despair, it comforts me to know you're really there ...'
No contradiction at all then. Because we are people of faith, it follows that our lives show it ~ as people who look into the mirror of God's Word and then reflect his love to those around us with a life that honors God. Amen.