How is a man made right with God, in light of James 2?
Yesterday, I was teaching in the prison, and this passage was brought up as an objection to my presentation of the gospel from Romans 4-5. After going through James in its context, and explaining the significance of James’ illustrations, especially from Abraham’s life, I came back to the content of this next section of our study. What do I need to do in order to be made right with God? I asked the same question in the school yesterday, where the students voted unanimously that a person needed to do the following things if they would receive eternal life: Stop committing sin, the known and the unknown, keep all of the commandments, get baptized, and love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. That is an impressive list, and we should do all the things mentioned in this list, but if God made this the requirement for entering the Kingdom, there would be no human in the Kingdom. Let us consider the clear teaching of scripture regarding how a man in made right with God. First, the law cannot save us. Secondly, we must be saved freely as a gift. And thirdly, salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone:
First notice that the law cannot save us. In Romans 3:20, Paul writes that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” My point in the previous paragraph is simply Paul’s point in Romans 3, restated. Paul has spent chapters 1-3 laboring to show us that all men, without exception are guilty of breaking God’s laws. All men are equally under God’s wrath. All men are without excuse. All men are without hope apart from God’s grace demonstrated and received through the gospel message. The law does not help us get to God. It reveals how guilty we are, and how much we need his grace in the gospel. The law does not make us righteous; rather it reveals our spiritual bankruptcy. We have no righteousness that is acceptable to God, and the law proves that to us as it declares our guilt, demanding the price of eternal wrath.
Secondly, scripture teaches that we can only be saved freely as a gift. That is why, in Romans 3:24, Paul says that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” There could be no salvation any other way. Romans 6:23, says that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says that “we are saved by grace and this is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, and not of works,” and Titus 3:7 teaches that we are “justified by his grace.” Scripture teaches that our salvation is not a reward for our labors, but rather it is a gift purchased by Christ’s death on the cross, and received freely when we respond properly to the gospel message. That leads us to our last point, what is the correct Biblical response to the gospel?
Scripture teaches that salvation comes only through faith alone in Christ alone. Romans 3:26 says that God is “the justifier of him which believes in Jesus.” Paul concludes his argument in Romans 3:28 by saying, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” He continues his argument in Romans 4:2-5, “if Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory; but not before God. For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that does not work, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” In Romans 5:1 he says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” In Galatians 2:16-17 Paul writes, “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 Christ, 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. Again in Galatians 3:11 he writes, “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.” And lastly, in Galatians 3:24 he writes that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
So how do Paul’s explanation and James’ explanations of justification harmonize? Stated simply, a man is justified before God by faith alone, however this faith if it is genuine will not be alone. Genuine conversion produces righteous living. A man is justified by faith alone in Christ alone legally before God, on the basis of the righteousness of Christ his substitute, but the profession of his faith is vindicated before men when the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit is evidence in the fruits of righteousness produced in an otherwise morally bankrupt individual.