Justification by Faith is one of the main pillars of Christian Theology. Without it, we would be like any other religion--trying to work our way to heaven. But because of faith, we don't have to work our way to heaven...right? After all, that is what Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast."
But the other night at youth group, we were reading from James 2. This is the section where it is talking about how faith and works go hand in hand, and I've always thought of it as just that- works are a result of faith. But verse 24 stuck out to me this time. It says: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
Read that again. "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
Is the Bible contradicting itself?
But, the Bible can't contradict itself, because it is the inspired word of God, and God cannot lie. That is a fact I openly accept as a Christian. God cannot lie, so his word is completely true.
So then, how can I reconcile James 2:24 with the rest of Scripture?
First of all, what is justification? It is being declared righteous by God. And we are not righteous, agreed? The Bible tells us that no one is righteous, no not one.
Okay, that makes sense. But James still seems to contradict Paul in Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians.
Romans 3:28 says "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." It clearly says that we are justified by faith, not by works.
So here is how we can reconcile these two passages. The Greek word that the ESV translates "alone" in James 2:24 is monon. This is more correctly translated "merely."
Ahhhhhh......that makes more sense. We are justified not merely by faith, but by works too.
Hang on. Isn't that still saying that works justify us?
Nope. Because that would go against the rest of scripture and we already established that the Bible cannot contradict itself.
In fact, a little earlier in chapter 2, James explains himself. (Context is everything.) In verse 18 he says: "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works." The Greek word for "completed" in this verse is eteleiothe. This more correctly means "bring to maturity." In other words, our faith is proved to be growing by our good works.
In other words, saving faith has fruit, and that fruit is works. THIS agrees with scripture. Think about in Galatians, where Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. We can't have those fruits if we don't have the Spirit inside us. And we can't have the Spirit if we don't have a saving faith in Jesus. Works are a way to prove our faith. Guess what? James tells us that in James 2:18. "But someone will say, 'you have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
There is the missing piece. This is how I can reconcile these passages. James is not saying in verse 24 that we are justified by works. He is saying that we are justified BY FAITH ALONE, BUT NOT BY A FAITH THAT IS ALONE. Faith must have fruit (works) to be genuine.
I hope this is encouraging to young Christians like me. Non-believers may point to this passage as a reason to say that the Bible is not true because it is contradicting itself. In reality, these passages are in harmony with each other. So remember....
WE ARE JUSTIFIED BY FAITH ALONE, BUT NOT BY A FAITH THAT IS ALONE.