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James vs Paul?

VIEWPOINT



No. They do not contradict each other. Those who see contradictions have a personal belief that causes a modification of definitions, which in turn causes a misinterpretation of the actual words of Scripture.

FACT



Some pastors say the letter from James to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" contradicts the letters of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Others say it does not. Both refer to the same issues. Someone is wrong.


VIEWPOINT



A friend from a Bible study asked if we could study the book of James. While doing some research, I found that there is some controversy regarding the statements of the apostle Paul in his letters and the letter from James. Basically, the difference is that some take Paul's letter as a dismissal of the possibility of law applying to the Gentiles at all, while James seems to be saying that the law is necessary as a demonstration of faith. What is going on here?

Examples?

While it is hard to find examples of clear statements of the fact of the belief in contradictions because few seem to want to admit it in public, the claim is that James is not speaking about the law when he refers to "works". A Baptist pastor and I argued about it for over four hours in my study. Many pastors claim that James is not talking about the law, but works of love. By re-defining James' reference to "works" to mean "acts of love" and not "acts of obedience to the law" (see a wordy example of this at desiring God, stay with it as the "meat" is about half-way through), they can hold on to their belief that Paul is claiming that the law is gone for Gentiles.

Always two sides, the easy one and the real one

Some who recognize that James speaks of works as actions that include obedience to the law feel that he contradicts Paul in passages like Romans 3:28
28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

and James 2:24
24You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

(see Gospel News Network for an example). These people believe that Paul says the law is gone for Gentiles.

However, the best examples of addressing this issue head-on are on the sites where the explanations show that there is no contradiction at all between the two men. Both speak of both faith and works as necessary to demonstrate belief in the Plan of God for Salvation. Two quick examples of this are Simply Bible and Evidence for God's Unchanging Word, where the authors do not try to take you through six pages of persuasion and definition changes, but simply lay out the facts.

What do the words actually say?

When you read the passages, read what the passages in Paul and James' epistles say, without assumptions, re-definitions, or premature conclusions. Romans 3:28
28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

says that a "person is justified by faith". What does that mean? According to one site at Christian-Faith:

Justification means being declared righteous. It is a legal term used in the Bible to describe the act of God in which He declares that a person is not guilty. A person who is justified is therefore in a state of acceptance with God. Its very important to be in a state of acceptance with God.

The Oxford Dictionary says this:

jus-ti-fi-ca-tion
(jus ti fi kay shun)

noun
1. the action of showing something to be right or reasonable: "the justification of revolutionary action"
2. the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.

Don't add to the words

Now, both of these definitions speak of the state of being upon being made justified, though the second one fits the discussion better. A true declaration of faith, after repentance and commitment to the Lord, makes one justified. No works were involved in the process by which God accomplished this. At this point, one is justified by faith. That means that, at that moment, since we are forgiven for our past sins, we are not considered guilty by God. According to Paul in Romans 3:28, we are justified.

OK, not guilty, now what?

According to many, that is the end of our worries. According to a pastor at my son's church, anyone in this state now has an irrevocable ticket to Heaven. This person supposedly cannot do anything to lose their salvation. But, if that is true, what did Peter mean in 2 Peter 2:20
20If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.

? If this admittedly justified person steps back into the world and continues the same life they had before being "saved", what happens to them? (That is also covered in Hebrews 10:26-27
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

) What is "worse than before"? If you are "not saved" before being "saved", what is worse than "not saved"? Maybe, after you decide against the truth once, it is then going to be harder to convince yourself that the truth is worth the effort of changing your life and following Jesus. That would be worse.

OK, let's identify what it means to be entangled in the world and overcome. Being "worldly" means to compromise with the world. In the spiritual sense, Merriam-Webster calls it:

"of or concerned with material values or ordinary life rather than a spiritual existence"

How do you act like the world? By caring more for what the world cares about than the will of God. By disobeying God. By not keeping the holy things of God separate from the world. By choosing the world over God.

Not guilty, so, do it again?

Now, back to our justified individual. To make it simple, could this person walk outside and shoot someone, just for the "fun" of it, and still be justified? Too extreme? OK, could they go next door and steal the neighbor's car? No? Why not? We are told that they cannot lose their salvation. OK, still too extreme. How about if they lie in order to make someone else look bad so they can get a promotion at work? No? Why not? They cannot remain justified because these are all violations of direct commands from God. How about breaking some other commands of God? There are hundreds of them and the vast majority of them are not hard to follow at all. If one who is justified breaks them, is that person still justified?

The only way to stay not guilty

What are we talking about here? Being disobedient to the will of God. When you are justified after repenting and committing to Christ, you are not guilty in the eyes of God. If you then break the commands that define the will of God, aren't you immediately guilty again? I don't think that this means you are lost yet, but your future does depend on what you do next. If you repent for the sin and genuinely ask for forgiveness, you are again justified. If you do not repent and ask for forgiveness, you are still guilty. What does it mean to be guilty? You are no longer justified before God - you are once again guilty. If you are justified and make no attempt to try to stay that way, you are "worse off than before".

What makes you guilty?

At this point, people may get a little worried about themselves, but very little changes in their actions. In fact, most of them have no idea what kinds of actions will make them guilty again. Oh, they know about murder, theft, and adultery, but what else will make them guilty? Breaking any of God's commands. Most people do not even keep all the ten commandments. That alone makes them guilty. And, if you are guilty, you are not justified by your faith because your faith is not in God. You are following the ways of the world.

That's what they are trying to tell us

What has all this to do with James and Paul? Both of them are trying to let people know that God expects sacrificial lives that are different from the lives of those who compromise with the world. Both of the apostles are trying to spread the word of God. One is speaking to the Gentiles and the other to the Jews, but they are both saying the same thing. God cares about us and told us how He wants us to act.

Though the epistle of James is addressed to the "twelve tribes", pastors around the world apply it to Gentile Christians every week. They tell us to stand firm through trials, not be double-minded or changing with every new thing, compromising with the world. This also means to resist breaking the commands of God if going through trials (James 1:12
12Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

). We are told to not only listen to the word, but to do what it says to do. We are told to look "into the perfect law that give freedom". Wait, what? What law would that be if none of them apply to us? Even the study notes in my NIV say:

1:25 perfect law. The moral and ethical teaching of Christianity, which is based on the OT moral law, as embodied in the ten commandments (see Ps 19:7), but brought to completion (perfection) by Jesus Christ

The Jews know better, and so should we

Like most comments in modern translations, they have to throw in a statement ("brought to completion") that supposedly minimizes the law in such a way as to lessen its effect on Gentile Christians. But, this epistle was written to the "twelve tribes" which belies any comment that is interpreted as though the law no longer applies in James' message, as well as those of Jesus and Paul.

In Chapter two, James makes a comment about "the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself' " (originally from Leviticus 19:18
18"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."

), insisting that if you show favoritism, you are convicted by the law as a lawbreaker. Now, if you are a lawbreaker, you have sinned (1 John 3:4
4Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

). Once you sin, you must repent and seek forgiveness or, as we stated above, you are guilty and no longer justified. James goes on to speak about breaking any law is the same as breaking them all - and then begins listing the ten commandments. Next, he speaks again of that same law as the "law that gives freedom".

Even when he speaks of Abraham, his point is that if Abraham had only had faith but had not acted with works to show that he believed God (how do you even do that?), things would have been different. His point is that you can be justified at one point but not actually continue to be justified without actions to show your faith. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46:

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Actions speak louder...

Essentially, he said what James said in 4:17
17If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.

, and if you do not repent for that sin, you are no longer justified (righteous), but are guilty because you did not "do works". And, if you are guilty of willful sin, you are then "under the law", guilty, and owe the penalty of sin, which is death.

Next, James discusses faith and deeds. An interesting thought came to me while writing this. If you have true faith without works, and if that's all you need for salvation, since God knows you have that faith, are you saved? (James asked this in 2:14
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

) Matthew 25:31-46
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

above answers exactly that question. However, some limit the answer to "acts of love" and not "acts of obedience". But ponder this, "acts of obedience are acts of love as well" (John 14:15
15"If you love me, keep my commands."

). Can you have one without the other?

And so on...

Chapter three speaks of the tongue, and how much trouble we can cause when using it. Then he goes back to deeds, but those deeds done in wisdom from heaven gained by knowledge of the word.

Chapter four turns to that word that strikes terror in the heart of Americans - submission. The submission we should achieve is submission to God, not submission to the world because "everyone is doing it". Submission to God does not allow submission to the world. Then he warns us not to be arrogant about our plans, not to make promises over which we have no control, but to move in faith toward the future that God has prepared for those who persevere.

Actions and faith, together still, inseparable

Chapter five is a warning to businessmen who organize things to make themselves comfortable rather than take care of those that work for them. Then, we are exhorted to patience because there is nothing we can do to hasten the future. Again, do not swear oaths about things over which we have no control. Pray in faith, stay in His will, and God will do it in His own time, and in the way it should be done.

For those who think that these verses apply only to the Jews scattered throughout the world, then continue to ignore them. If, however, if you take them as some of the messages that the Jews were supposed to give us Gentiles (John 4:22
22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

), then you will realize that we are to worship the same God as that of the Jews - and, in the same way.





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27/07