Special Insights No. 10
Third Quarter 2005
The Spiritual Life
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
Lord of Our Labor
The Bible teaches salvation by grace in opposition to legalistic concepts of salvation by works. We find this teaching expressed clearly in many passages. The clearest perhaps is in Ephesians chapter two.
But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2: 4-9).
This concept is also clearly expressed in Romans 4:1-11, Philippians 3:7-9, Galatians 2:16, 3:9-24, 2 Timothy 1:8-9, and Titus 3:5-7. Indeed this struggle between legalistic concepts of salvation and the true plan of redemption began with the description of events in the book of Genesis and culminates in the struggle represented by the seal of God and the mark of the beast in the book of Revelation. When Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and made a covering for their nakedness we caught the first glimpse of mankind attempting to solve the sin problem by their own works. And finally, the religious powers that be will legislate that all must worship God according to their ideas of what is fitting in an attempt to make things right in a world that has gone wrong. It will simply be the Garden of Eden all over again, all over the globe, with mankind trying to solve the sin problem by his own works. This struggle between two plans of redemption and two gospels is the major theme of the scriptures.
Perhaps more than any other book, James has been misused in an attempt to establish support for the false gospel, the concept of salvation in whole or in part by works. When the true gospel is clearly presented, someone will usually ask, If a man have faith and have not works can faith save him? That is the question which the apostle James never asked. But many think he asked it because it is the question which harmonizes with their concept of salvation. Nevertheless, it is a ridiculous question to the one who understands biblical faith.
The reason this misconception prevails, even among Bible believing Christians, is that many believe that everyone has faith, therefore the difference between the saved and the lost must be works. After all, even the demons believe and tremble (James ). And God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (
Contrary to this belief the Bible is very clear that everyone does not have faith. In Thessalonians the apostle Paul articulated his prayer request:
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that he word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith (2 Thess. 3:1-2).
Not all have faith! That comes as a surprise to those who misquote James as asking ,If a man have faith and have not works can works save him? And it is a foreign concept to those who quip, Even the devils believe and tremble, in order to prove that everyone has faith. But faith simply is not enough.
What did James really say and what was his point?
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead? (2:14-17).
Here we can see (if we are reading carefully) a very important word is left out when James is misquoted. He did not ask, if a man have faith. He asked, if a man says he has faith. A person may make many claims or announce the best of intentions. Yet his actions will always speak louder than his words. One may say to a brother or sister Depart in peace, be warmed and filled. In other words one may say, I wish you well. But if he did not give them what they needed, did he really wish them well? This is James point. The claim is a lie if the actions do not agree. Jesus referred to the same problem when He said, This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me (Mark 7:6).
E. J. Waggoner explained James comments as follows:
But does not the apostle James say that faith alone cannot save a man, and that faith without works is dead? Let us look at his words a moment. Too many have with honest intent perverted them to a dead legalism. He does say that faith without works is dead.... For if faith without works is dead, the absence of works shows the absence of faith; for that which is dead has no existence. If a man has faith, works will necessarily appear, and the man will not boast of either one; for by faith boasting is excluded. Rom. . Boasting is done only by those who trust wholly in dead works, or whose profession of faith is a hollow mockery.
Then how about James 2:14, which says: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? The answer necessarily implied is, of course, that it cannot. Why not?Because he hasnt it. What doth it profit if a man say he has faith, if by his wicked course he shows that he has none? (Bible Echo, August 1, 1890, Faith and Works, p. 68).
And this thought agrees with the apostle Pauls thought when asked for prayer to be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men. Who were those wicked men? They were some of those to whom Paul referred when he said, All men have not faith.
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