Would you turn to James, chapter 2. Now when we look in the Book of James we find a lot of straight talk. James does not beat around the bush. But he says something in the passage that we’re about to study, something very startling, because it almost seems, and a careless reading would make us feel that James is saying that we’re saved by good works. But if you know anything about Christian doctrine, you know that is not true. We’re saved by grace alone, in faith, in Christ alone, by faith alone. That’s what the Bible teaches. And yet, I want you to listen to what James says. And, by the way, many false cults will use this passage of Scripture because they do not understand it, to show that salvation is not by grace, but, at least, it is a mixture of grace and works.
Well, let’s read it, and then we’re going to look at it. Again, I want to tell you that the title of our message tonight is “The Autopsy of a Dead Faith.” Here’s what James asks. “What does, what doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding, ye give them not those things which are needful for the body, what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well. The devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works, when he had offered Isaac, his son, upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and be works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God. Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise, also was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
Now, that’s a passage of Scripture that we’re going to have to reckon with. It seems, casually, that James is saying that people are saved, justified, made right by works.
Well, if that is true, there is a direct contradiction in the Bible. Now, just hold your place there in the Book of James, and I’m going to direct you to the apostle Paul. It’s almost as if James and Paul are having an argument. In Romans, chapter 4, verses 1 through 6. Remember, James is just talked about Abraham being justified by works. You read that here, in the passage of Scripture, verse 21: “Was not Abraham, our farther, justified by works…” Now listen to what Paul says in Romans, chapter 4, verse 1: “What shall we say, then, that Abraham, our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath he hath whereof to glory, but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counter for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” Do you see what is happening here? Do you see the seeming contradiction? Do you see the seeming confusion? It’s like James is saying one thing and Paul is saying another. Now Paul, the mighty apostle, makes it plain that works, a little or a lot, do not save and they do not help save. And another passage of Scripture is Romans 11, and verse 6. Paul, after saying we’re saved by grace, says this: “And if by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, it is no longer, it is no more grace, and otherwise work is no more work.” Paul is saying, “Make up your mind. You can’t be saved by grace and works. If it’s by grace, works don’t have anything to do with it. If it’s by work, grace has nothing to do with it.” That’s Romans 11, and verse 6.