James 2:17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Misrepresenting and misunderstanding James 2:17
Whenever someone stresses the idea of God’s grace and the gospel, invariably someone will quote James 2:17. They will say *faith without works is dead… being alone.* What they always mean is faith without *law obedience* is dead being alone. They equate the works proscribed in James 2:17 as being works of the law with law obedience as the proof of the works. The problem is that they do not understand James 2:17 in its context and they neglect to understand that the works that James is speaking of are very narrow works of love; mainly, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, dressing the naked etc. If anything, James chapter two provides a call to social justice works. It is a call to not favor the wealthy in assemblies and it has *NOTHING* to do with the works of the law or law obedience.
This is a passage that fits in well with Matthew 25:31-46 and Isaiah 58:6-12. Social justice is a very important part of God’s agenda. Taking care of the less fortunate and underprivileged is a theme that God has stressed over and over again in the scripture. There are 170 verses that focus on treatment of the poor. Psalm 41:1 is one of many verses that explains how God views those who consider the poor. This is the entire focus of James chapter two… and it is the foundational context of James 2:17. James two is not about obedience to the works of the law in general and it distorts the meaning to believe it is.
What is the point of this you ask? Well, plainly stated it is to counteract those who claim that James 2:17 is an admonition to show that grace alone is not the driver of the gospel. The fact is that grace alone is the driver. The law acts as a tutor to drive one to grace. Grace then acts supernaturally to provide peace with God. Peace with God from grace is the source of true love for God and true love for God is the motivating force in the obedience of faith… or the obedience brought on by faith. I am not suggesting that there is not an obedience that is driven by faith. I am merely stating that evangelical-orthodox dogma, doctrine, and practice eliminate the possibility of this faith obedience.
On the other hand, the works proscribed in James 2:17 are works that anyone can choose to do. Whether one has an addictive personality or not all can choose to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless and visit the sick. Interestingly enough, these faith works are mostly ignored by orthodox evangelicals. Oh, there may be an occasional Thanksgiving dinner or turkey give away… but feeding daily? … not many of those in the evangelical orthodox realm. They are too busy trying to elect congressmen that will take even more away from the poor.
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