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Hebrews 6:13-20 – NT

05.03.2011

James 2:19-24

Emerging out of the dust-up between Pauline and Jacobean claims of justification (faith vs. works), I’m led again to the distinction between faith and belief.  We’ve got an ambiguity of terms here, specifically ‘faith’ and ‘justification.’

When James rightly calls faith without works ‘useless,’ he means mere mental assent, the intellectual recognition that such-and-such is indeed so.  When Paul says that we are justified by faith alone, he means that saving embrace of Truth that is borne out through works, the faith that goes above and beyond acknowledgment of fact and becomes support of and submission to Truth (with a capital T).  So they both mean different things by faith, and they both stand together in dismissing the one as insufficient and demanding the other as the only honest response to the Gospel.

Additionally, both men mean different things by the word ‘justify.’  Rom 4:5, expounds on Paul’s example of Abe to support vision of justification, coming from faith and explicitly not from works.  James, on the other hand, claims that Abe was justified by his works.  What gives?  Again, Paul and James mean different things by the same word.  Paul says Abe had his faith counted as righteousness, which is how he defines justification: being made righteous.  James, though, sees justification as having been proven righteous, something which necessarily comes later and is borne out through works.  So both would agree to a narrative of Abe being ‘saved’ when he believed God and having that salvation proven or made complete when he later obeyed God with regards to Isaac.

James ends up saying that we are thus justified (proven and completed) by works, not by faith alone.  I think a key takeaway here is that there is no such thing as faith alone.  True faith bears fruit in the form of works of obedience and worship.  Faith without this fruit is not faith (as Paul defines it) at all; it is merely shallow assent, intellectual or emotional, of the existence of the story of Christ.

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