by J.F.T. Woods

Q. If salvation is "by grace through faith, plus nothing," why does James say that faith without works is dead? (James 2:20)

A. James, writes to saved Jews about how to treat each other in and out of the synagogue, and with the coming Tribulation Period in mind. (James 1:1. This verse is completely ignored by most readers. Is it not as much the Word of God as the rest of the book? It states plainly that this message is to, for, and about Jews of the dispersion! In James 2:2, the word translated assembly is actually synagogue in the original Greek.) He does not write about personal salvation from sin, nor does he address the Body of Christ - God reserves that task for the Apostle Paul alone (Romans 11:13. The "Ií is emphatic. "I, in contradistinction to others."). James is "for" us but not "to" us or "about" us. These Jewish believers were saved people with a "dead" faith (i.e. "unproductive"). Abrahamís body is said to have been "dead" by Paul in Romans (Romans 4:19). This is a figure of speech and not to be taken literally. Abrahamís body was very much alive, literally. It was dead sexually. He walked and talked, and ate and drank, and did all the things that an old man can do, proving that he was as alive as ever. But he couldnít make love to Sarah and produce an heir. Though once virile, he had become impotent.

These "Messianic Jews" of Jamesí day had been saved by a living faith in Christ through the Kingdom Gospel (James 1:18). They were obviously not acting toward each other as saved people, in any dispensation, should act! (James 2:1-4,15-16). They were living people with dead ministries, like many believers today. Their dead faith had not cost them their salvation - it could not. Nothing can reverse the crosswork of Godís Son! (Hebrews 7:25; Philippians 1:6). It had cost them their ministries, however, just as your faith and mine when it is "dead" costs us our ministries, but not our salvation.

We receive many letters from people asking honestly about this verse, or raising it as an issue. It should help us to remember that the works that James, as a devout Jew, demanded from the Jews that he addressed were the works of the Law. But "...You (the Body of Christ) are NOT under law, but UNDER GRACE" (Romans 6:14).

Works, that is Law works, were a required demonstration of faith in the Jewish Dispensation. They did not save then, nor do they now (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:19-24). James asks, 2:14, if a man say he has faith, but has not works, "Can faith save (Ďdeliverí) him?" Since the people to whom he was writing were already saved (Ďdeliveredí) from condemnation, they did not need to be saved in that sense again. These eternally secure believers did need to be saved, or delivered from the spiritual deadness that had settled on their lives and ministries.

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