If you can read the book of James and not feel a bit uneasy, I don’t think you’re paying attention. If you spend a lot of time in the writings of Paul and then go to James, you’ll probably have to watch yourself so you don’t react to it like Luther did, calling it an “epistle of straw” and tearing it out of your Bible. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, try this:
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)
Isn’t that whole “faith alone” thing a pillar of the Reformation? Did not Paul write that we are saved by grace through faith, and that NOT of works? (See Eph. 2:8-9)
Trouble abounds for us in these areas…if we don’t take the WHOLE counsel of Scripture together. If we follow the words of James and exclude Paul, then we’ll wind up in a legalistic moralism that the Reformers were trying to fix. On the other hand, if we ignore the words of James, we can become “cheap grace” Christians that reduce the Gospel to fire insurance and do nothing at all after “walking the aisle.”
So, YES, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone! Praise God for that! As the old hymn goes “nothing in my hand I bring.” There’s nothing I can do to make myself look any more attractive and holy in God’s eyes. As another hymn puts it: “Jesus paid it all…all to Him I owe.” When it comes to salvation, it’s all grace, all the time.
BUT, that grace must lead to fruit in our lives (see Matthew 7). It has to produce more than pew-warming pseudo-Christians. It has to “sprout wings” and take form in something concrete in our lives, or else it’s not real faith. It’s not a part of our salvation, but it is evidence of it.
So, what’s your experience with this issue? You struggle on one side or the other?