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Does James Teach Justification by Works?

Release date:

October 17, 2021

For the past 500 years, Protestants have argued that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is a core component of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But sometimes opponents of the Reformation claim that the Bible actually teaches the opposite. In James 2:24, for example, we’re told that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” So what is the point James is making, and does his teaching actually conflict with Paul and others? Shane Rosenthal discusses this with Bob Hiller, author of Finding Christ in the Straw, as they continue their discussion of the book of James.

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Paul says clearly in Romans 4:5 that “the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” But how does this fit with James 2:24 which says “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”? The key to this seeming contradiction is to understand the different ways that each author is using the word “justification.” Paul is talking about the way sinners are justified before a holy God (Rom. 4:2), whereas James is focusing on whether a person who merely “says he has faith” (Jas. 2:14) can be justified or vindicated as a true believer before the eyes of other men (Jas. 2:18).

Shane Rosenthal

Recommended:

Finding Christ in the Straw, a Forty Day Devotion on the Book of James

Author: Bob Hiller

James wrote to Christians whose faith was under attack. Persecution, false teachings, and loveless actions were troubling God’s baptized people. Things have not changed much for the church in these latter days. Though Luther referred to this letter as “an epistle of straw,” James gives much wisdom to Christ’s troubled bride. These forty devotions, based on James, will both challenge and comfort you, while showing you Christ in the straw.

While supplies last, we are offering Finding Christ in the Straw: A Forty-Day Devotion on the Epistle of James for a donation of any amount.

Justified: Essays on the Doctrine of Justification

Edited by Ryan Glomsrud and Michael Horton

This book joins the contemporary conversation, bringing together voices from the pages of Modern Reformation magazine over the years. Like the magazine, this collection connects Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist theologians, historians, and biblical scholars who are able to unpack important issues for thoughtful nonspecialists. This collection covers a lot of ground: the relationship of justification to covenant (especially recent discussions between N. T. Wright and John Piper), the law, union with Christ, as well as sanctification. A final chapter considers the contemporary relevance of justification.

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