James Chapter Two
 
What about James chapter 2 and “faith without works is dead”?

Many times Church of Christ members will not even consider the doctrine of justification by faith simply because they are convinced it is in direct conflict with James chapter 2.

Here the passage is interpreted to mean that both faith and works are required for salvation, rather than understanding the good works shown and demonstrated in the life of the believer are simply the practical result of a true and genuine faith. 

In other words, the point made by James but missed by the Churches of Christ is that if there are not good works shown or demonstrated in your life, you had better go back and check your faith. 

Here it cannot be emphasized enough that when interpreting James 2 that the Churches of Christ read a number of assumptions into the passage.

These assumptions include:

a) Justification by faith alone is a false doctrine.

b) It was an error thought even in the first century.

c) That James was speaking out against it even then.

What the Churches of Christ fail to consider is that salvation by faith alone was taught in the early church.

But unfortunately there were some who were confusing salvation by faith alone with salvation by mere intellectual assent alone, and some were deceiving themselves thinking they were saved simply because of a superficial profession of faith and a casual acceptance of the Truths of the Christian faith.

In light of this we can certainly understand why James would see a need to challenge those who believed they were saved by mere intellectual assent.

Starting in vrs 14 he writes:

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

So what is shown itself to be dead?

Your faith, not accompanied by action, is revealing and showing itself to be dead since good works are not being shown or demonstrated in your life.

Understanding the word "Justify"

But undoubtedly the most frequent objection raised by the Churches of Christ regarding the doctrine of justification by faith alone is James' use of the word justify- "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?"

Since the view of justify is understood by the Churches of Christ as "to make righteous," how then can anyone possibly suggest that we are made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ alone when James clearly says that Abraham was 'made righteous' by what he did?

Here the Churches of Christ should reconsider their understanding of the word justify.

For rather than to mean to make righteous, justify is a legal term which means "to show or to declare as righteous".

For example, when an officer of the law uses deadly force in the line of duty, an investigation is made to determine whether or not the use of deadly force was justified.

If it is determined that the actions were justified, this certainly does not it mean the officer was 'made righteous' by using deadly force. Rather it means that after viewing the evidence, the tribunal (those who were tasked to investigate the incident) determined and declared that the officer's actions were right and appropriate.

Now such a definition may seem to be of little consequence. But consider the ramifications.

In Luke 7:29 the Word tells us that "the tax collectors justified God."

Clearly this cannot mean that the tax collectors made God righteous, because God already was. However the tax collectors did 'show, deem, or declare' God as righteous by being baptized by John.

In this way James 2:21 should be understood as “Was not Abraham our father 'shown or declared as righteous' by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?"

After all, Abraham did not actually sacrifice his son upon the altar.

How then could he have been “made righteous” by works that he never did?

Summary

What separates the Churches of Christ from evangelical Christianity is not the presence of works in the life of the believer, but the proper role of works in the life of the believer.

Are works a necessary precondition for salvation, or are they merely a fruit, result, or byproduct of the believer's own regeneration and salvation?

R.C. Sproul in his book Faith Alone uses two formulas shown here to distinguish between the evangelical and Roman Catholic understanding of works, which is very similar to that of the Churches of Christ.

Here the terms faithworks, and justification are present in both formulas. However, the order of these terms shows the radical difference between these two opposing views:

Roman Catholic viewFaith + Works —(results in)—> Justification

The Evangelical viewFaith —(results in)—> Justification + Works

In the Roman Catholic formula, works are a necessary precondition for justification. In the evangelical view, good works are merely the fruit or result of justification.

Ephesians 2:8-10 says "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

In light of the Scripture, we maintain that salvation is a gift of God, brought to us by Christ, and received by faith. Good works are merely the practical result of a born again life and the result of a true and genuine faith