Father James Early: Welcome back to our study on St. James’ Epistle. Now we are in the middle of chapter 2. We are going to start with verse 14, and we are going to go all the way through the end of the chapter. We will finish this chapter today, no matter what happens. We are going to finish it. Just to refresh your memory, we are in the second major section of the epistle. The first major section dealt with trials and temptations and how to deal with those, and this second section is on being a doer of the word, putting the faith into practice, the importance of not just being, as St. James says, a hearer of the word, but a doer also.
So let’s look at James 2:14, and I will read through 19, and we will look at that section, and then we will continue on to the end of the chapter. He says, in verse 14:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so, faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder.
This verse about someone coming to you without clothing, in need of food, brings back a memory to me. When I was serving as a missionary in Banja Luka, Bosnia, in early 1999, and if you remember, it was right about that time that the thing in Kosovo blew up, the Kosovo-Albanians started rebelling against the Milosevic government, and the government came back and started clamping down on them, and was really hitting them hard, and a lot of them started leaving the country, there were a lot of refugees. A lot of Kosovo-Albanians left and they crossed into Albania. At the same time, too, not long after this, actually, the NATO troops began bombing Serbia and Montenegro, do you remember that? This was in March of 1999. We had to leave Banja Luka because of that, and we moved to Sarajevo, eventually. The man who was the head of our missionary organization in Bosnia went over to Albania and scoped out the situation with the refugees, and it was really a humanitarian disaster. People were just flooding across the border, there was no food for them, and there was no clean water. It was still winter, because it was March, and when it is not snowy in the Balkans, it is muddy during wintertime. There was so much mud and filth, and it was just a really terrible situation. I remember he called a meeting of all of our missionaries; we had maybe 10-15 people, total, in Sarajevo. Most of them were very young people in their 20s. He called us together and then he called us on the phone and did a conference call where he spoke to us from Albania. He was describing the situation and he was trying to recruit as many people as possible to come over to Albania to help on a temporary basis, to help relieve the humanitarian situation, and he quoted this verse: “If a brother or sister is without clothing, in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, go in peace, be warm, be filled, and you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” It was kind of a tense situation, because he gave his pitch, if you will. He was trying to recruit us to come over there, and of course, it was for a very good cause. And then, he asked his wife, who was there in the room with us to go around and ask everybody one by one, “What about you? You? You? You? You? And it came around to me, and I was thinking, what am I going to do? Because these people were here to be two-year missionaries, they were short-termers, and they really did not have a lot of language-learning responsibilities, they did not have to study the language. My responsibility was to study the language full-time. I had to learn, eventually, to preach and to teach in the Bosnian/Serbian language, and I was tempted to go, it was pulling at my heartstrings, I really wanted to go help. Plus, I had my wife, and I had two kids, we had a little baby. Courtney was about 4, 5, or 6 months at the time. So I just told them, I have to stay here, I cannot go. But I remember that, and it brings back that memory. What happened was, a lot of our people went. Most of them were single people, younger than me, and they did a great work there, and they really helped people out. But I always thought, “What if I had gone over there? What would it have been like?” I bet it would have been a great experience, but I just did not feel like that was what I was supposed to do at the time.
Comment: So that didn’t spark a discussion of faith versus works?
Father James: It did not. No, we thought we had it all figured out.
Comment: There were no Lutherans there? (Laughter)
Father James: Yeah, no Lutherans. Well, we were Baptists, we would skip the next part. This passage we liked, about helping the poor and all, but we did not like the part about being justified by works. We will get to that in a minute. Now, let’s go back to St. James’ time. Most of the Jews in his day claimed to believe in God. You would never find a Jew who said, “Yeah, I’m an atheist.” Not in that day. “Of course I believe in God.” And many of them would engage in pious rituals, but too many of them totally neglected their fellow man, particularly the poor. And little has changed today, wouldn’t you say? Most people in the world, in America, we always have these polls, 80%, 85%, 90%, sometimes, people say, yes I believe in God. But what percentage of people actually do anything as a result of their faith in God? How many people would find that their faith actually affects their daily life? St. James poses the question to his readers. Again, he says, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says that he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him?”
Well, in my previous faith tradition, which shall go unnamed at this time—of course, everybody knows what it is—I would have said, why, yes, of course. Works play no role in salvation. If I say I have faith, assuming I am not lying, then yes, I am saved. But the clear answer that St. James has, I believe, is: No. Such faith cannot save him. And he gives an example to illustrate this fact, which I have already illustrated, but again, he uses one of his favorite themes. How many times already have we seen St. James talk about the poor and the need to take care of the poor, the needy? He says, again, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warm and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”
He is doing two things here. He is reiterating the importance of Christians caring for the poor, but he is also making a point. The point is, that if somebody comes to you who has a need and you say, “Oh, I hope that you get your needs filled, I hope that you get warm, and that you get food,” that is useless, it does not do them a bit of good, does it? The implied answer is that it is no use at all. If we find a person in need and we just say that we hope their need gets filled, that does them no good. In order to actually do some good, and in order to prove that we really want them to be helped, we have to do something, don’t we? We have to help them.
Now in the same way, faith, if it has no works, is dead. True faith contains within it, works. True faith, that is, faith that really brings salvation, cannot be separated from works. They are not two different things, but rather, two sides of the same coin. Faith that does not issue forth in works, is no faith at all. It is false faith, or in St. James’ words, it is dead.
Just yesterday, I was listening to Come Receive The Light, the podcast, and guess who was on there? Father Lawrence Farley. And guess what he was talking about? The Epistle of St. James. He was talking about how in the Western church, for some reason, over time, faith and works became separated, and there was this dichotomy, and there were debates. There were some people who said, “You are saved by works.” And others said, “No, you are saved by faith alone.” And others said, “No, you are saved by a combination of faith and works.” But in the Eastern Church, that never happened. I think the phrase he used was, it bypassed us. We never had a controversy over faith and works. We didn’t have a bunch of people just sitting around thinking all the time and coming up with these crazy ideas.
Comment: Why would it have been separated? What was the genesis of that?
Father James: I think there was just too much philosophy injected into the Church… too much free time, yes. Our monks were praying, and…
Comment: The monks of the West were no longer simply monks, they became scholastics. For example, the Franciscans became [?], and so there was a definite separation between their spiritual life and their activity out in the world.
Father James: I have read that the crusades had a lot to do with this, because the West had lost touch with the Greek fathers, and not just the Greek fathers, but even the Greek philosophers, like Aristotle and Plato, but especially Aristotle, and when the Western kings and the priests and the soldiers went down to the Middle East, they rediscovered some of these documents, some of these manuscripts, and they brought them back and they started reading them for the first time, but they did not know Greek. Greek had pretty much died out almost completely in the West. Not many people could read Greek, and more significantly, you could learn the language, but they had lost the tradition of how to interpret, not just Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, but more importantly, they had lost touch with the early fathers, the Greek fathers. They had not been reading a whole lot of the Greek fathers, and so it was like they re-invented theology in a way. In particular, Thomas Aquinas injected Aristotelian thought into Christianity. If you read his Summa Theologica, and I have not read it myself, but people say it is Aristotle meets Christianity, basically. So that broken, and then renewed, contact with the Eastern fathers and the Greek writings, had a lot to do with it.
Comment: All those things that I have read that you just said, it was my understanding that there is also another element that when the Roman bishop decided to arbitrarily insert a change in the Nicene Creed, he introduced arbitrary rationalism. In other words, they began to use their own rational authority using the logic of rationalism to determine faith, and it is impossible to understand faith through rationalism.
Father James: That is a good point, yes. Certainly, what I said was just an example of one thing, it was not the only thing. Certainly, it had happened a long time ago, like you said. Yes, when a bunch of guys just sit around and they think, “You know, I really think we ought to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son,” if they are thinking, and coming to their own decision apart from the tradition, and they are making arbitrary changes to the faith that has been handed down, that sets a dangerous precedent. Exactly.
Comment: A philosopher that I read said that the Roman church introduced a new form of heresy that had never been seen before, and that was that they introduced the element of doubt about the central dogma of the church.
Father James: That is interesting, I had not thought about it that way.
Comment: I think to complete that too, is, calling it development of doctrine. We don’t have to worry about going back to what was taking place, we are moving forward, development of doctrine as we move along.
Comment: One thing that happened is that in the East the Church fathers never lost contact with the old Greek philosophers. If you read St. John Chrysostom, or St. Gregory Palamas, they talk about how they studied Plato and Aristotle until they were about 18, and then they quit, and came to the Church. They were totally familiar with and unintimidated by the Greek philosophers, so they took what they needed to take from it, and threw away the rest. But when Greek philosophy was lost in the West, except where Aristotle’s logic was, and a couple of small books of Plato, but most of it was lost, and more than anything else, they followed St. Augustine, who was a Platonist. He was their guide for just about everything they did in the West. Then in the 11th and 12th centuries they began to get the texts of the Greek philosophers, primarily through Spain, and then when Constantinople fell, they got much more when a lot of the Greeks went west to escape the Muslims. When the other texts began to show up, the church was embarrassed almost, because they felt an inferiority, because they could see how brilliant Aristotle and Plato were, and they didn’t know what to do with them, and there was a real struggle within the universities, especially the University of Paris, whether to allow Aristotle and Plato to be taught, or not to be taught. It was almost as if they pulled out their swords and started fighting, it was such a problem. St. Thomas, obviously, studied with St. Albert in Cologne, and learned his Aristotle from him, and then brought it in, and St. Thomas’ works were so clear, and so thoroughly rational, that nobody could argue against Aristotle. He tried to Christianize Aristotle. What he did not realize is, it dominated him completely, and there was no balance. But the balance had never been lost in the East.
Father James: Okay, so let’s continue on. St. James said that a person could rightly say, “You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” In other words, it is better to show faith with works than to attempt to show faith without works. How can you really prove that you have faith except by works? Father Farley says works are the only way in which saving faith can be shown to exist.
Let me give you a story to illustrate this, and probably most of you have heard this, it is kind of an old preacher’s illustration, you have probably used this, and I have used it before, but it works, so bear with me, and I will use it again. Back in 1859, around that time, there was a performer named the Great Blondin. He was a stunt performer, as they called them in the day, a daredevil. He was a tightrope walker, and he would perform amazing death-defying tightrope stunts. People would come far and wide to see the Great Blondin perform (he was French). They were amazed at his skill and courage. His stunts were dangerous enough to make the weak-hearted swoon and faint. For one particularly spectacular stunt, Blondin would try to cross the Niagra River on a tightrope. He yelled a question to the crowd. He said, “Do you believe that I, the Great Blondin, can successfully cross high above this river on a tightrope?” And the crowed yelled back, “Yes, yes, we believe, we believe!” Then he began his crossing, and to the thrill of the crowd, he made it safely—no net, of course. The crowd went wild, they clapped and they cheered and they yelled all the more. And then Blondin asked the people, “Do you believe that I, the Great Blondin, can successfully cross this river again, but this time pushing a wheelbarrow?” And they said, “Yes, we believe, we believe, we believe!” And he saw their enthusiasm, so then he yelled to the crowd, “Who among you will be the first to come ride inside of the wheelbarrow, and allow me to push you as I cross the tightrope?” The crowd went silent. Nobody raised a hand, there was not a word. All that could be heard was the sound of the wind blowing.
The Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church would agree with us, and pretty much all Christians before Martin Luther, have always believed that works are necessary for salvation. And if you are a Protestant listening to this on the internet, hang on, bear with me for just a minute. Works alone cannot save us. We cannot earn our way to heaven. We certainly never would deserve it. I think it was Pelagius who tended to argue that we could pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. And the Pharisees. Those are certainly some of the people James would have been arguing against. Works alone cannot save us, but neither can faith alone. I like to say it this way: We must have works, because we must have faith.
Let me give you another analogy that I made up, and this is really kind of cheesy and I hope you will forgive me if this seems too mundane or too earthy or whatever. But let’s take an American classic, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Imagine a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right now. I am going to rename it a Father James sandwich. I am renaming it in my honor. Suppose that the Bible said, in order to be saved you must eat a Father James sandwich every day—you must have one a day. I know that is totally stupid, but just work with me on this. In order to be saved you have to have a Father James sandwich once a day. Now, a Father James sandwich has three components, doesn’t it? The bread, the peanut better, and the jelly. So, do you have to have peanut butter to be saved? Yes. Do you have to have jelly to be saved? Yes. Do you have to have bread to be saved? Yes. You have to have those three things, because they are part of the sandwich.
And in the same way, the way I understand the scriptures, the way the Church understands the scriptures, is that true faith, saving faith, faith that brings salvation, has two components, at least. It has mental assent. In other words, to be saved we have to believe that God exists. We have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He rose from the dead. We have to believe the faith. But the second thing is, we have to act on that faith. We have to have mental assent and we have to have works that flow out of that mental assent, that prove that mental assent. Those are two different things. They are related, but they are two different things, and they work together to bring salvation. Does that seem like a decent analogy? Do you like that one? So, faith is like a sandwich that has at least two components in it and we have to have both of those. If we just have the mental assent, like a lot of people in the world, especially in America, “Oh, yeah, I believe in God, oh yeah.” “Well, when was the last time you were in church?” “Well, I don’t know, let me go look at my calendar, I can’t remember.” If we have just mental assent to the doctrine of the faith or just to the existence of God, that is not good enough. In fact St. James says right here in the epistle, “You believe that God is One…” And I said this before, but I will say it again, it is almost like he is saying, “Well, whoop-ti-do, aren’t you special?” He says, “Good, you do well.” I think he is being a little bit sarcastic. That’s great, but that’s not enough. Even the demons believe and they aren’t going to heaven. I don’t think so. Not good enough. But at the same time, to the person who says, “Well, I don’t have to believe in God, I just try to help my neighbor, I love my neighbor, I don’t hurt anybody, I do good things, I give money to the poor sometimes, and all that.” That is not good enough either, you have to have both. Again, faith and works are not separated, they should work together.
Comment: Playing devil’s advocate a second…
Father James: Good, do it, we can pretend you are the token Protestant in the room. (Laughter)
Comment: When Christ was being crucified, one of the thieves next to him said, “Why don’t you get down, you are the Son of God,” and in the end Christ said, “By the end of the day we will be in Paradise,” well, there wasn’t really works there.
Comment:There were works, he told the other one to shut up.
Father James: That’s true, he had one work.
Comment: He said, “Why do you say that? We’re both here because of what we did. This man is here for nothing.” That was his work.
Father James: Yes, I would say that that thief was the first Protestant. He was saved by faith alone.
Comment: There is the same problem with babies and children, they are too young to do any works. It doesn’t depend on their mental assent if they die when they are young.
Father James: God receives people to the extent that they are able to do what they have to do. There are exceptions to every rule. I had this discussion with a friend of mine who, strangely enough, used to be Roman Catholic and became an evangelical Protestant, and I was an evangelical Protestant and became Orthodox, and I was telling him we believe that baptism is necessary for salvation—not sufficient, that is not all— but we have to be baptized, it is the beginning of a process, you have to be baptized or there will be no salvation. And he said, “Oh, well what about the thief on the cross, he wasn’t baptized.” So, again, there have to be exceptions to every rule—economia—God is the great dispenser of economia. You could raise the question, what about somebody who has never heard the name of Jesus Christ? They are judged by the light that they are given. So that is a good devil’s advocacy, but again, you could argue he did have at least one work, but he had come to faith, and I think had he lived, he would have been a man of good works.
Comment: If you look at Enoch or Elijah, they were exceptions to the normal rule, too. There are exceptions throughout the whole Bible.
Father James: Yes, there are always exceptions. He didn’t have a chance to do much, but we are not in that situation. That is the thing, you cannot make a rule from an extreme case. You cannot make doctrine from this one little case like that. In our case, we need to have faith and works, because we are not about to die on a cross having lived a horrible life, next to Jesus, so what applied to him doesn’t necessarily apply to us.
Let us continue the next section now. Continuing the discussion, starting in verse 20 and going through 26, he says:
But you want to know, oh foolish men, that faith without works is dead. Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he offered Isaac, his son, on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works, faith was made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.’ You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab, the harlot, also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead, also.
Comment: Also, when you are talking about works, the examples there are obedience to God’s commandments. We are told to feed the sick and help those that need help. It is not like we just go out and do good works because we see something good to do, we are doing it because God also told us to do it.
Comment: I have a brother-in-law who is a very devout Baptist, and he is very active in the church, it is his life. And he has had this same argument. He says that it is just faith. And I sometimes wonder, what does he mean when he says that works do not mean anything? Do they have a different idea of what we are calling works? The guy that devotes his life to working in the church, but doesn’t give it any credibility as far as salvation goes.
Comment: Coming from that background, I think some of it is, if you say it is faith and works, both, you are saying that you are actively taking a part in your salvation, and what your brother-in-law is saying is, without the faith, without the blessing of God, it doesn’t matter what you do. I think sometimes when you say faith and works, they don’t want to hear that, because it is taking away from how strong their faith is.
Father James: And others would say—I have heard this argument used back in my evangelical Baptist days—if you say that any kind of works are necessary for salvation, then that means that what Christ did on the cross was not good enough.
Comment: It negates what Christ did on the cross.
Father James: No, it doesn’t. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t. What Christ did for us was the beginning of our salvation. I think it comes down to a difference in understanding of salvation. For an evangelical Protestant, and for a lot of other Protestants, justification and salvation are not exactly the same thing, and we need to have another whole discussion on that, I am going to table that discussion for now, I need to do a little more study, but justification means being made right with God, and in the Protestant mindset, when you make a faith commitment, when you make a one-time faith commitment to Jesus Christ, you are justified at that point, and you are saved, and that is it. Your eternal destiny is settled at that point. For us, salvation is more of a process, for the Orthodox Church, it is a race. The Eastern Church, from the beginning, has never said that it is a one-time deal. I hate to use a crass analogy, but, like joining a club. Let’s say I join Kiwanis Club. If I pay the money, I’m in. Of course, that analogy breaks down, because you have to pay next year too, don’t you? (Laughter) But the point is, for us, it is not a one-time deal. Christ’s death on the cross made it possible for us, but it didn’t do everything for us. We have to follow through. We have a responsibility, as well. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and they would understand that verse quite differently from us.
Comment: To me it seems like, saved by grace, that is the gift that gives us the change, that it is the admission being paid to get us in the door, but still, we have to do something once we are in the door. We cannot be saved without that grace, but that doesn’t mean that grace is all that is required.
Father James: Right, and here is a difference in the understanding of grace, as well.
Comment I think this is one of the things that led me to Orthodoxy, because when I wasn’t particularly religious, the part of the Bible I kept coming back to, if I just opened it, it seems like I would always come to James. And James made sense to me, when what I was hearing didn’t make sense, because he was saying, you have to live the life, it doesn’t just happen because you have an emotional experience. A lot of people don’t want to hear that, but somehow it made sense to me. I’m not saying it’s right because it made sense to me, I’m just saying that’s just me.
Father James St. James turns to his adversary, and he addresses him directly in verse 20. He calls him a foolish man. He is goading him on, he is not just trying to insult him and say, hey you’re stupid; he is not doing that. He is trying to goad him on, or spur him on to repentance and action. The Greek word for foolish literally means “empty”—you empty man. In St. James’ thinking, anyone who thinks that true faith does not include works is empty-headed. Note also that the word translated by the New King James as dead, literally means idle. Father Farley translates it that way: Faith without works is idle. He points out a play on words in the Greek. Faith without works. works is erga, and idle is arga, which literally means without work. So faith without works is without works. It may seem like a tautology, like a rose is a rose, or it ain’t over till its over. But that is not really what is going on here. It’s St. James’ humorous way of saying that workless faith, faith without works, is completely useless.
Now, he is writing to Jewish Christians, so he is going to use a couple of illustrations. Like every good preacher, he uses illustrations to make a point. He is going to talk about Abraham. He is writing to Jewish Christians, and who is the big hero to Jews? Abraham. He is the founder of the race. Abraham and Moses would be the big two. In Genesis we read in Chapter 15, verse 6, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” St. Paul, 15 years later or so, would write to the church in Rome, and he would quote this same verse, and he would site this passage to argue that it was Abraham’s faith, not his following of the law—that is a very important distinction—St. Paul argues that it is not by “the law” that we are saved. St. Paul never says that it is not by any works. There are a couple of places where he says “not by works” but most of time he is talking about the Mosaic law. His point was that Abraham was called “the friend of God.” He was saved, if you will, even though he didn’t have the law. But St. Paul also has other passages where he does mention how people who do these works will be saved. So St. Paul is not quite as “faith alone” as a lot of people would make him out to be.
St. Paul did not mean that faith alone, mental assent, brought justification to Abraham, because he talks about how Abraham lived out, he obeyed God, he didn’t just say, “Oh yeah, I believe in You, God,” but when he was put to the test and offered his son, Isaac, then that is another time when God said, you are justified. The justification is an ongoing thing. Justification is not a one-time deal, in our thinking, at least.
In verse 21, James clearly says that Abraham was justified by works. Again, not works of “the” law, the Jewish law, the Mosaic law, and not works without faith, but he was still justified by his works that were a result of his faith when he offered Isaac on the altar. This is what Father Farley says about this, I thought this was really great: “It was not enough that Abraham had faith that God existed. That faith was perfected and became real in his life only when he obeyed God and offered up Isaac, his son, on the altar. It was only when faith was co-working with works that the scripture was fulfilled, when it says Abraham had faith in God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.” Now listen to this: “If Abraham had refused to offer up Isaac, and had not done that work, he would not have enjoyed the righteousness and blessing of being the friend and colleague of God.” That is what Father Farley says, and I agree with him. He had to obey God, he had to have a work there. He had to have not just faith, but faith completed by works.
Now look at verse 24. Verse 24, and I never tire of pointing this out, is the only verse in the entire Bible that says, faith alone, or faith only. And of course, it does not say, you are saved by faith alone, it says, “A man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (or faith only).” Nowhere do the scriptures say that we are justified or saved by faith alone. We are saved by faith, but again, it is that sandwich. It is the sandwich that includes two things in it, one of which is works. Salvation is by faith. We cannot work our way to eternal life, nor can we earn or deserve it. Works without faith do not produce salvation, but neither does faith without works. As we have already seen, such faith is dead. It is not real faith. The faith that saves is, as St. James phrases it in verse 22, “faith working together with works.”
And then he gives another example. St. James cites a non-Jewish person, a person that the average Jew would not have said would be saved: Rahab. Not to mention that her way of making a living was not exactly something that was considered righteous. It wasn’t. But we read about Rahab in the book of Joshua, and this is the point: As Father Farley explains, “Rahab came to believe in the Jewish God who was giving Israel victory over the people of Canaan. But simply believing in the Jewish God was not enough. Rather, she had to express her new faith and her new loyalty in the concrete act of hiding the spies from their pursuers, and sending them home safely. It was only thus that she saved herself and her family and won a place among the chosen people after the fall of Jericho.” Her new faith in the Jewish God was thus realized through her work of hiding the Jewish spies. Next Sunday is going to be the Sunday of the holy ancestors of Christ where the deacon gets to read Matthew 1-14, all those names, all the way from Abraham down to Joseph. And Rahab is mentioned in that list. Rahab became part of the ancestry of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh. That is pretty cool, I think. A gentile, a harlot, but she got saved because of her faith and her works.
St. James concludes this section of the epistle with a great analogy from the physical world. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead, also. Works are the soul of faith. They are what makes it alive and true. So, in summary, saving faith has two elements: It’s got peanut butter and jelly. (Laughter). I have one daughter than doesn’t like jelly, and she will have only peanut butter sandwiches, and another one doesn’t like peanut butter, she will have a jelly sandwich, but not a peanut butter and jelly, but we have to have both: An intellectual assent to the truths of Christianity, and works of obedience to those truths. If either of these elements is missing, faith is useless.
Now let me touch on something before we go into a little discussion. When I was a Baptist, I did not know how to interpret this verse 24: Man is saved by works and not by faith alone, so I just ignored it. I didn’t underline that in my Bible. I didn’t highlight it. I didn’t preach on this one. I didn’t do a series on that part of James. Here’s the deal. This is my personal opinion. This is not canon law or Orthodox dogma or anything, but I think evangelical Protestants, in their belief on faith and works, are closer to us than they want to admit, because they believe, and I believed before, that yes, you do need good works, but I would have said, not to be saved, because I would have said that good works are a way of showing our faith. They are a way of saying thank you to God for already saving me. We would say, we are not already saved, we are in the process of being saved. We would say, I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.
Really, salvation, when you get right down to it, is more of a future thing than anything else, for us. And this is what got me thinking more about this and I couldn’t just ignore it anymore. Some of you came from a Protestant background and you have been involved in evangelism, you lead somebody to faith. I would go out and I would share the gospel, and I would get someone to pray the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that I am a sinner, and that You are my savior, and I accept You into my heart today.” And I would tell them, if you really meant that, then you are saved, you are going to heaven. And everybody would say, “Yay!” And we would get all excited and jump up and down. But so many times, though, I would see that enthusiasm cool off. I would go back to see them later and it would be like, well, have you been to church? No. Have you read the Bible? No. Do you want to continue these discussions? No. I got my ticket, I don’t need to. And so, what I would say at that time was, they weren’t really saved. They didn’t really mean it. And if somebody were to ask me, well how do you know? When you are a Southern Baptist or any other evangelical, you know if you are saved. Johnny Cash used to have this song, “I was there when it happened, and I guess I oughta know.” Even Johnny Cash was singing back in the 50’s about how he knew he was saved. His life was rather interesting, but I like to think he got it together in the end. But I would have said, how do I know that person wasn’t saved? Because they are not reading their Bible, they are not going to church, they are not interested in things like that, there is no change in their life.
So the devil’s advocate could have said, because there are no works? Yes, there are no works giving evidence of his faith. So no works means they weren’t really saved, right? Yeah, so no works mean no salvation? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Uh-uh. And I honestly think that in a lot of cases we see commitment to a slogan, or commitment to an idea. In other words, I was more committed to the idea that salvation is by faith alone than I was committed to really considering the message of the Bible openly. What happens is, and this happens in all the traditions—the Baptist tradition, the Methodist tradition—when they were founded, certain parts of scripture were pulled out, if you will, and emphasized. In other words, in the evangelical tradition, they like the verse, “It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourself, not by works, so that no man can boast.” I personally think when Paul says works, he is talking about the works of Jewish law. Maybe not, I don’t know, but the point is, they pull out the verses that they have been taught are the verses that really spell out what Christianity is. Remember Luther, “By faith we are saved.” He liked that verse, he didn’t like this one in James, and he wanted to throw out the book of James. Nobody else would do that, they don’t throw it out, they just re-interpret it.
So, what happens is, we build what I call an interpretive grid. We say, “What are the key elements of faith? What does the Bible really teach? Well, it teaches this verse, and this verse, and this verse. These best summarize Christianity.” That is your faith, and then you go back and you read the Bible, and anything that doesn’t fit in there, you have to make it fit. You have to re-interpret it. I have read a lot of Protestant commentaries on this that say he is using the word justify differently, or he is using the word faith differently, not the way Paul does.
I think that deep down, most Christians, whatever their faith is, whatever their tradition is, believe that with no works there is no salvation, but they don’t want to admit it.
Comment: I think there is also a tendency to separate Protestantism from Catholicism, so when they think of works they think of Catholicism. They think of pain for purgatory, and all the instances where money was involved for the remission of sins, and so all that is connected to works.
Father James: Yes, there was a lot of crazy stuff, as we all know, going on in the medieval Catholic church and Luther was right to disagree with a lot of what was being taught, but he threw out the baby with the bath water.
Comment: Going back to your original point, which is that the Protestant principle never erupted in Orthodoxy, the Protestant principle never came into existence, not any of it. And actually, as a matter of fact, from my understanding, the Protestant principle originates with arbitrary rationalism that the Roman bishop introduced when he changed the Nicene Creed, which went directly against the traditions of the faith, and broke the ecumenical principle of the faith, and therefore the Western world went off into a totally different direction. That is, they committed the sin of rationalism.
Father James: Right. The precedent was set for saying, well I disagree with this, so I am going to change this, and why can’t the next guy change it, too?
Comment: Therefore they set up the principle that the dogma of the Church, the Traditions of the Church, with a capital T, no longer are in effect. We will establish our own dogma, and therefore their Protestant brethren are just a fruition of their own belief system. They rebelled against the ecumenical principle of the Orthodox faith, the one, true faith, and therefore their Protestant brethren are no more than fulfilling their principle.
Father James: Yes, taking it to its logical extreme.
Comment: Something said earlier struck a cord with me, when we were talking about grace versus faith. I think that those two things become entwined in the Protestant idea of salvation. It seems to me that our Lord said that no one is good but God, so no works are good. So faith requires works, requires grace. We can’t do anything without the grace of God, that is good.
Father James: Father Farley points out that faith and works are our response to God’s grace. God always initiates salvation, in the world, and in our own lives. Good point.
Comment: In Protestantism it is always referred to as a gift, so you receive it as a gift, there is nothing that you can work to receive the gift, it is a gift. So you just take the gift, and once you have the gift, you are not going to give it back.
Comment: But oddly enough, you can’t give the gift to babies.
Father James: Yeah, they might mess up the wrapping paper or something. (laughter) It’s probably time to wrap this up. If you are interested, Father Farley has a good excursis, a side discussion, on the alleged contradiction between James and Paul. Some have alleged that the two didn’t agree and some have even gone as far as to say that they started two different branches of Christianity, which is total hogwash, because if you read the book of Acts, and even Paul’s own writings, Galatians says they shook hands and they agreed and they were together, they were of one mind.
This is the analogy Father Farley used on the interview he gave yesterday: It was two separate phone conversations, they were on two different telephone lines. St. James was writing to one group of people—Jewish people who had a tendency toward intellectual belief only, whereas St. Paul was writing much later, wasn’t he? He was writing to gentiles who were responding to the Judaizers. Remember? Some Jewish Christians wanted to go out and make everybody Jews, and then Christians. So it is two different contexts, two different time periods—they were separated by 15-20 years—two different audiences, two different groups of people, two different problems that they were dealing, with, that is what we have to keep in mind. So read that if you get time, if you have Father Farley’s commentary on James and the other catholic epistles. Be sure and read that and we can talk about it more next time. We will go on to Chapter 3 next time.