Understanding James

Q. My question concerns the letter to the church by James, especially James 2:14-2:26. This sounds to me like a works based salvation and not only faith based. It seems to me the letters to the Jewish Christians puts forward a work based salvation and the letters by Paul a faith based salvation. Is not the letters written to the Jewish Christians written to those that will be in the great tribulation? If you look at the salutation it does not mention the church but the tribes of Israel.

A. Your confusion demonstrates the danger of trying to combine grace and works into a formula for salvation. One would never be sure of doing enough and instead of having an assurance of salvation would live in constant fear of falling short, and not knowing until it’s too late.

But that’s not the point of the James letter. It’s to demonstrate that true faith will result in a need to express the love of the Lord to others through what we call good works. These good works are the evidence of our faith. They won’t substitute for a lack of faith, but instead provide us with assurance that our faith is real.

Best of all, it’s not a matter of how much we do. It’s only a matter of acting when the Lord prompts us. He will never ask for more than we can accomplish, and when He prompts us to act He’ll always provide the means to do so. These times become the source of great joy as we realize He has chosen us to partner with Him in expressing His love to someone in need.

So salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Works are evidence of faith and give us assurance of our salvation. The proof of this can be found in John 6:28-29. When the people asked Jesus what work God requires of us, He replied, “The work of God is this. Believe in the one He has sent.”

The idea that parts of the New Testament are written for Jews and other parts for Gentiles cannot be supported by Scripture. The fact that James addressed his letter to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations simply tells us that when he wrote it (most likely some time before 50 AD) the Church was predominantly Jewish.

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