Romans Lesson 49 - The Gospel War: Paul vs. James
Ever since the Protestant Reformation, Justification by faith has been a hot topic. If we are saved by faith in Christ alone, what role does good works play in salvation? Paul said that salvation is by faith alone, but James said it is by faith plus works. So who is right? In this message Stephen shows us how they both are.
The Gospel War: Paul vs. James
I believe we’re living in an exciting time- a period in church history when the debate over the nature and definition of salvation is once again in the forefront. We’re hearing the rumblings again of 16th century eruption – we’re hearing the cry, “Sola scriptura” as the primary axiom around which every other issue and debate revolves.
Nearly every other day, there is something in the newspapers or magazines about the Catholic – Protestant debate over church issues and doctrine.
Just read this past weeks N & O article on the accord that was struck between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Roman Catholic church and they declared the issues of the reformation are no longer dividing issues today.
I received my current issue of Newsweek magazine –
The cover reads The Meaning of Mary; A Struggle over her role Grows within the church.
There is an incredible surge going on within the catholic community to have the dogma made. More than 100,000 signatures are arriving every month in Rome from people around the world who want to see Mary take the next step in a progression of promotions that began in 431 when she was given the title Mother of God to 1854 when she was declared sinless to 1950 when she was declared to have been taken up bodily into heaven instead of dying. Now, the movement is gaining ground to have her formally declared Co-Redeemer.
The article explained how the current pope is quite convinced that Mary is the co-redeemer of humanity (he’s said so at least 5 times), in fact, I’ve given you his recent quote, dated April 1997 – where he says, “Having created man “male and female,’ the Lord also wants to place the New Eve beside the New Adam (the new Adam being Christ) in the Redemption. .Mary, the New Eve, thus becomes a perfect icon of the church . . . we can therefore turn to the Blessed Virgin, trustfully imploring her aid in the singular role entrusted to her by God, the role of co-operator in the Redemption.
What I found interesting is that Newsweek, a secular magazine had the insight to simply state, “This view seems to contradict the basic New Testament belief that “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5).”
That, ladies and Gentlemen is the core of the issue – again . . . just as we asked yesterday, “What do the scriptures say?”
It is the singular point which could settle the debate - what is so exciting to me is that for the first time in years, the dividing line between truth and error will be the cry of the reformation – sola scriptura - the scriptures alone teach what is sufficient for faith and practice.
The collision that occurred in the 1500’s specifically revolved around the definition of justification by faith. More specifically, how justification related to the sacrament of penance.
This sacrament was defined by the Roman Church as the second pillar of justification. The first pillar was infant baptism.
If a person sinned after his baptism, and he certainly would, there needed to be a restorative penance. The Roman church believed, and still believes, that the really bad sins kill justifying grace. Something must be done by the sinner to restore grace, or the soul of the sinner is in peril.
All the sacraments of the Roman church were designed, in one way or another, to continually justify the sinner in the eyes of God.
They held that salvation was not a one time transaction whereby God the Father attributed the righteousness of Christ to the sinner; no, the church maintained that justification is a process over a lifetime, with the hope that if you do everything you’re supposed to do, in the end, your time in purgatory will be limited and your soul will eventually go to heaven.
And one of the good things you should do revolves around the doctrine of penance.
The sacrament of penance included the issue of indulgences.
An indulgence involved some good deed, a prayer, a gift, a visit to some holy site, some act of sacrifice. By doing any or all of the above, God is, to some small degree, satisfied and another measure of grace is bestowed on the penitent.
It was this issue that added immeasurably to the corruption within the church. The church developed an entire system of indulgences where, in crass terms, sins could be atoned for, with good deeds, including monetary gifts.
Many of the great cathedrals in Europe were financed by the sale of indulgences. People were told, here’s how you get forgiveness, here’s how you satisfy God, here’s what you do to get a little more grace on your journey to heaven . . . and people, of course, bought them.
For instance, in the year 1300, the Pope issued a Jubilee Indulgence to all who visited the tombs of the Apostles on 15 successive days. Of course, you had to have a ticket to see the tomb.
If you were reading your newspaper, you learned that the current Pope declared the year 2000 a Jubilee Year and offered indulgences to all the faithful who received mass in one of the several cathedrals throughout Europe. Their observance of mass in these designated places, he promised, would reduce the majority of their future stay in purgatory.
News and Observer, January 19, 2000
By the 1500’s, indulgences were bringing in so much money that the church called it a “holy business” and engaged a banking establishment in Germany to handle the money.
St. Peter’s in Rome was built on the back of the sale of forgiveness.
That’s not all. Linked to the issue of indulgences was the matter of relics.
The cathedrals of Germany had on display thousands of relics – ranging from a twig from Moses’ burning bush to a tear that Jesus shed when he wept over Jerusalem. I was in Europe a few years ago and watched as people paid to see a relic that had recently been put on display – a thousand year old bony hand of a cardinal or bishop, I can’t remember; it was wrapped in satin, wearing jeweled rings. The person who paid the dollar to see it – yes, I obviously paid the dollar to see it, not to get grace, but to see what a relic looked like – it made my stomach sick for the rest of the day – supposedly, the person who saw that relic received a blessing from God, which translated ultimately into saving grace.
In the early 1500’s, so many pilgrims were flocking to one particular city in Germany to see sacred relics, pray the proper prayers and make the proper offerings for the sake of earning indulgences that the University in that city was completely endowed. It was the University of Wittenberg.
One of the promises the pilgrims had been given by the Roman church was, if they came to this city and prayed the prayers and made the offerings, they could cancel out nearly 2 million years in purgatory. Which only leads me to wonder how long a person has to languish in purgatory before he eventually atones for his sins and is allowed into heaven.
But since it was also taught that indulgences would be earned for the sake of loved ones who had already died, you can only imagine the fervency of the people. Like the fervency of modern day Mormons who spend hours being baptized on behalf of their dead relatives. Their belief in atoning for deceased relatives who weren’t Mormons has sparked an huge genealogical operation. Their genealogical system is unrivaled in the world. Why was it created? So the Mormon can track his family tree back as far as possible and then be baptized for each of his forefathers, sanctifying them so they can go to heaven.
The German city of Wittenberg was already overflowing with devoted followers of the churches belief that justification could be bought.
In the Spring of 1517 a church leader arrived in this city with the Pope’s banner flying. His name was Johann Tetzel and he had come to raise money for the building program of St. Peter’s in Rome.
The words to one of his sermons has been preserved: He preached, and I quote, “You should know, whoever has confessed and is contrite and puts alms [money] into the box, will have his sins forgiven . . . so why are you standing about idly? Run, all of you, for the salvation of your souls . . . do you not hear the voices of your dead parents and other people, screaming and saying; “Have pity on me, have pity on me . . . we are suffering severe punishment and pain, from which you could rescue us. . .” end quote.
Pilgrims rushed forward and earned their indulgences, and St. Peter’s was completed.
Johann Tetzel’s sermon, that spring, was the last straw in the heart of a monk who was teaching New Testament in the University. He had some time earlier converted to a belief in Christ through faith alone by studying the Book of Romans. That professor’s name was Martin Luther.
In October of that same year, Martin Luther posted 95 statements, or theses, on the door of the church in Wittenberg. He wrote them in Latin, intending to begin a theological discussion with the faculty and church leadership in Wittenberg on the sale of grace and forgiveness.
But in one of the great ironies of history, which we can now see as the Providence of God, there was the new development of something called a printing press. That changed everything. Against Luther’s own original desires, his theses were translated into German, printed in masse and within two weeks, historians say, the entire German nation had read them.
Introductory comments adapted from R.C.Sproul’s book, Faith Alone (Baker Books) 1995; p. 57
Like a spark of fire to dry wood – Martin Luther’s 95 challenges started a firestorm of controversy.
Controversy that ultimately saw him condemned by the Roman church and his writings considered heresy.
The collision occurred . . . a movement began to gain new momentum, brought about by those who protested indulgences and believed the Bible clearly taught justification by faith alone. A movement that, in fact, got it’s name from Rome because of their protesting . . . they were called Protestants.
A French attorney converted to the truth of this movement which was now considered a Reformation. He eventually formalized Protestant doctrine in his Institutes, derived directly from the authority of scripture; his name was John Calvin.
John Calvin wrote, “Let it therefore remain settled that we are justified in no other way than by faith . . . or, [to say it another way], we are justified by faith alone.
Ibid, p. 173
What I find absolutely amazing, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that the doctrine of justification is as controversial today as it was 500 years ago.
And why not?! As early as the first century church in Galatia, the primary problem was the distortion of the gospel. Paul warned them by saying to them in chapter 1:6, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
In other words, they don’t want to create an entirely new gospel – that’ll never fly – so instead of creating a new gospel, let’s just twist the one we’ve got to our advantage and to our liking . . . let’s not get rid of Jesus, let’s just redo His image . . . let’s create a system where man depends on the church for salvation and add to that the fact that man has to be good in order to get into heaven. That will keep everybody “civil” and, at the same time, stroke the nature of man which really doesn’t want to admit he’s helpless to do anything to save himself, thus allowing him to “help God” get him up to heaven.
Paul says further in verse 9. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
So the question is, what gospel did the Galatian believers receive that is never to be changed, or diluted or distorted or compromised or hedged or weakened? What gospel did the Apostles’ preach?!
Turn to Romans 3 and listen again to Paul’s description of salvation – justification by faith. In verse 27 and 28, Paul begins to summarize everything he’s been saying in this paragraph on justification by faith. Notice verse 28. [Therefore] . . . some manuscripts include that word, “Therefore [or, “in summary”] we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
That’s why he could say in the previous verse, v. 27. “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”
The word law could be translated “rule or principle. . . “by the principle of faith.”
Martin Luther wrote, “All who are justified are justified for nothing, and this is credited to no one but to the grace of God.” Ibid, p. 133
So where does the Roman Catholic theologian who opposes this definition of faith apart from works find their support in scripture?
They find their support in a verse of scripture that seems to totally contradict what the Apostle Paul has just said. A verse of scripture written by the Apostle James that has caused more confusion than perhaps any other, in relation to this issue of justification by faith.
1) Side by side the verses say this. Paul writes in Romans 3:28, For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works.
James writes, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith.”
Paul states, “justified by faith” . . . James states, “justified by works.”
Who’s right? They both are!
The answer lies in an understanding of the different approaches these two men were taking to the same subject.
Two different purposes of the author; two different contexts; two different objectives of the author and two different emphases that God intended to communicate through them.
James is actually talking in chapter 2 about three kinds of faith. Two are false and only one is alive. (why don’t you turn there)
In James chapter 2:14 he writes, “What use is it,[underline that!] my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him? 15. If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16. 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? 17. Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
2- So the first kind of faith that James refers to is “dead faith”
And dead faith is faith without works.
This is the person who says, “Yea, I’m going to heaven because I have faith in God.” But the truth of the matter is, they have nothing to do with God. They say they have faith in Christ, but Christ has nothing to do with their life. Christ is not in their thoughts; Christ has nothing to do with their finances; Christ has nothing to do with their crass vocabulary or their sensual dress; Christ has nothing to do with their plans or their careers; Christ has nothing to do with their reading material or their schedules; Christ is given token attention on Sunday for an hour or more, but that’s as far as their faith goes.
James says, “That person’s faith is dead. . .it doesn’t exist. . .it’s barren.”
3- The second type of faith James refers to is demonic faith.
James writes in verse 19. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons believe, and shudder.”
Dead faith is faith without any outward evidence of holy living; you could say that it’s words without action.
Demonic faith is words without worship.
But make no mistake, the demons believe.
Have you ever thought about the fact that there is no such thing as an atheistic demon. An agnostic demon: They believe in the existence of God.
They believe in the existence of the Son and Spirit of God.
They don’t doubt that there is only one true and living God.
They don’t doubt the creation of the world – they were there when it happened.
They don’t question the authenticity of scripture – they’ve seen it stand up to scrutiny by
generation after generation.
They don’t sit around and debate the historical truth of the resurrection of Christ – they saw it happen.
Why will a demon never go to heaven, even though he believes everything you believe? They can say all the words, but they do not worship God.
They will not bend their heart to the reign of Christ – they will never worship God.
So James describes dead faith, demonic faith and now, the third kind of faith that is the only genuine faith there is.
4- Dynamic faith.
Dead faith is faith without works;
Demonic faith is words without worship.
Dynamic faith is faith that works and worships!
You see, James has a different perspective on the subject of justification than the Apostle Paul. James and Paul actually end up complimenting one another, not contradicting one another.
But you’ll miss it if you don’t understand the differences in what Paul and James are attempting to communicate.
Let me point out a number of differences between Paul and James that actually compliment each other’s message.
5- First of all, they have different objectives:
Paul is defining justification; the objective of Paul is to define salvation or justification – and the definition of justification is faith alone. (he’s writing theologically.
6- James is illustrating justification. And justification is illustrated, not
by faith plus works, but by faith that works. He’s writing practically – “what use is it . . . what use is it?” James wants to illustrate authentic faith with life.
Let me illustrate James illustration.
Marsha and I brought home from the hospital at some point in our marriage, four little babies. When I was in seminary, we had decided to not try and have children until after we finished school. However, in my last semester in seminary, God revealed his sense of humor by giving us two of them at the same time. Both of them were delivered at Baylor hospital in Dallas. I remember after the first one was born, he began to cry immediately. Loudly. Two minutes later the second one was delivered – and after a good smack, he cried out as well. I remember we all breathed a sigh of relief. You see, he had been higher up in the womb and his heart rate had gone down during each contraction. So when he was delivered and then cried out, we knew his heart was beating. It as the only time his crying was a wonderful thing!
His cry did not give him life. It simply revealed he was alive.
His piercing cry did not produce life, it proved life.
So also, James is illustrating the fact that good works do not produce life, they prove life exists.
So we could say it this way:
- Faith in Christ produces life . . . work for Christ proves life.
8- You also need to notice that Paul and James have different emphases.
Paul is emphasizing the foundation for salvation – which is justification by faith alone.
9- James is emphasizing the fruit after salvation – which is works and not
In other words, faith without fruit isn’t genuine faith at all. True faith is revealed in fruit.
The person that says they are a Christian and evidences no fruit is self-deceived.
It isn’t enough to simply say, I have faith!
10- There is also a different audience in mind.
Paul is talking about being justified in the eyes of God.
James is talking about being justified in the eyes of man.
You are justified in the eyes of God by faith alone.
You are justified in the eyes of man by works alone.
That’s James point in verse 24. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
In other words, people can’t see your faith. They can only see your works. So faith alone does not justify you before eyes of man.
Works reveal to people that your faith exists!
12- You see, Paul and James are actually after different results: Paul
wants us to be able to defend our faith,
13- and James is challenging the believer to demonstrate his faith.
True saving faith is independent of good works. However, true saving faith works.
In other words, James is startling his readers with the truth that a profession of faith is meaningless without the practice of faith.
In fact, James is actually saying that those who profess faith and do not practice faith, do not possess faith that is alive and genuine.
14- John Calvin wrote in the early 1500’s, “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies is never alone!”
You want to be justified before God? It is faith in Christ alone. You want to be justified before mankind – do you want to be real – do you want the world to know your faith is authentic? Then live for Christ!
“Let the world, Jesus said, see your good works that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven!” (Matthew 5:16)
Whatever you do, don’t pit Paul and James against each other. They’re on the same side! Put them together and you’ll get a full and rich understanding.
The Gospel war is only a war when you miss the differences between Paul and James in their objective, their audience, their emphases and their intended result.
15- Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas wrote nearly 100 years ago, “Paul and James are not soldiers of different armies fighting against each other, but soldiers of the same army fighting back to back against enemies coming from opposite directions.”
Paul is fighting against the enemy called faith plus works.
James is fighting against the enemy called faith that doesn’t work.
Either enemy is deadly – either enemy is fruitless . . . either enemy is deceptive . . . either enemy is another gospel.
The truth is, justification is by faith without works, yet those who are justified by faith, work.
They find their greatest fulfillment in serving and glorifying and pleasing their great God and Savior, their Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
The one who doesn’t care to do that, doesn’t have faith. For the one who has true saving faith, has as his highest ambition, as Paul wrote, to be pleasing to God.
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