In order to avoid the implications of what this verse is saying – that we are not justified by faith alone – people suggest that we are justified by our works before PEOPLE, whereas we are justified by our faith (alone) before GOD. But does understanding hold up to scrutiny? Let’s see what James 2 is saying about Abraham:
James 2:21Was not Abraham our father justified by WORKS, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24Ye see then how that BY WORKS a man is justified, and NOT by faith only. 25Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD ALSO.
Here is the incident where Abraham offered up his son Isaac:
Genesis 22:3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.5 And Abraham said unto his young men, ABIDE YE HERE WITH THE ASS; and I AND THE LAD WILL GO YONDER and worship, and come again to you.9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.—11 And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy“, he said. “Do not do anything to him. NOW I KNOW that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”—18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; BECAUSE thou hast obeyed my voice.19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.
If James 2:21-24 is supposed to show that christians are justified by works before people, then James couldn’t have chosen a worse example since there were NO people around to see Abraham nearly sacrificing his son which James described as “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” Abraham was alone when he offered up his son, and not even his servants were around to see it (which is also confirmed by the secular history as per The Book of Jasher). We can read that God says “Now I know” when he beheld Abraham offering his son. Clearly Abraham’s famous work which labelled him “righteous” (the most famous example) was before GOD and not before people. We can get this established also here:
Romans 2:13 For not the hearers of the law are just BEFORE GOD, but the doers of the law shall be justified
The passage earlier in James 2 says this:
James 2:14What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
The context is about WORKS (and not about the constitution of God or angels). James compares faith without works with the faith that demons have, and even though he confirms that demons also have faith they don’t have the right fruit to go with it. Faith without works is dead, and works without faith is dead as well. We can’t merit salvation with our works, but works is still a condition for salvation and therefore needed. If we don’t show good fruit, Jesus promises we will be cut off the vine so it’s something very essential for our salvation. We know that sinning doesn’t mean reduced rewards in heaven, but our SOULS are at stake:
Rom 6:21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in DEATH!
Romans 6:16: Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin UNTO DEATH, or obedience unto righteousness.
1 Pet 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your SOUL.
Romans 8: 6For to be carnally minded is DEATH; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. —13For if ye live after the flesh, YE SHALL DIE: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, YE SHALL LIVE.
John 3:36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son WILL NOT SEE LIFE, but the wrath of God abides on him.
Mark 9:47.And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into HELL
Matt. 7:21 Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven.
1 Peter 4:18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and sinner?
1 Cor. 9.“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived…”
Matt. 16:24 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up theircross and follow me.
Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn’t promise us that we can serve two masters and still be saved
The oft mentioned verses in Eph. 2:8-9 doesn’t speak against the above. We are either saved by the law OR by grace through faith (one or the other), and we know it could not be the former since that option requires 100% obedience at all times which we have not achieved. Thankfully God offers the gift of salvation by faith, but this doesn’t mean that obeying the MORAL law (the ten commandments) is from now on just “optional” to obey, albeit “good” if we manage to obey them. No, we are supposed to have these laws in our hearts and we are not under the law IF we live by the spirit. The ten commandments are just as important to obey today as they have always been (ever since the time of Adam) since iniquities continue to separate us from God. We are free from ceremonial laws but certainly not from the ten commandments. Being cleansed in the blood of Jesus doesn’t mean that we are still saved if we continue to get filthy in the future. See also how Paul on one hand says we are NOT under the law, but on the other hand lists numerous examples of sins which separate us from God.
Gal.5:18 BUT IF YE BE LED OF THE SPIRIT, YE ARE NOT UNDER THE LAW. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
Rom.3:30Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, We ESTABLISH THE LAW.
Justified by the works of the law?
God cannot lie so he cannot justify the wicked (Ex. 23:7; Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Nah. 1:3). While the law condemns the guilty, God has the authority to forgive and pardon the sinner. Justification by grace is when those who are guilty and deserve punishment are pardoned and forgiven. Justification by works of the law is merited and deserved, while justification by grace is unmerited and undeserved. Jesus used the word justification synonymous with forgiveness (Lk. 18:10-14). God will not set aside the penalty of a sinner who still plans on sinning. God says that it is an “abomination” to “justifieth the wicked”. (Prov. 17:15). God said “I will not justify the wicked” (Ex. 23:7). God is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11). We must give up our wickedness if we want to escape the anger of God and the punishment of hell. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7). Those who are described as being “justified” in the Scriptures are also described as being “sanctified” and “washed” (1 Cor. 6:11). Those who will inherit the kingdom of God are “them which are sanctified”. (Acts 20:32) When a sinner repents he actually becomes a holy saint. Without this repentance or moral transformation, there is no forgiveness or eternal life.
Jesus righteousness is not imputed into us
Are we cleansed in the blood of Christ upon repentance (resulting in our purification), or do we cover up our filth with an injection of the righteous blood of Jesus? If we need to get Jesus righteous blood into our veins, then we are saved by WORKS – namely the works that Jesus did for us when he obeyed the law perfectly. Those who repent and believe are justified by God’s grace through the atonement. Our new clean status will last as long as we keep ourselves clean, because God will not pretend that we are righteous when we in reality mix holy living with unholy living.
We do not earn our salvation by anything we do or believe since we have sinned.Justification by works of the law is when you are pronounced innocent because your record is perfect in the sight of the law. Justification by grace is when you are pronounced forgiven even though you have been guilty of sin in your life. Christ died for us but He did not obey for us. We are imputed righteous through Christ, but we do not receive the imputed righteousness of Christ. Biblical imputed righteousness is when you are forgiven and treated as if you had always been righteous even though you haven’t been.
Paul quoted Psalms 31:1-2 when he said.
“Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, blessed are they whoses iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8).
To be imputed righteous is when your sins are forgiven and covered, and after that moment we need to continue living in obedient faith. There is no way that God would declare us righteous and forgiven while we continue to practice unrighteousness. Abraham OBEYED God and THEREFORE his faith was credited (imputed) to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS. God did not have to pretend that he was righteous because his heart was upright and obedient in faith. It was his FAITH that was imputed as righteousness (Rom. 4:5), and it doesn’t state that it was Christ’s righteousness that was being imputed.