James 2—Works As Justification Of Faith

By David J. Stewart | December 2013

Galatians 3:8-9, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

       An age old debate has been raging between the words of Paul verses the words of James in the Scriptures. At a glance (like many truths) there appears to be a big contradiction. Is salvation by faith, works or both? James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” It appears that James 2:17 is requiring some degree of works to validate a man's faith. But didn't Paul say in Let us examine these two Apostle's teachings:

Faith Alone

Faith + Works

Paul — Romans 4:3-6, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.”

Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

Romans 3:22 and 28, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference ... Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

James — James 2:17-24, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, 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. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And 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. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”

Here is a wonderful explanation of Paul verses James by Pastor J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988)

Why didn't the Apostle Paul mention works? Why does James teach that faith without works is dead? Is there a contradiction in the Bible? Why do Paul and James seem to contradict one another in their teachings? The answer is simple. We are being presented two different aspects concerning salvation. That is, Paul speaks concerning the ROOT of the believer's faith, but James speaks concerning the FRUIT of the believer's faith.

James 2:17-24, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” The Greek word for “dead” in James 2:17 is nekros and means “a corpse.” In fact, the Bible teaches in James 2:26 that faith for salvation is as lifeless as a human corpse without the spirit if works are not present. James 2:26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Confused? So are millions of other people. This is where one mustStudy to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2nd Timothy 2:15). The following sections will open your understanding to what James really means.

I promise you my spiritually hungry friend that by the end of this ARTICLE THAT YOU WILL HAVE A new found heart's peace in this matter if you'll right now pray and ask God to speak to your heart as these words speak to your mind. I'm going to share with you various commentaries on James chapter 2:17-20 by Pastor J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988). Dr. Max D. Younce, Dr. Jack Hyles (1926-2001) and numerous other men of God to help eliminate much of the confusion surrounding this vital Biblical doctrine, which is certainly worthy of our study time, prayers and diligent research.

As Pastor Curtis Hutson (1934-1995) used to say, “If you get the first button wrong, then all the other buttons will be wrong too.” Salvation is critically important. If a man gets repentance wrong, then he'll be wrong on everything else too. Thus, I wouldn't give you a Buffalo nickel for John MacArthur's teachings, because he is corrupt in his understanding of the plan of salvation, has a perverted view of repentance and denies the saving-power of the literal, physical, blood of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:22-25, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Martin Luther was so messed up theologically that anytime he didn't understand something in the Bible, he just chucked it away and proclaimed it as heresy. Mr. Luther totally rejected the book of Revelation because he didn't know how to study it, so he could not understand what he read. My friend, you'll never understand Revelation without reading the first 65 books that precede it in the Bible. The book of Daniel along with sections of Isaiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel and Habakkuk are very important to understanding the book of Revelation:

The Protestant reformer Martin Luther denied it was the work of an apostle and termed it an "epistle of straw" as compared to some other books in the New Testament, not least because of the conflict he thought it raised with Paul on the doctrine of justification (see below).

Many scholars consider the epistle to be written in the late 1st or early 2nd centuries. Among the reasons for this are:

  • The author introduces himself merely as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," without invoking any special family relationship to Jesus.

  • The cultured Greek language of the Epistle, it is contended, could not have been written by a Jerusalemite Jew. Some scholars [who?] argue for a primitive version of the letter composed by James and then later polished by another writer.

  • The epistle was only gradually accepted into the (non-Jewish) canon of the New Testament. Some see parallels between James and 1 Peter, 1 Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas and take this to reflect the socio-economic situation Christians were dealing with in the late 1st or early 2nd century. It thus could have been written anywhere in the Empire where Christians spoke Greek. There are some scholars who argued for Syria.

SOURCE: Epistle of James - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James 2:17-20 Is Often Misinterpreted

Whereas the Apostle Paul teaches concerning the ROOT of the believer's faith in Romans 4:3-6, the Apostle James teaches concerning the FRUIT of the believer's faith in James 2:17-21. A changed life is the FRUIT of genuine repentance, and NOT a part of the ROOT of saving faith. To say that James teaches works are required to be saved is a gross misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Those false teachers who attempt to James 2:17-20 to bolster their heresy of Lordship Salvation (or works-salvation) completely IGNORE the plain teachings of Galatians 3:8, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4:5-6!!!

Clearly, salvation is BY GRACE ALONE, THROUGH FAITH ALONE, IN CHRIST ALONE! This is a free grace view of the gospel. Any attempt to ADD or SUBTRACT from the plain and simple good news of Christ's DEATH, BURIAL and RESURRECTION (i.e., the gospel according to 1st Corinthians 15:1-4) is a false plan of salvation. Jesus paid it all! Eternal life is a free gift (Romans 6:23). A gift need only be received. If works are required to validate faith, then salvation is a REWARD instead of a GIFT.

When a bank offers you a free alarm clock if you open a new account, it is not really a gift. It is a reward because you have to open a new account to get the alarm clock. The same is true of salvation. If you have to do anything to get it, then it is a reward and not a genuine gift. The heresy of Lordship Salvation is of the Devil. If you want to see something really disturbing, take a look at a comparison between the teachings of Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses along with that of John MacArthur, Ray Comfort, Creation Science Evangelism (Eric Hovind) and Chip Ingram. They all share the same perverted views of “repentance” as a change of lifestyle, rather than a change of mind as the Bible teaches concerning salvation.

It is critically important that you always remember Christ alone bore the weight of our sins upon the cross. Jesus took the burden of our sins upon Himself. It is gross false doctrine when anyone places the burden of sin upon the sinner instead of upon the Lord Jesus Christ, Who took our sins upon Himself. 2nd Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” We are saved by HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS!!!

What Does “The Devils Also Believe” Mean in James 2:19?

I am a strong OPPONENT of Lordship Salvation. In fact, I hate the hellish satanic lie of Lordship Salvation. I have discussed the false doctrine of Lordship Salvation with numerous churchgoers and they always run to James 2:17-20, Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, 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. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?Notice carefully in James 2:19 that the devils also “believe” the Bible says. Interestingly, this word “believe” is the same exact Greek word, pisteuo, as “believeth” in John 3:16. Pisteuo means “to have faith in, that is, to entrust Christ.” So if demons entrust the Savior are they also saved?

The answer is clearly that the fallen angels didn't believe until they sinned and were kicked out of Heaven, cast down to the earth with one-third of the angels. We see this truth demonstrated in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus went to Heaven; the rich man went to Hell. While on earth the rich man didn't entrust the Savior. He died in his sins without Christ. We plainly see that the rich man did believe when he was in torments in Hell, but it was too late. The angels that sinned believe now, but it is too late. Many are already in Hell, and others are free at the present but tremble for fear of their coming punishment in Hell. Jude 1:6, “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

Thus, it is a gross misinterpretation of James 2:19 to say that this verse refers to intellectual assent to the gospel, but the person is not saved because they don't have some degree of works to validate their faith.

In the following helpful exegesis from his book titled, SALVATION and THE PUBLIC INVITATION, Dr. Max D. Younce explains the highly controversial Scripture passage in James 2:19...


This group claims that salvation is by our good works alone without faith in Christ. That is, we just follow Christ's example and pattern our lives after Him. This is held to be the modern day liberals and modernists. When we say, "without faith in Christ" we do not mean they do not believe in Jesus Christ. They believe in Him as a good man and may even call him "Saviour" and "Redeemer," but they do not trust Him as God's complete payment for their sin. These will often quote James 2:19 to substantiate their position. We will quote this verse later with its explanation. Now let us see what the Bible says about going to Heaven on our own good works.

  1. What about the law? In Romans 3:19, 20 we are told, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."

The law was given to shut the mouth of every person who claims to be justified by it, because no one has ever kept it in its entirety. James 2:10 makes that perfectly clear, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."

  1. What about boasting? In Romans 3:28 we are told, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Romans 3:27 explains that one would only brag and boast of their own good works. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith."
  2. What about Abraham? Romans 4:1-5. In verse one we read, "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?" Pertaining to the flesh means, what had Abraham found concerning doing good works of the flesh. In Verse two we read, "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." This answers Verse one, that if Abraham wants to offer his good works to God to be justified, then go ahead, but do not give God the glory. Why? Because this excludes God as having any part in your justification as you have tried to justify yourself. If you have offered your good works to God for your justification, then go ahead and glory, but do not glory before God for you have excluded Him as having any part in
    the salvation you think you have.

Now let us see what God has to say in Verse three concerning Abraham, or anyone, who seeks to justify themselves. "For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." God gave him the righteousness he needed for eternal life because of his belief. What did he believe? Galatians 3:8 tells us, "And the scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying in thee shall all nations be blessed." The Gospel according to I Corinthians 15:1-4 is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "... Moreover, Brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I have preached unto you ... how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: and that he (Christ) was buried, and that he arose again the third day according to the scriptures."

In Genesis 15:5, 6, God promised Abraham he would have a child and his seed would multiply even to the number of the stars in heaven. Remember, this would have to be a supernatural birth because both Sarah and Abraham were past the years of fertility and sexually impotent to have a child naturally. Abraham believed God's promise of a supernatural birth concerning his son. Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 (Hebrews 11:11 and Genesis 21:5). After Isaac was born, the boy grew and God tested Abraham by asking him to offer Isaac, by death, as a burnt offering (Genesis 22). Abraham obeyed God, believing He would raise him from the dead. Isaac was a figure of Christ by his supernatural birth and resurrection. Isaac was considered dead and resurrected in the eyes and mind of Abraham. This is the gospel Abraham believed, the supernatural birth and resurrection of Isaac, a figure pointing to the future death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Hebrews 11:17-19 says, "By faith Abraham, when he was tired, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it is said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure (of Christ)." Again, Romans 4:3, "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness."

In Verse 4 we read, "Now to him (Abraham or anyone) that worketh is the reward (God's righteousness and eternal life) not reckoned of grace, but of debt." In other words, if God would grant us eternal life for our good works, it would be because of a debt he owed us, and not because of His grace and mercy. God owes us nothing, but rather, we owe Him everything. He will not accept any works on our part until we first accept the gift of His righteousness, eternal life by simple faith in Christ.

In verse 5 we read, "But to him that worketh not but believeth on Him (Christ) that justifieth the ungodly (you and I), his faith is counted for righteousness."

  1. What about the Devil? In James 2:19 we read, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils (demons) also believe, and tremble." The word "devils" should be translated demons, for there is only one devil but many demons. The reasoning of the legalist is simple: if the demons believe the same as we do, then they should be saved also. In support of a works salvation, it is also pointed out that the word "believe" in James 2:19 comes from the same Greek word as "believe" in John 3:16 which states, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life." Now, if the demons believe and tremble, we must have to do more than just believe for they believe, but all their thoughts and works are bad. We must have good works to be saved is the claim of the modernists and liberals.

How does a child of God answer such a claim?

There is no question that the demons also believe that Jesus died for the sin of the world exactly as we do. The question...WHEN DID THEY BELIEVE? A boy in school may think he can whip another boy smaller than he. Finally, they get into a fight and the bigger boy gets beaten up. If you were to ask the bigger boy now if he believes the smaller boy can whip him, he will tell you, "Yes." The point is, he didn't believe it before the fight, but he sure does now. He is a believer now, but only after he lost the fight.

The demons are those angels that followed Lucifer when he said in his heart, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit also upon the mount of congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the most high" (Isaiah 14:13, 14). Now in verse 15 God says, "Yet thou shalt be brought down to Hell, to the sides of the pit." In Matthew 25:41 we are told that God created the everlasting fire for the devil and his angels (now demons). "Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Their sentence is already passed, do they believe it? Absolutely! Remember, some of the most wicked demons are chained in place called "Tartarus" awaiting their final destiny in everlasting fire ( 2nd Peter 2:4 and Jude 6). The demons that are not chained know this and believe. They also believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Mark 5)...but they believed too late. They should have joined the angels that believed and followed God instead of following the Devil. You see, they believe now because they have seen God's judgment but now it is too late.

A good example of this is given in Luke 16, where a rich man who was an unbeliever died. Upon entering torment, he changed his mind and began believing. Let's read the record in Luke 16:22-24, "...the rich man also died, and was buried; And in Hell (Hades), he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off...And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." Now notice in Verses 27 and 28, "Then he (rich man) said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment."

The rich man who was lost, believed, but he believed too late. His destiny was already begun. The demons believe but they have believed too late, their judgment has already been pronounced.

Do not wait until it is too late (death). Here is God's warning in 2nd Corinthians 6:12, "Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation," because tomorrow may never come. One will not be in torment one second until they believe, but they will have believed too late. Yes, the demons also believe, and no wonder they tremble, looking only to the sure judgment of everlasting fire, because they believed too late. "...Now is the accepted time..."

SOURCE: Dr. Max D. Younce, from his excellent book titled, 'SALVATION and THE PUBLIC INVITATION'

Beware of liberals and modernists who attempt to use James 2:19 to teach that entrusting the Savior is not enough to be saved. They are liars and antichrists! If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that all that is required for salvation is childlike faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Believing On Jesus Is Enough To Be Saved

Biblically, believing on the name of Jesus is enough to forgiven of our sins and eternally saved. John 20:31, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Acts 10:43, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Even the most naive, simple and vile sinner who places their heart's trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins is born-again immediately, permanently and irrevocably.

Whether they intend to stop living in sin or not is totally irrelevant to their being saved. The word “repent” does NOT mean to stop living in sin; but rather, to change one's mind. When you turn to Christ in faith, you have simultaneously turned your back against sin, whether you intend to forsake them or not at that time. Repentance is acknowledging one's SINNERSHIP! It is admitting to God that I am as sinful as he has declared me to be in His Word. Read more from the Awesome preacher, What Is The Gospel? (Dr. Harry A. Ironside).

I was conversating this past week with a gentleman who teaches at a Baptist Bible college. As we shared Biblical truths he mentioned a radio preacher. (Boy I tell you, I hate most of today's radio preachers, who are the primary source of heresy corrupting our churches today.) As we were talking he said, “Belief in Jesus is not enough to be saved, there must also be some degree of works to validate that faith.” These heretical words are from a man who teaches in a Baptist Bible college!!!

I knew immediately that he had a corrupt understanding of the gospel and that today's apostate radio preachers (in particular John MacArthur) has indoctrinated him. I tried to steer him straight on the Bible, but he's going to require some time and prayer to help. I felt like saying along with the Lord to His disciples, “THIS KIND GOETH NOT OUT BUT BY PRAYER AND FASTING” (Matthew 27:21)! The satanic theological stronghold of Lordship Salvation is one of Satan's most powerful weapons! Literally, I think it would be easier to cast out demons in the Lord's name, than to straighten out theologically corrupted preachers concerning Lordship Salvation.

The curse of Lordship Salvation is a satanic stronghold in millions of religious people's lives these days! There is tremendous peer pressure in theological circles to accept the Lordship Salvation crowd (Ray Comfort, John MacArthur, Chip Ingram, William Lane Craig, Moody Bible Institute, Pat Robertson, TBN, CBN, Rick Warren and umpteen more). The love of money causes many preachers to refuse to go against the crowd. Radio preachers won't rebuke each other, because they're all sold out to the dollar.

You cannot have the Biblical mindset that God's righteousness is freely imputed to the believer by faith in Christ; while maintaining the falsehood that some degree of self-righteous works or intent not to sin are required to validate that faith in God's eyes. The Bible plainly teaches that A MAN'S FAITH IS COUNTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Romans 4:5-6). The Greek word for “counted” is logizomai and means “to take an inventory.” That is, an inventory of our works, good and bad. Every man must give account to God (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Even one sin is enough to send us to Hell forever (James 2:10).

No amount of good can undo nor make-up for the bad, that is, sins against God. This is why Christ paid a debt that He did not owe, because we owed a debt that we could not pay. When a sinner trusts Christ, God's righteousness is attributed (imputed) to that person's record. So when God the Father takes an inventory He only sees the righteousness of Christ on our record. Lordship Salvationists fail to grasp the doctrine of imputation. Literally, we are saved by GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS!!! (Philippians 3:9).

John 1:9-13, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

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