Salvation - Justification by Faith

Do Paul and James Disagree About Justification?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Some false teachers claim that Paul says we are saved by faith, but James paraodxically says we are saved by works.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Some people claim that Paul says we are saved by faith, while James says we are saved by works. Some false teachers and churches have used this claim to build a heretical doctrine of justification by faith plus works.

But careful study of God's Word shows that Paul and James are in complete agreement about the doctrine of justification: It is by faith alone. And, they are in complete agreement about sanctification: The true believer demonstrates that God has justified him by the evidence of a Spirit-changed life.

An Alleged Contradiction

Some churches and theologians claim that Paul (especially in Romans and Galatians), and James in his epistle, contradict each other on the doctrine of justification. Paul, they claim, teaches that justification is by faith, while James says that it is by works.

False teachers build different kinds of errors on the foundation of this alleged contradiction. Many liberals claim that the Bible gives us no clear teaching on justification. Others, such as the Roman Catholic church and some nominal Protestants, use the alleged conflict between James and Paul to say that justification is by both faith and works.

As we have seen in answers to previous questions (What is Justification? and Is Justification a Process?), both of these teachings are false and soul-damning. We can and must rest in the Bible's assurance that justification is by God's imparted grace alone, through faith alone, in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone, and not by our works in any sense.

God is Not the Author of Paradox

The principal reason we can say this is because God the Holy Spirit is the Author of both Paul's and James' epistles. The Bible is the only supernatural book. In it, God speaks in His own words directly to man through inspired men (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21). The absolutely trustworthy God of the Bible does not contradict Himself (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, 1 Kings 8:56, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17). God is not a God of paradox, and Scripture contains none. He does not say both "Yes" and "No" on any matter (2 Corinthians 2:18-22, Hebrews 13:8).1 When we think we see paradox in the pages of the Bible, the problem is with us, not with God or His Word (Romans 1:25, Hebrews 4:12).

Paul and James Agree Completely

Furthermore, careful study of the epistles of Paul and James demonstrates that the two Spirit-inspired writers agree completely - on doctrine in general, and on justification in particular. James writes that "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). Paul writes, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1-2).

Both penmen of the Holy Spirit define saving faith as believing, both quoting Genesis 15:6 - "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Paul in Romans 4:3, James in James 2:23). Neither James nor Paul ascribes any merit to our works, only to the perfect work of Christ who is the object of saving faith.

Both men teach that saving faith is always connected with regeneration, the Holy Spirit's work in bringing the individual who is dead and trespasses and sins to spiritual life in Christ. And both men teach that the fruit of the regenerating Spirit is good works in the life of every true believer (Ephesians 2:1-10; James 2:14-26).

Both Paul and James make it clear that because saving faith is the gift of God, it is subsequently accompanied by works that demonstrate the nature of that faith as the gift of God. These are the works of God the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of the believer: continual repentance from sin (Romans 2:4, 2 Corinthians 7:10, James 1:21-25); obedience to God's commands (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:13-14; James 1:25 and 2:8-13); separation from the world (2 Corinthians 6:11-7:1, James 4:7-10); love for the brethren (Romans 13:10, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4:1-3, James 5:13-20); and, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25, James 3:1-18). Both James and Paul teach that if such evidences of saving faith are not present in the life of an individual, there is every reason to doubt that the individual possesses saving faith.

Faith, Works, and You

Are you trusting, by faith alone, in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, apart from works, to save you from sin and from the wrath to come? If not, we urge you to believe on Christ today. If you would like more information about salvation by faith in Christ, please contact us and we'll be happy to help you.

If you are already trusting in Christ alone for salvation, does your life reflect it? As someone once put it, "If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" Every Christian, no matter how old or young in the faith, needs to grow and mature in righteousness. The foundation of growth and maturity in your personal walk with Christ is to read and study God's Word on a daily basis. If you're not doing that, we encourage you to follow our daily Bible reading schedule, which will take you through the entire Word of God in a year, in about 20 minutes a day. Click here to visit our schedule page, and to see some helpful guidelines for reading the Word.




1. The "theology of paradox" (sometimes called dialectical theology) gained acceptance as part of the development of postmodernist thinking. The apostate philosopher and theologian S???????????????¸ren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), one of the fathers of postmodernism, was among the first to articulate the false view that God says both "yes" and "no" on a wide range of issues in Scripture.


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