James 2:14-26 is the “problem” passage of the book of James where it looks like James and Paul disagree.
James and Paul appear to contradict each other because they use the same vocabulary. They both talk about faith, works and justification, and they both appeal to Abraham to support their claim.
But they use the same language in very different contexts. They are addressing different problems and answering different questions.
In Galatians, Paul addressed the question raised by the theology of the Judaizers. Must I keep the law in order to be saved? Do my outward acts of obedience gain me any favor with God? Paul strongly asserts that our works have no value in bringing us into a right relationship with God. Our outward acts of obedience can not earn us salvation.
In James, the apostle answers a different question. James asserts that after establishing a right relationship with God, works will necessarily follow because genuine saving faith changes both what we believe and how we act. James is focusing on the question: “What does real saving faith look like?” Essentially, he’s saying, I agree we are saved by faith alone. But let’s make sure you understand what faith alone really means. Let’s make sure you know the difference between pseudo-faith and genuine saving faith.
He is NOT asking the question what use is it if a person claims to have faith and still sins on occasion. The question is NOT will I ever sin again after believing the gospel? IF that’s the question, all of us are in trouble.
The question is what if I claim to have faith and nothing in my life, nothing in my attitudes, nothing in my values, nothing in the way I speak or the way I treat people or the way I respond to trials changes? What then, is that faith? James says no, that is not faith.
Discussion Questions – James 2:14-20
- Define: “the royal law” (vs 8); “law of liberty” (vs 12); judgment & mercy (vs 13)
- What does it mean to “love your neighbor”? What does it look like in daily life?
- What does 2:14 mean in the context of chapter 1-2?
- What does 2:17 mean in the context of chapter 1-2?
- What are the biggest obstacles to being merciful? How can we face them and/or overcome them as individuals? And as a church?