The tension between faith and works has long been a reality among followers of Christ. Ephesians 2:8 says you are saved “by grace through faith not of works lest any man should boast.” In this passage of the book of James, the Bible says you are justified by your works. The entire book of Romans is arranged to make an argument of justification by faith and not of works. Consequently, the question surfaces, is man justified by faith or by works? The answer is not all that complicated and can be found by seeking to harmonize the concepts of Scripture. That harmony does not include an apology for its contents. When Paul was speaking of justification and giving a plain explanation in Ephesians, he was speaking of justification in terms of citizenship. You might say, one is justified as a Kingdom citizen by the grace of God demonstrated by the faith of a believer. This justification is in the eyes of God. It is the event of being made right in the sight of God. The justification spoken of by James is not a justification related to righteousness or being made right, it is a justification of one’s claim to having been justified in the sight of God. Justification from a legal perspective is made on the argument of, “…by grace, through faith.” Justification made regarding rewards is based on evidence that this justification in heaven has been translated to life on earth. That evidence is nothing short of the works of the individual. It should be noted that such good works are performed through the empowerment and motivation of the Holy Spirit.
There is a danger of being easily misunderstood on this point and there is a danger of an individual working to gain a relationship with Christ through works rather than faith. However, James seems to be very clear that these works are a result of faith and not a pathway to faith. There is a clear difference. Works that are a result of faith are works performed because of obedience to a word of revelation to man. This word of revelation is personal in a relationship with Christ. Abraham’s faith was proven by his works when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Only the faith of Abraham could be proven by this act. I cannot recall any other instance in Scripture where God called on a man to sacrifice his son. If I were to have put one of my sons on an altar for sacrifice without a heavenly directive, my faith would not have been proven because God did not tell me to do such a thing. You can only act in faith when God has revealed himself to you. In the age of the New Covenant, God has spoken through His Son and given the Holy Spirit to guide us into understanding of all that Jesus says. Consequently, walking in faith that justifies requires hearing the voice of God through the Holy Spirit in direct correlation to His Word, the Bible.
The justification we are speaking of here is the same justification heard by the faithful steward. It is not justification for salvation, it is the justification for faithfulness. It is faith in action that reveals faith within the heart of an individual. He gives the reward due to the faithfulness of the individual. Salvation is given freely and justification is by simple faith. The reward for faithfulness rests upon the use of resources entrusted to the servant.
As I conclude this portion of the study, I am reminded of a song I heard in church as a child. It was written by Ira F. Stamphill.
I traveled on a lonely road and no one seemed to care.
The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair
I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me,
And then I heard Him say so tenderly,
“My feet were also weary, upon the Calvary road;
The cross became so heavy, I feel beneath the load,
Be faithful weary pilgrim the morning I can see,
Just lift your eyes and follow close to me.”
I worked so hard for Jesus, I often boast and say
“I’ve sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way,
I gave up fame and fortune, I’m worth a lot to Thee”
And then I hear Him gently say to me,
“I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss,
My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross,
But now we’ll make the journey with your hand safe in mine,
So, lift your cross and follow close to me.”
Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign-field someday,
Twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay
“No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die”
“These are the words He gently spoke to me,
If just a cup of water I place within your hand
Then just a cup of water is all that I demand.
But if by death to living they can thy glory see,
I’ll take my cross and follow close to thee.
This song and consideration of James 2 leads to this question, “How would you define the cup of water placed within your hand?”