Saturday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
Scripture: James 2:14-26 (NKJV)
2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
As Lutherans we are well aware that it is by grace we “have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). In James 2:26 we read, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” These two Bible verses seem like a paradox to us. They almost seem to contradict one another.
Dr. Luther deals with the concern in this way:
“Insist on it, then, that inwardly, in the spirit, before God, man is justified through faith alone, without all works, but outwardly and publicly, before the people and himself, he is justified through works, that is, he thereby becomes known and certain himself that he honestly believes and is pious. Therefore you may call the one a public justification, the other an inward justification, but in this sense that the public justification is only a fruit, a result, and a proof of the justification in the heart. Accordingly, man is not justified by it before God but must previously be justified before Him. Just so you may call the fruits of the tree the obvious goodness of the tree, which follows and proves its inner, natural goodness.
“This is what St. James means in his Epistle when he says: ‘Faith without works is dead,’ that is, the fact that works do not follow is a certain sign that there is no faith, but a dead thought and dream, which people falsely call faith” (What Luther Says, CPH, p.1231-32).
Thus Luther answers this seeming contradiction.
We pray: Lord, we beseech Thee, grant Thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow Thee, the only God. Amen.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.