Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sola Fide and the Catholic Use of James 2:24

As any Christian should know, the Apostle Paul tells us (Romans 3:28), "We hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." Faith is the means - not the basis, which is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross - of justification before God, that is, a judicial declaration of guiltlessness.

While claiming not to teach salvation based on works from one side of the mouth, with the other Catholics immediately throw up James 2:24: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."

Hmmm, the Bible-believer might think, were the Reformers wrong in decrying the Catholic doctrine of salvation? Are we saved partly by works? This thinking could severely undermine the assurance of salvation. For the Catholic, an obvious question would be, How do I know when I have added enough good works to qualify for justification?

However, their whole argument fails with just a little consideration of context. For this verse, the context is the entire paragraph, James 2:18-26. Verse 18, the second half (emphasis added), is the key: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" [emphasis mine]. He says "show me" and "show you," but never "show God." James isn't arguing with Paul over how the believer is justified in the eyes of God! He is talking about how we demonstrate our faith before the eyes of people around us. He is stating, in different words, the same principle stated by Jesus in Matthew 7:16: "You will recognize them by their fruits."

I write this for two purposes. The first is to reinforce the confidence of the Protestant in the face of Catholic abuse of Scripture. The second is in hope that God will open the eyes of a Catholic reader, leading him to recognize that he has been deceived. I appeal to you to turn to Christ in faith alone, eschewing any confidence in your good works to get you into eternal life. In God's eyes, the best that you can do is as "a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6). Your best works are repugnant to Him.

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