A Harmonization Of Romans 3:28 And James 2:24

Paul Vs. James

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28).

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (Jas. 2:24).

My view—and I call it this only because I am here defending it—is that when everything is said and done, Paul and James are not talking about two different kinds of works at all. Instead, they are speaking of the “good works” (i.e., acceptable works) that are the same for both (cf., Paul’s use of “good works” in Ephesians 2:10). So, the question is: What is the explanation for the different ways Paul and James relate faith and works to justification? I believe this best answer is that faith and works are both related to justification but in different ways. In other words, both Paul and James are referring to the same faith, the same works, the same people, and the same justification. Both are in complete agreement on all of these things, which are somehow, some way, related to each other. The difference is, or so it seems to me, in the way they have chosen, by inspiration, to express themselves, and this stems from how the relationship between these two things is to be understood.

Paul is emphasizing the immediate, direct, inherent relationship between faith and justification, while James is emphasizing the necessary, but indirect, relationship between justification and works. Thus, like James, we can say that justification is by works, but only in a secondary, indirect sense, in that works are the natural, necessary expression and evidence of faith. It is important, just here, to keep in mind that the works (viz., “good works”) under discussion are the works or conditions of law, and not those works done in connection with conditions of grace. Paul’s aim is to deny that justification is equally related to the “law of faith” and the “works of law,” which are two completely different systems, while James’ purpose is to demonstrate that justification is related to the “good works” of the law, but only in that such works are the natural, inevitable expression of genuine saving faith. So, Paul, in his context, does deny a system of justification by faith plus works, and this because “works of law,” (viz., the always imperfect works done under a system of justification by perfect law-keeping) are permanently prevented (the legal term is “estopped”) from having any soteriological value, while James, in his context, does, in fact, affirm justification by a faith that works—and once again these are the “good works” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 2:10.

Therefore, we are not just talking semantics here, as some think. Paul denies that one is justified equally by the “law of faith” and “works of law,” while James affirms that one can be justified only by a faith that works-viz., genuine saving faith begets or produces the “obedience of faith” that serves to glorify God. This “obedience of faith” is not just obedience to the grace conditions which are those “works” we must do in order to be saved and stay that way, but obedience to those “good works” which we were created in Christ Jesus to do—works “of God” that He determined “beforehand” we would do in connection with His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This interpretation, I believe, passes the scriptural litmus test. If not, I look forward to its refutation.

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Rom. 3:27-31).

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