Romans 3:28 Vs. James 2:24: Are They Really Contradictory?

Faith and Works

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 understanding of these two passages is that when everything is said and done, Paul and James are not talking about two different kinds of works. Instead, they are speaking of “good works” (i.e., acceptable works, which are the same for both, especially considering 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? The best answer, I think, is that faith and works are both related to justification but in different ways. In other words, Paul and James are referring to the SAME FAITH, SAME WORKS, SAME PEOPLE, and SAME JUSTIFICATION and are, thus, in complete agreement on all of these. The difference is in the way they have chosen, by inspiration, to express themselves, and this derives from how the relationship between faith and works is to be understood.

Paul is emphasizing the IMMEDIATE, DIRECT, INHERENT relationship between faith and justification; James, on the other hand, is emphasizing the NECESSARY, BUT INDIRECT, relationship between works and justification. 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 (i.e., “good works”) under discussion are the LAW CONDITIONS, and not those works done in connection with CONDITIONS OF GRACE.

Paul’s effort is to deny that justification is equally related to the “law of faith” and the “works of law” (two completely different systems), while James’ effort 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 does (in his context) deny a system of justification by faith plus works, and this because “works of law,” (viz., imperfect works done under a system of justification by perfect law-keeping) are permanently prevented (the legal term is “estopped”) from having any salvific/soteriological value, while James, in fact, affirms 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.” This “obedience of faith” is not just obedience to the GRACE CONDITIONS, which are 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).

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