And so, now our Facebook Bible study (which I posted about here and here) has moved on to Romans. The perfect answer to James (Faith and Works), which is where we began our study. So here is what I posted...
[Note: we are covering chapters 1 through 4 of Romans. That's a huge and rather arbitrary section, but it wasn't my decision.]
Romans 1-4. That’s a pretty big selection. But it does get us to where Martin Luther made his disastrous mistake in contrasting Paul with James. As I had noted in an earlier comment, Luther called James “an epistle of straw,” and he thought that James should be removed from the Bible entirely. Luther preferred reading Paul exclusively on matters of “Faith and Works.” Where James says that our “works” justify us, Paul says, “…we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Romans 3:28)
I would argue that Paul is speaking specifically about the works of the Old “LAW” (that is, the rigorous commands that governed the Jews’ daily life) and not “good deeds” – whereas, James clearly refers to “works” as the acts of Christian charity which we are all called to perform. This distinction is made obvious when we read the full context of both Paul and James. Paul refers to circumcision as his primary example of “works” – but James refers to feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and caring for those less fortunate. So Paul and James are writing about two different “works.” That is where Luther got confused.
Paul and James do not disagree on “Faith and Works” as Martin Luther would have us believe. We can see this in the example of Abraham.
James says this:
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (2:22-24)
James does not deny that faith is an important part of our justification. He only says that faith and works must go together. And that “Faith Alone” is a false notion.
Now look at what Paul says in Romans:
“For we say, ‘Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them…” (4:9-11)
Paul is obviously focusing on the “ritual law” of the Jews (circumcision is the example he uses) which he calls “works of the Law.” He is telling us that Christians do not have to follow these Old Law rituals. These things do not justify us. But Paul is not saying that we can ignore good deeds (helping those in need). Paul is not preaching “Faith Alone” apart from good works.
The Protestant slogan “Faith Alone” is troublesome to me. It is an unbiblical idea and Martin Luther proved that by suggesting that the Letter of James should be cut out of Scripture. Can anyone here explain how James and Paul together give us the doctrine of “Faith Alone”?