How do Protestants deal with James on faith and works?


I understand James on faith and works, Faith shown through the actions we have done. there is an issue for those who practice Faith alone. (I don’t believe in Faith alone really. I believe in salvation though Faith, but not alone, if you get what I mean)


I can’t speak for all “Protestants,” because that’s just an arbitrary grouping of non-Catholic churches, not a theological way of thought. But I can speak for Lutherans.

Contrary to the popular trope that ‘Luther wanted to remove James from the bible’ (which is a silly thing to accuse him of, and full of many problems), Lutherans have no problem with James in this respect. First off, one prooftext cannot undo books and books of teaching. If one verse appears to contradict many verses or the basics of the Gospel, then we are misapplying God’s Word, which does not contradict itself.

With that understood, Lutherans see James as talking about righteousness before men, not before God. This is further supported by the context of the verse.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while Lutherans make a distinction between faith and works for soteriological understanding, they do not consider ‘faith’ to be mere intellectual assent or acceptance or whatever. Good Works are still expected of a saving faith. Sure, faith alone justifies us (to say anything else would deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice), but faith is never alone and works fall neatly into our sanctification. As Luther put it:

“Faith and Works are no more separable as heat and light from a flame.”

So while James would seem to be an easy “gotcha!” prooftext against Faith Alone, it’s no problem whatsoever.

Pope Benedict XVI took a generally agreeable position in a Papal audience 11/19/08.


There have been volumes written about this by various theologians. I’ve been on this board for a year and it seems to come up every few months.

It seems to me that it hinges on the word dikaioutai, which is the greek word for justified. Dikaioutai is a word with multiple meanings, depending on context.

One meaning is “declared to be just/righteous”. This would be when a judge or jury acquits someone. The judge or jury, by their authority, declare the person just or innocent.

The other meaning is to “show to be just/righteous”. In this sense it is presenting evidence. For instance, when I make a philosophical or political argument I attempt to justify my position.

It is my understanding that the Catholic Position is that dikaioutai in James 2:24 means that God declares us righteous, at least in part, because of our works.

It is also my understanding that the classic reformed position is that dikaioutai in James 2:24 means that our works show or give evidence of our faith.

So to most American Evangelicals we are justified (Declared just/righteous) by God (the authority) because of our faith/trust in Christ. And we are justified (shown to be just/righteous) to others by our works.


This is my take. Works are an integral part of faith. If one doesn’t obey God, does that person really have faith?


He did say he wouldn’t have it among his chief books so in a sense Luther created the trope.


That’s how it was explained to me. You’re saved solely through faith, but that faith will give you a desire to be obedient and perform good works. The salvation of someone who made a profession of faith but then committed very serious sin is suspect. (was raised “once saved always saved” Baptist; other denoms will differ)


Nah, many Catholics of his time held the same view, including Cardinals and some bishops at the Council of Trent.

The trope came afterward, when polemicists on both sides were looking for “gotcha” talking points to toss around.


There’s a reason why Luther is the one that bears the brunt of the criticism. The same reason is the reason why there is a Lutheran Church.


Every Christian I have ever known, before I converted or have met since, believes that good works are part of Christian life. That a good tree bears good fruit.


“For when God creates faith in man, this is as great a work as if He were to create heaven and earth again. Therefore those fools do not know what they are saying when they declare: “Ah, how can faith alone do it? After all, many a person who does not perform a single good work believes.” For they suppose that their own dream is faith and that faith can exist without good works. We, however, declare with Peter that faith is a power of God. Where God works faith, man must be born again and become a new creature. Then good works must follow from faith as a matter of course. Therefore one should not say to a believing Christian: “Do this or that work!” For he does good works automatically and unbidden. But he must be told not to be deluded by a false and imaginary faith. Therefore pay no attention to the windbags who can speak volubly about this yet talk nothing but nonsense and balderdash.”

Luther’s Works, AE 30:14, 1 Peter 1:9

Sounds more like folks decided to misunderstand what Luther was actually saying.


The problem is good works aren’t just a matter of evidence, they’re a difference between a person’s reward i.e. heaven and hell.


What a protestant told me once was something like: Well, what James means here is that, if you have faith, good works are gonna flow naturally from that.

But that’s nonsense, because that’s not what James is saying. They also contradict themselves when they say that, because they proclaim that faith ALONE saves you, not FAITH WITH WORKS FLOWING FROM YOUR FAITH saves you.


It should be noted that there is joint Catholic-Lutheran statement on justification that acknowledges the broadly converging views described by @steido01.


Yes, but the LCMS Lutherans, (Confessional Lutherans) which Stedo professes his faith in if I understand correctly, did not sign the JDDJ. They actually had much negative to say about it and how it was a historic “step backward” for Lutherans against authentic Lutheran teaching as written in the Concord book.

The ELCA did sign, and others you can find online, but reading the news about the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification being signed by both Lutherans and Catholics have led many to mistakenly believe that ALL Lutherans are now “on the same page” as Catholics regarding Justification. The confessional Lutherans reject the Catholic view of Justification.

The document itself states that this document is not binding to all Lutherans because the signatories are much different. (I think it was some word like that meaning the signatures were much different) because no one Lutheran can bind a document for all Lutherans due to the split in Lutheranism. It’s at the end of the document as a footnote and I am simply recalling it and posting the gist of it.

I read a great book about it but unfortunately it was long ago, and I loaned it, never received it back, and can’t recall the name.

Perhaps true unity between the confessional Lutherans will only be found in heaven. It was however a step in the right direction in my opinion in trying to “iron out” the difference in thoughts on justification.


It should also be noted that although the LCMS did not sign, the issue was not on Justification, per se, but on the lack of a definition of Original Sin.

I know that’s a fine point, but it does help show that Lutherans and Roman Catholics are closer than they may appear.

It should also be noted that the RCC did not accept the Declaration without several addendums, as well.


Yes I was aware of both of those issues. I do agree they are closer that they may appear but it does seem the official LCMS point of view by your President at the time was the JDDJ was a step backward for Lutherans and away from Lutheran teaching. I could dig out the actual quote but I am too busy currently to do so.

God bless you this Holy Week.


And you as well, friend.

President Barry’s opinion was his own; he asked the seminaries afterward for further clarification. They noted Original Sin as the issue, and did note that the document could not be rejected outright in its entirety:

From a Lutheran perspective, the Declaration is not entirely without merit. Paragraph 31 expresses Lutheran-Roman Catholic consensus on the Law and the Gospel: ‘We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the Gospel ‘apart from works prescribed by the Law’ (Rom. 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the Law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. . . .” This comes closest to an explicit profession of sola fide, which is found in the Declaration only in paragraph 26, prepared by the Lutherans.


I was referring to this statement:

A Comment on Lutheran-Roman Catholic Relations

You may have heard that a declaration was signed that claims to resolve a key difference between the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. What you may not have heard is that more than 45 percent of the Lutheran church-bodies in the world did not support the declaration.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is the oldest and second-largest Lutheran church-body in the United States. We would like to explain why we could not support the declaration.

We rejoice that we have much in common with our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church. Because of what we have in common, we are committed to working toward true reconciliation of our important differences. We could not support the declaration because it does not actually reconcile the difference between us concerning the most important truth of Christianity.

What is that truth? God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life in our place and to die for our sins. God declares us to be totally righteous and completely forgiven because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God gives us eternal life as a free gift through trust in Christ alone.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that something more than trust in Christ is necessary for us to be saved. It teaches that we are able to merit, through our works, eternal life for ourselves and others. We believe this teaching obscures the work of Jesus Christ and clouds the central message of the Bible.

Therefore, despite what has been reported in the public media about the Lutheran-Roman Catholic declaration, very significant differences remain in regard to how we understand salvation, a fact that the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges.

We pray for genuine reconciliation of differences among Christians. Our church is intent on working for the day when the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with one voice. We will continue to work toward true reconciliation.

A Statement from the Office of the President
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
International Center
1333 South Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, Missouri 63122-7295


I’m Catholic but if I were not, the thing that would be more concerning than James would be the parable of the Last Judgment found at the end of Matthew’s gospel. In that accounting, Jesus separates the sheep from the goats based only on what they did or did not do for their neighbor. Final destination is based only on works. Not a word about Faith or anything else.


So was I. That’s President A.L. Barry you’re quoting.

To say nothing of the accuracy of his opinion, please keep in mind that he did not necessarily speak for the LCMS anymore than Pope Francis does for the RCC when on a plane. Many within the LCMS objected to his unilateral decision to make a statement. None like it had ever come from the President’s Office without first consulting the seminaries.

I quoted what the seminaries responded with, which carries considerably more weight.

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