How do Protestant's respond to James


Through a recent trip to Europe my interest in the Catholic Church has been considerably renewed. I was baptized and raised Catholic, but early on in highschool I rejected Catholicism for Protestantism. After significant turblulance, my interest in Christianity and committment to Christ remains, but it is impossible for me to re-enter into full communion with the Church, because I am now an unrepentent heretic and will always remain so. However, this does not deter my respect and interest in the Church. If I had to be orthodox, I know I would choose Catholicism or the Orthodox Church, mainly because of its sacramentality.

My question to Protestants regards the well known passage in James 2:

“what good is it brother, if a man claims to have faith but no works? Can such faith save him?”
…“do you want evidence that faith without works is uselees?”
“You see, a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone”

Now, the Church has always taught co-operative grace. Essentially, we must co-operate with God’s grace in order for it to be salvific, obviously neccesitating works. Salvation does not come through works, but in my understanding, our works of mercy, love, charity and compassion activate the saving grace of God.

How do Protestants explain these verses in relation to the doctrine of being saved by “faith alone” and the common accusation that the Church teaches “salvation through works”?



James is talking about someone who claims to have faith. How can you tell if they really have faith? It is that they do works. Saving faith and good works always go together because we are saved to do good works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Notice how Paul says we have been saved using the past tense and that saving was not as a result of works? Paul then goes on and says why we were saved. We are saved to do good works.

James is telling us that if someone says that they have faith but no works to prove it, they do not have true saving faith.

Jesus tells us the same.

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

You can tell a tree by its fruits, but the fruits don’t make the tree good. It is the tree that makes the fruits good.

While we must do good works, we should be doing them because it is what God wants and because we love Him and we want to please him. We should not be doing the works to obtain a reward because we already owe God all the good works we can do and more.

"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:9-10)


Here we go again:banghead: :banghead: :banghead:


James is talking about someone who claims to have faith. How can you tell if they really have faith? It is that they do works.

I think that’s a clear misreading of the text. Nowhere does James suggest that he is speaking of works soley as the “visible sign of faith”.

James writes

“What good is it, my brothers, if man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

and again

“Do you want evidence that faith wihtout deeds is useless?”

James is not really calling into question whether this person’s faith is there. He is actually saying that, even if he does have faith, it is useless unless he puts that faith into action.

Clearly, according to this epistle, salvific grace comes by faith to be sure, but faith is not a stagnant mental assertion, rather it is an active, living thing. We must co-operate with the grace of God in faith in order for that faith to mean anything.

Faith and works are not in dichotmy. Works is the activation of our faith in Christ. Paul, of course, stresses the fact that we are not saved by works but grace because he is crusading against Jewish legalism. Regardless, it holds true; by God’s grace we live faith through works.

You can tell a tree by its fruits, but the fruits don’t make the tree good. It is the tree that makes the fruits good.

A tree also exists for the sake of its fruit, it is the sign of the tree’s goodness, but it is also the object of the tree’s goodness. If the tree does not bear good fruit then it will be cut down. Thus the “bearing of the fruit” is still essential for salvation.


I do believe he is talking about proving faith. Faith is more than knowing something is true. That is what the demons have. Faith results in works and those works justify or declare righteous the person who does them.

James starts out this portion of his epistle with:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14)

He does not say “if someone has faith but he was no works”. He says “if a person** says** he has faith” So the question is whether the person who says he has faith actually has faith that will save him.

The faith as evidence of saving faith is carried on later in the passage:

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:18-19)

James is telling how he will show he has faith; that is by his works.

The portions about Abraham and Rahab show how it was shown that they have faith. If James was talking about Abraham being justified before God by works, then he would be contradicting Paul who says:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
(Romans 4:1-2)

Paul is clearly talking about Abraham being justified before God, and that it wasn’t by works. This to me shows that James was talking about Abraham showing men his righteousness through faith by his works,which fits in with the rest of the passage being how faith is shown.

The distinction is between an intellectual assent to the truth and true saving faith resulting necessairly and showing itself through works. The bare intellectual acceptance is dead and useless.


I am not saying that we are saved by works, but that works are part of the faith equation. Without works, our faith is dead and salvation is not present. This is the teaching of co-operative grace.

I guess my point is that the Church does not teach salvation by works, but that works are neccessary for our faith to be valid.

I was under the impression that works are not neccessary for faith to be alive in the Protestant tradition (at least in some streams)


This is what is contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith. While I do not accept everything in the Confession and am not a Calvinist, I do accept these.

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. Chapter 11

II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.

IV. They, who in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.

V. We can not, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, because of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they can not endure the severity of God’s judgment.

VI. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.


So if one does not do good works they are not saved. good point.


Luther’s response was to “throw Jimmy in the fire.”

He later thought better of doing that, of course.


:rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:

Luther’s response was to “throw Jimmy in the fire.”:rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:


I personally think it preferable to say we are saved by “living faith alone” in order to recognize the teaching of the book of James here.

I do understand that to most Protestants “living faith alone” is a redundancy. However a redundancy for the sake of clarity is not a bad thing.

Curious, would Catholics object to the phrase “living faith alone”?

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