From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
Secondly, the subject itself declares that works follow faith, and show that faith is not dead, but living and effective in the heart. Therefore, James did not believe that we earn the forgiveness of sins and grace by good works. For he speaks of the works of those who have been justified, who have already been reconciled and accepted, and have obtained forgiveness of sins. So, the adversaries are mistaken when they infer that James teaches that we merit remission of sins and grace by good works, that by our works we have access to God, without Christ as propitiator.
Pulling It Together
The old real estate expression, “Location, location, location,” might be modified when it comes to reading. “Context, context, context,” is crucial when interpreting a text. Otherwise, one may end up buying into the wrong teaching. James has been teaching about what real faith is, and uses works as a proof of faith. His subject is faith: “Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). Everything read in this section, if read in context, refers back to faith. Therefore, if one has saving faith in Christ, works that glorify God will ensue. First, Christ satisfies God’s righteousness, then because we believe in his sacrifice for our sin, we are made righteous because of him. Only those works that are attached to his righteousness are acceptable to God. One may do religious deeds for a lifetime, but they will never save. Yet, a sinner, having never done anything good, may finally believe and be saved because of Christ alone. That sainted sinner will then seek to be obedient to the gospel, to continue in a true and living faith that glorifies God. Chrysostom said it well: “As faith without works is dead, so are works without faith dead.”
Prayer: Make my faith in you a living faith so that you are glorified in my life, Lord. Amen.
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