Romans Series: Does James Contradict Paul?

31 01 2007

Recently on Sunday mornings we’ve been considering Paul’s teaching on ‘justification by faith alone’ from Romans chapter 4, and the example of Abraham as an illustration of this truth. It’s a wonderful passage, presenting as it does the sole sufficiency of Christ as Saviour. I trust that through the muddle of my words God has been speaking about the grounds of our confidence as Christians.

One of the issues that I haven’t dealt with on Sunday mornings has been the relationship between Paul’s teaching in Romans 4 and the teaching of James 2:14-26. In James’ epistle there are statements such as ‘was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?’ (v21) and ‘you see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only’ (v24). Right away this presents a problem to our minds, as it appears that Paul’s statements that Abraham was justified only by faith (cf.Romans 4:1-3ff) teach something radically different. How are we to reconcile this issue, presenting as it does an apparent contradiction in the New Testament’s teaching on salvation?

I had thought of writing an article about this myself, and publishing it here on the blog, rather than cluttering a Sunday morning with what would ultimately be a very technical message. In keeping with the ethos of ‘double usefulness’, however, I found an excellent treatment of this subject by John Piper on his ‘Desiring God’ website. The article can be read here, and I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to see how these two passages of Scripture relate to, and ultimately complement, one another. Piper can say things which are beyond my intellectual ability to express, and his generous view of ministry means that I can share his teaching here – and also print copies of his message for folks on Sunday morning who aren’t internet compliant! I trust that his words will bolster confidence in the authoritative integrity of the Scriptures, and help us to understand something of the breadth and richness of our salvation.

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