James 2:17 says that faith is not enough. Does that apply to salvation? Is belief (or faith) in Jesus Christ enough to be saved, or is one expected to act on that faith? If works are required for salvation, what is the threshold of that action. Does this threshold vary by denomination?
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This question cuts to the core of an apparent conflict between the teachings of James and Paul. Here's some of the relevant scripture:
On the surface, it seems that James states that it is works, not faith that is the ultimate source of imparted righteousness. while Paul clearly states that works are useless and only through faith is righteousness and salvation attained.
The key is to put these writings in their proper context.
Paul in many of his writings is addressing Jewish Christians, those who came from a fairly orthodox religious background. Orthodox Judaism is highly legalistic and works-oriented, believing that salvation is achieved through strict adherence to the law. When Paul is talking about "works", he is referring to the legalistic code of Old Testament laws that continued to be a stumbling block to early Jewish Christians. And he is clear that adherence to the law is not a path to salvation. Only faith in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the OT law with His death and resurrection, leads to salvation. Jesus' freed us from the bondage of sin as laid out in the law.
James on the other hand is addressing a different audience... he is addressing Christians who have faith in Christ and yet have taken their freedom from the law to the extreme. They are claiming that because of their faith in Jesus Christ, they have no need of any law and can behave any way they wish without fear for their salvation for their faith is sufficient.
Jesus clear on the matter of how we should live lives of faith:
Christ dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, and the "fruit" of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22-23). These fruits are "works", not works that garner righteousness or salvation, but works that grow properly out of a life strongly rooted in faith.
And so you see there is no conflict between Paul and James. Paul is teaching legalistic Christians that salvation is only achieved through faith, while James is teaching Christians who use their faith to justify living sinful lives.
The proper life of faith (living branches of Christ's vine) will naturally tend towards good works (bearing fruit) and that if you don't see these works, you have to question whether their faith is authentic.
According to Paulus and later Luther's doctrine, faith is enough – it's the famous Justification by faith alone. Realizing that, Luther changed from a late scholastic to a reformer. The realization is based on Romans 1:17 (NIV), which says:
This does not release one from doing good works. But: Good works cannot do anything regarding your salvation. That is, what makes the Pharisees thinking wrong. The Pharisees, certainly admirable persons, thought that they could obtain God's grace by following God's commandment in really each situation.
For Luther not believing to be justified by works means accepting God as the unconditional giver.1
1: "plus possit et velit dare, quam ego intelligo et peto".
Similiar statements can be found in John Calvins doctrine (Although the justification by faith is more important for Luther). In his Heidelberg Catechism the following can be read:
Todays Roman-Catholic answer
Today, there's an agreement between the Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Methodist church concerning the justification. It's the "Joint Declaration On the Doctrine of Justification"
The answer is very simple if you understand causality.
If the cause is faith then the effect must be good works.
Another effect of faith is justification. (Ephisans 2:8-9)
Thus justification is caused by faith not by works. However a good tree that produces bad fruit can not be called good. In the same way faith does not exist without producing good works.
You also have to understand that belief and faith are different
Most people seem to be answering the question "Is belief in Christ all that is required to be saved?", whereas the question was "Is belief in Christ all that is required to be a Christian?". This is an important distinction, unless you believe that someone is not Christian unless they will be saved.
I agree that belief in Christ and faith in Christ are not the same thing, but I do not think that those whose faith may not be perfect should be classified as non-Christian. The word "Christian" does not deal only with belief and faith but with family, culture, and identity. In that regard, the final judgement will not be exactly the same for all those whom we consider to be Christians.
Allow me to adjust the question slightly.
Is salvation based upon faith/belief alone?
In order to answer this question we need to better define the word Faith. I believe that in today's society faith has been dwindled down to just belief. So much so, that when people hear the word faith that they think it just means belief.
In Hebrew the word faith is emuwn which means: trusting or to trust. In Greek faith translated is Pistis which means: assurance, the character of one who can be relied on.
The Bible also defines faith in Hebrews 11 and binds this word to having faith in God even when we cannot see him.
Salvation is better understood through election
Without election you have humans which are enemies of God, God haters and lovers of iniquity. Without election you have a human race that is dead in their sin. They cannot come to Christ because they neither know Him nor want to submit to Him.
How can a dead man hear the command that Jesus has given? He couldn't have unless Jesus first gave that man life, so that he could hear.
Without election we are a dead people that cannot hear the commands of God. God has elected a people before setting the foundations of this world. God says that HE calls people to Christ. Christ says that you have come to Him because you have been called by the Father.
God has first given you life, so that you may hear
Before the Father can call you, He must have first elected you and given you life so that you may hear His command and respond to it.
So you see that God has imputed life into you because you have been elected by Him.
God has given you a command, so that you may respond
He has also given you a command so that you may respond to it. He has commanded you to believe in His son whom He has sent.
If you truly hear his command, you will respond with action!
Understand that your actions are based upon your core beliefs. If you truly, truly believe (faith) and trust (faith) and have assurance (faith) in Jesus Christ, then:
Then most assuredly you will do the same WORKS that Christ does. Christ is working and if you believe in Christ, you too will WORK.
What is work?
My children have a responsibility to obey me as a father, but they do not work for me. You as a child of God have a responsibility to SERVE God the Father, but no enemy of God could ever EARN childhood.
The work that Jesus did was LOVE. This is what Jesus did every day of His life, was Love His Father and His neighbors, commanding everyone, everywhere to repent of their wickedness and follow His examples of love.
1 John 4:16
1 John 4:7-8
1 John 5:2-3
You are commanded to Love, have you heard and obeyed?
You see that faith means much more then just believing!
Again! IF you truly believe in Jesus then you will obey him. As Jesus says here
Have you heard Jesus and have you listened and obeyed his command? Even the demons believe that there is one God, but they do not listen to his commands.
Faith and LOVE is your Righteousness in Christ
Those people that refuse the command of God and refuse to Love other people are liars and do not know God. They will not be saved on the day of judgement. Jesus tells us that right here.
Pertinent Bible verses
James 2 is also important as is practically the whole book of Romans but in detail Romans 3 and 4
In my opinion a faith in Jesus is core to the accepting of Christian truths, but also the bible makes it clear that their is definitely a Christian lifestyle. A accepting of certain morals and ethics that go hand in hand with a healthy Christianity.
Your lifestyle in the end becomes your life through Christ. You do not fit Christianity to your lifestyle as I'm afraid too many people do nowadays. It has to be the other way around.
Hope that helped
Here as some more bible verses that are important to people asking if Jesus is al I need to be a Christian.
The framework of this teaching is:
Response to Enlightenment/Realisation of God's requirements
Just as the dishonest steward realised that he needed shelter to survive after his discharge, Christians realize they need shelter to survive in the afterlife.
Shelter is available only in Christ. To follow him, one must stop following the world. There is only one God, even demons know that and tremble. They have no choice but to continue. Christians claim to know God's will, but continue to follow the World, even when they have a choice. Ordinary people know that following the world will result in destruction, if God exists, and if there is an afterlife. It is the afterlife which makes life meaningful. But they persist in following the world. Their certainty about God is not high. Their certainty that life is meaningless is higher. Also, the attraction of the world is strong. They have set their sight to make the least effort, to enjoy the maximum benefits and to avoid suffering. They are gambling on the absence of God, and His judgment for wasting His gift of life.
What would be the opinion of the world on someone who had intelligence, resources and opportunity, but avoided the path to improve, through pursuit of knowledge, to fulfil their potential as human beings, if the universally accepted idea of a fulfilled person is an educated person? The dismay at reading about the calamities that fall on ignorant people in personal, career, financial decisions makes one wish that people would become as knowledgeable as possible, with whatever ability and opportunity at hand. The idea that some people had opportunity and failed to utilise it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for those who hear of it.
What if the resources to fulfil what God planned for His children was simply a longing for vindication of trusting God for victory of justice, mercy and love, over the rampant selfishness witnessed in the wilderness, and in the secular world? The proclamation of the Gospel is exactly that, selflessness is to be rewarded, the righteous redeemed:
Those who believe that God is the only one to be served, and not mammon, cannot serve the latter anymore. They must serve God, by giving up mammon and following Him. If their confidence is lacking, they must at least use unrighteous mammon to make friends, to ensure shelter in the afterlife.
Belief in the Gospel leads to the giving of the Spirit. The Spirit gifts faith/courage to confess Jesus is Lord. Confession leads to shelter in the Body of Christ in this life. Baptism is recognition by the Body that one is a believer in the coming of the Kingdom, acceptable in the church, and entitled to instruction in the ways of the Kingdom. Justification.
Sanctification is absorbing the teachings and obeying it, agreeing with it leading to the giving of the Spirit who gives faith to follow Christ.
That's the ordo salutis right there. Starting with the Spirit, finishing with the Spirit:
It is not immediate. Some are called early in the day, some late. Even while faith grows, it brings forth fruit. Uncertainty is okay, but as faith grows, so does the fruit. We may not have enough faith to give up everything to follow Jesus, but we can use unrighteous mammon to gain friends. We may not have enough faith or mammon to gain friends but we can still serve God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Great faith leads to following Jesus.
Little faith leads to supporting His disciples with your worldly goods.
You don't need any faith to serve Him with love.
No, no! All the Law must be observed, the minor points as well as the major points. They are the giants that stand between Israel and REST!
Deuteronomy 11:32, Deuteronomy 19:9, Deuteronomy 28:15, Deuteronomy 28:58
Just as the giants are defeated by belief in God, the Law will be fulfilled by Israel, through belief in Meschiach.
Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3 Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God John 3:5
The answer from Catholic dogma is that you must be Baptized, you must hold the entire Catholic Faith and you must be in a State of Grace.
There are two kinds of faith: true faith and false faith. True faith will always produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit and will always be accompanied by compassion and benevolent work (Isaiah 58, Matthew 25). In contrast, false faith is either legalistic or complacent and devoid of any love and compassion.
True faith is God's gift to us:
As a Gentile, Jesus Christ saves you from what exactly? You were never given a Law to keep, so you are not guilty of violating it.
I am not guilty of breaking the French law, since I am not and never have been a French citizen.
As for the Jews, it's stated repeatedly in the Law of Moses that this law is eternal. Which means: it's eternal, not to be changed. Ever. No matter what. It cannot be replaced by believing in Jesus. Unless you assume God is schizophrenic. For example, see Leviticus 23:31 "Ye shall do no manner of work; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.".
And no, linguistic gyrations such as, "Okay, I guess the law is eternal, only now it's kept through believing in Jesus" don't really work. They are not supported at all by anything in the text. It's like saying, "I don't cheat on my wife, I love her just the same, only through sleeping with my co-worker."