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James 2:24 NIV
24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In James we are told that a person would be considered righteous by their deeds and not just their faith. Is righteousness a prerequisite for salvation?

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This question could also be worded, "Are works a prerequisite for salvation?" since this passage in James is referring to works. –  Richard Sep 21 '11 at 18:45
    
@Richard, there is a world of difference between a_hardin asked and what you asked –  Ray Sep 22 '11 at 0:36
    
I am actually consciously keeping works out of the question. I'd like to focus on righteousness and whether we should fear hell when we fall short of God's righteousness. –  a_hardin Sep 22 '11 at 2:52
    
I really hate to disagree because I really want this to be a non-salvation-by-works question. However... "a person is considered righteous by what they do" (right from the question.) What is "righteousness" if not "works"? –  Richard Sep 22 '11 at 10:52
    
Romans 3:21 refers to a righteousness apart from law. This righteousness from God comes by faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. –  Ray Oct 15 '11 at 2:45
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4 Answers

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The answer is NO. The reason we need salvation in the first place is because we can't be righteous; by nature we are law-breakers (Romans 3:10f). The only God way we can be righteous is if God gives it to us. Salvation involves us being 'justified' (i.e. we are declared to be "not guilty") before God thus making us righteous (Romans 1:16, 3:20-26). We receive this righteousness by faith, just as it always was from the beginning with Abraham (Romans 4:2).

What about James 2:24? It is not a contradiction. Note James' wisdom-like teaching, not unlike Proverbs, which deals with everyday life with its complexities and paradoxes - very different from the precision of Paul's treatise. James is not dealing specifically with a theology of salvation as Paul was. Rather he wants to emphasise that faith is not a licence to sin (see lonesomeday's answer) which Paul himself also deals with in Romans 6.

I just wanted to emphasise that salvation is wholly God's work, and that there is nothing in us or in what we do that will change that.

PS. The reason Luther rejected the book of James was because he wanted to protect this doctrine of salvation and over-reacted. However, he firmly believed in obedience to God as a Christian, and didn't see that salvation should be a reason not to.

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Quite the opposite. It is unrighteousness is the only prerequisite for salvation.

Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31-32)

The point that James makes is that "faith without works is dead." A faith that prompts no actions is not genuine faith. Saying you love your children when you take no action to provide, protect, teach or enjoy them is not genuine love.

A genuine faith will always prompt actions, just as a genuine love will do the same. Salvation has the effect of giving us a new heart that will prompt new actions. If there is no difference in a life after salvation, then it is likely that no new heart was received and the faith was not genuine.

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Yes. Righteousness is absolutely a prerequisite for salvation. However, no one is righteous (Romans 3:10).

No one, that is, except Jesus. And He offers to give us His righteousness in exchange for our sins:

2 Corinthians 5:21

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Click here for more info.

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You say "a person would be considered righteous by their deeds and not just their faith". I'm not sure this is a necessary reading of the Biblical passage. You quote 2.24: I think verse 18 is more useful for interpreting James' account of the relationship between faith and works:

But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

James 2.18 (NRSV)

It isn't that faith and works are separately required – prerequisites, if you like – for salvation. It's much more that James sees them as inseperable. You can't go round saying "I have faith, so ignore what I do: I've saved." What you do, for James, demonstrates your faith. If you have faith, you will do good works. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, that faith will transform you and it will transform the way you act. A genuine faith is shown by the fact that the person does good works. A faith that isn't seen in works is, as far as James is concerned, dead:

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

James 2.26 (NRSV)

Or, as Martin Luther would have it (despite his well known views on the Book of James...):

Faith cannot help doing good works constantly.

An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans (1522)

James is reacting against a tendency – which has come up time and time again in Christianity – to ignore how Christians act because in Christ all sin is forgiven, or because salvation is predestined. The tendency – commonly known as antinomianism (ἀντί against + νόμος law) – has been seen as heretical pretty much by all Christian groups throughout history.

I don't think James is undermining the significance of faith, but he is saying that it doesn't exist in a moral vacuum where it has no effects in a Christian's behaviour.

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Hmm, just re-read the question and I think I've answered a slightly different question to the one asked. I'll leave this here for now (because I think it's good!) and may come back to look at the other point tomorrow. –  lonesomeday Sep 21 '11 at 22:47
    
you are correct that the question is slightly different from what you answered. Although your content is good. –  a_hardin Sep 22 '11 at 2:54
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