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From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Concerning Love and the Fulfilling of the Law
They cite from James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” No other passage is thought to contradict our belief more than this verse. But the reply is easy and plain. If our opponents do not attach their own opinions concerning the merits of works, the words of James contain nothing that is of disadvantage. Yet wherever there is mention of works, they falsely add ungodly opinions: that by means of good works we earn the forgiveness of sins, that good works are a propitiation and price by which God is reconciled to us, that good works overcome the terrors of sin and death, that good works are accepted in God's sight on account of their goodness, and that they do not need God’s mercy and Christ as propitiator. None of these things came into the mind of James, which the adversaries nevertheless, defend under the pretext of this passage of James.
Pulling It Together: James reinforces what kind of faith he has been referring to in this passage. Faith is not mere assent, such as you hear from people today when they say things like, “I believe in God,” or “I am a Christian,” or “I go to church.” That type of faith, which is nothing more than religion like any other religion or “faith,” does not save. Faith that believes Christ is the satisfaction for sin will both save and produce good fruit. This is the substance of James and is discovered in the context of his letter—not in one verse. Living faith is never detached from good works because God will grow what he has established in those persons whom he has already justified and saved. The danger here is when we begin to believe in ourselves, in our good works as a virtue or merit that God ought to recognize as justification for our sins. Still, good works must never be absent from faith. When this occurs, that faith, as James says, is dead.
Prayer: Help me do the works of faith, Lord, by the power of your Spirit. Amen.
The Basics of the Christian Faith is an edition of the catechism that is aimed at seekers, visitors, and those that may not come from a Lutheran background. It is recommended for use in outreach, as a visitor welcome gift, or in new member packets.