Faith vs. Works in James: Resolving the Problem


The epistle of James has created much confusion in Christendom throughout Church history. The primary source of confusion has been James’ view of faith and works. Luther, for example, in his Preface to the New Testament, wrote:

Therefore St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it. But more of this in other prefaces.

He elaborated in his Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude that he did not consider it the work of an apostle. Luther explained his reasons:

First: Flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture, it ascribes righteousness to works, and says that Abraham was justified by his works, in that he offered his son Isaac, though St. Paul, on the contrary, teaches, in Romans 4:2, that Abraham was justified without works, by faith alone, before he offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15:6. …

Second: Its purpose is to teach Christians, and in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the Resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ. He names Christ several times, but he teaches nothing about Him, and only speaks of common faith in God. …

But this James does nothing more than drive to the law and its works; and he mixes the two up in such disorderly fashion that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took some sayings of the apostles’ disciples and threw them thus on paper; or perhaps they were written down by someone else from his preaching. He calls the law a “law of liberty,” though St. Paul calls it a law of slavery, (of wrath, of death and of sin, Galatians 3:23; Romans 7:11).

Luther’s understanding of James was mostly correct. James does contradict Paul’s doctrine of sola fide. But Luther was wrong that the letter was an “epistle of straw.” James is the Word of God, a valid, canonical book. The reason for Luther’s negative view of James was because he did not understand why James wrote what he wrote. This study will reveal why James wrote what he did and resolve the problem of faith and works.

Who Was James?

The author of James was James the Just, a half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1.19), not the Apostle James, the son of Zebedee, who was one of the twelve apostles. The Apostle James had been martyred in 44 A.D. by Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12.1-2). Perhaps, following his death, James replaced the Apostle and assumed his place of prominence. In any case, James was not one of the original Twelve and was, therefore, a second-order apostle. By the time of Acts 15, however, he had superseded Peter at Jerusalem for it was he, not Peter, who was in charge of the Council of Jerusalem in 51 A.D. At that Council, the Jerusalem apostles met with Paul to address the problem of Gentile salvation under Paul’s ministry.

Like the Twelve, James was a Jew, who had been saved by believing the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4.23, 9.35) that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 16.15-17; John 11.27). James had not believed in Christ while Jesus was alive (John 7.2-5). He came to salvation after the Lord’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.7).

Dating James

Based on internal evidence, James was written early, probably around 45-50 A.D., and is the earliest of the New Testament letters. It is certain James was written before 51 A.D. for his letter indicates no understanding of Paul’s gospel or Paul’s other doctrines. This fact is confirmed by Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).

James Wrote To Jews

Despite what most of Christendom believes and teaches, the Twelve never had a ministry to Gentiles. They ministered to Jews only. At the end of the Jerusalem Council, the participants formally agreed to continue to abide by this state of affairs: the Jerusalem Jews and those under their leadership would minister to Jews and Paul would minister to Gentiles (Galatians 2.7-9). This truth is revealed by the introductory address of James’ letter:

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings (James 1.1).

A couple of things are noteworthy from James’ statement. The first is that James wrote to Jews, not Gentiles. The second is that all twelve tribes were addressed, therefore, known. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, addressed all Israel, not one or two tribes (Acts 2.36). Peter, like James, wrote to Jews, not Gentiles (1 Peter 1.1). God prophetically promised all twelve tribes will remain forever (Ezekiel 37.15-23). None of the twelve tribes have been “lost.” They were known in the first century and will be known in the future (Revelation 7.4-8). These verses should dispel any “lost ten tribes” nonsense that makes it way around the theological circuit from time to time. Members of the twelve tribes to whom James wrote were dispersed (διασπορά) due to attacks from Gentile powers. Some went abroad as a result of the Assyrian (circa 740 B.C.) and Babylonian (circa 600 B.C.) captivities. Many whom James (and Peter) wrote were Jews forced to flee Israel due to persecution (cf. Acts 8.1). Jews still resided in Babylon and Peter wrote sent greetings from some special woman who lived there (1 Peter 5.13).

James on Faith and Works

The great mistake most make on the matter of faith and works is to try and reconcile James’ statements with Paul’s. Consider the below statements, the first by Paul, and the second by James.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law (Romans 3.28).

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2.24).

These two statements are opposed. Reconciling or harmonizing them cannot be done without considerable twisting of the Scriptures. That is the approach found in most commentaries, articles, and sermons. For most religious professionals, theology is dearer than Scripture, and they refuse to allow the text to stand as written. These two statements cannot be reconciled. But both are true. How is this possible?

Salvation in the Old Testament

No clear statement or definition of the gospel or of salvation exists in the Old Testament. Compared to Paul’s straightforward statements about salvation, salvation in the Old Testament is murky. What is revealed in the Old Testament is that salvation involved faith and works. The letter to the Hebrews emphasizes the faith of Old Testament saints (Hebrews 11). Thus, Old Testament believers were saved by faith. But works were also involved in salvation. Salvation by faith alone (sola fide) was unknown to the Jews.

Salvation and the Levitical Sacrifices

Hebrews reveals that the Old Testament Levitical sacrifices were typical and temporary. Animal sacrifices provided a temporary propitiation (satisfaction) (כָּפַר) of sin and were pictures or shadows, as it were, of the future, effective sacrifice for sin by the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10.4). For Israel, animal sacrifices “covered” or “covered up” sin. For us, looking back, they reveal how God was laying the groundwork of a greater reality than animal sacrifices. This was the shed blood of the Messiah Himself to remove sin.

The Jews of the Old Testament had no idea the animal sacrifices they offered pointed to the greater reality of the death of the Messiah who would solve the problem of sin and death. For them, the animal sacrifices were the reality. What they knew was God had commanded them to perform them and that the sacrifices involved the shedding of blood to deal with sin. Leviticus contains the following instructions regarding the burnt offering:

1 Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. 3 If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord (Leviticus 1.1-3).

When a Jew sinned, he was to bring an unblemished animal to the priest for a sacrifice to make himself right with God. The text gives the process:

4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. 5 He shall slay the young bull before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 6 He shall then skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces (Leviticus 1.4-6).

The sinner would place his hand upon the animal’s head to indicate his identification with the animal and kill it. The priest would take the blood and sprinkle it on the brazen altar. The animal was then skinned and cut up. The rest of the passage, vv. 7-14, describes the specifics of the burning of the animal, washing its legs and entrails, and sprinkling its blood on the altar. This process spoke of the removal, i.e., “covering” of sin and cleansing.

The Mosaic Law required animal sacrifices for sin. Bringing an animal to a priest was a work. But effective covering of sin for the sinner required faith. From the divine perspective, the sacrifice was effective for it fulfilled the Law, and therefore, God’s justice. But for the individual, it was effective if he believed it.1 So, forgiveness required a work (bringing an animal sacrifice) and faith (believing the sacrifice covered the sin).

Salvation in the Gospels

Consider the following account in the Gospel of Mark (cf. Matthew 19.16-26; Luke 18.18-30):

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10.17)

The man’s question was straightforward: “How do I obtain eternal life?” What was the Lord’s answer? Did He tell the man to believe He would die for his sins and rise from the dead? The next verses declare:

18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10.18-19).

The man responded:

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (Mark 10.20).

The conversation concluded in the following manner:

21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

Jesus’ response to the man was that to acquire eternal life required keeping the commandments (Matthew 19.17). In other words, works. When the man responded he had kept the commandments, Jesus told him to do another work: sell his possessions and give them to the poor. Did Jesus teach salvation by works? Indeed He did.

Now, consider the following passage:

17 One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. 18 And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. 19 But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” 22 But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home” (Luke 5.17-24).

Jesus saw the faith of the men and declared He forgave the man’s sins. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith? Indeed He did.

What are we to make of these two passages? Did Jesus teach contradictory things? Was Jesus playing games? The obvious, unequivocal answer is that in the Jewish economy, faith and works were required for salvation.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

John the Baptist came as the herald of the King and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 3.1-2). Jesus continued John’s joyous announcement (Matthew 4.17, 9.35) of the kingdom of God. Water baptism was intrinsic to that salvation message. Water baptism is a work. During Jesus’ earthly ministry and in the preaching of the Twelve water baptism was required for salvation. How do we know this? We know it because that is what the text states. Consider the following verses:

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1.4).

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned (Mark 16.15-16).

4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3.4-5).

36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.36-38).

12 “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name’ (Acts 22.12-16).

These passages should convince even the recalcitrant that under the gospel of the kingdom water baptism was required for salvation. Here again, the Scriptures teach works were required for salvation.

The Nature of Faith During the Ministry of Jesus

As seen above, both faith and works were necessary for salvation. What was the nature of this faith? Faith during this period was believing who Jesus was. Consider the following passages:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16.13-17).

Peter believed in the identity of Christ–that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. That was his salvation.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (John 11.23-27).

Martha believed in the identity of Christ: He was the Messiah, the Son of God. That was her faith for salvation.

Consider the testimony of Nathaniel:

45 Philip found Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip  said unto him, Come and see. 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael said unto him, How do you know me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. 49 Nathanael answered and said unto him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto you, I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? You shall see greater things than these. 51 And he said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Nathaniel believed in the identity of Christ–He was the Son of God, the King of Israel.

3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9.3-6).

Saul believed in the identity of Christ–that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. That was his salvation. What did Saul preach immediately following his salvation? He preached the identity of Christ:

19 Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9.19-20).

This truth is confirmed in the following passages: John 3.18; Acts 2.21, 38, 3.6, 16, 4.7, 10, 12, 17, 18, 30, 5.28, 40-41, 8.12, 16, 9.14-15, 21, 27, 10.43, 48, 19.5, 22.16, 26.9.

Faith and Works and the Jerusalem Council

While the gospel of the kingdom focused upon the identity of Christ, the Lord gave Paul a new message of salvation. The focus of Paul’s gospel was not upon the identity of Christ but upon the work of Christ–that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). Paul received his gospel directly from the Lord (Galatians 1.11-12). Paul’s gospel was known as the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20.24). It was different from the “gospel of the kingdom.” It was a “secret” (μυστήριον) the ascended, heavenly Lord revealed to Paul (Romans 2.16, 16.25; 1 Corinthians 9.17; 1 Timothy 1.11). Paul’s gospel was faith + 0. No works are involved in Paul’s gospel. No keeping of the Mosaic Law is involved in Paul’s gospel. No water baptism is required in Paul’s gospel. No circumcision is involved. No works are involved. One need only believe Christ died for one’s sins and rose from the dead. It is pure grace.

Paul’s gospel did not sit well with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Why should it? They knew nothing of it. God had not revealed it to them. It was contrary to what had been practiced for 1,500 years. God had not told them to stop practicing the Mosaic Law. They had received their gospel, the gospel of the kingdom, from the Lord during His earthly ministry. Paul, however, received his gospel directly from the Lord in His heavenly ministry. Paul’s gospel was different. It did not fit with what the Twelve knew of God’s Old Testament program revealed to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets.

Just how different Paul’s gospel was from the gospel the Twelve knew is revealed in Luke’s record of the Council of Jerusalem in 51 A.D. Luke wrote:

1 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15.1-5).

Members of the Jerusalem assembly were going to Paul’s Gentile converts and teaching them that what Paul taught was insufficient for salvation. They told Paul’s converts they were not saved. They taught that to be saved one not only had to believe, but be circumcised, and keep the Mosaic Law (Acts 15.1, 5). They taught salvation required faith and works. This message was totally different from what Paul had taught them. As a result, it created great confusion and consternation (Acts 15.2).

Paul wrote that he went up to Jerusalem by revelation (ἀποκάλυψις, Galatians 2.2). This meant that Paul’s going to Jerusalem was not because he or they thought a conference was needed (though they might have). Rather, the risen Lord gave Paul a direct order to go (cf. 1 Corinthians 14.6, 2 Corinthians 12.1, 7; Galatians 1.12, 2.2; Ephesians 3.3). When he arrived, he presented (ἀνατίθημι) his gospel to the leadership, i.e., James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2.2, 9). This is an interesting piece of information. Many erroneously teach Peter proclaimed the same gospel as Paul and that the gospel has been the same throughout God’s program.2 If so, why did Paul communicate his gospel to them? Would they not have known it? The reason a controversy existed was because Paul proclaimed a different gospel from that of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. This was confirmed by Paul’s statement of Galatians 2.7 concerning the “gospel of the circumcision” (Peter) and the “gospel of the uncircumcision” (Paul). Thus, Paul wrote:

But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Peter and the Eleven learned the gospel they proclaimed from the Lord in His earthly ministry. That ministry was confined to Jews and focused upon the prophetic promise of the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 6.10′ Romans 15.8). Paul learned his gospel from the Lord in his heavenly ministry (Galatians 1.12). Both Peter and Paul received their gospels directly from the Lord. Both were valid. But that was about to change. After much arguing, in which Peter remained silent, Peter finally spoke. He sided with Paul. Luke recorded in Acts 15.7-11:

7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Peter’s declaration ended the two gospel administration.3 From this point forward, the gospel of the kingdom was no longer valid. From now on, it was Paul’s gospel or nothing (Acts 15.11). One could be saved only through Paul’s gospel. Because of this decision, Paul wrote these strong words to the Galatians:

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

Faith and Works in James

James wrote his epistle before Acts 15. He knew only the Old Testament prophetic program, the gospel of the kingdom, and the Mosaic Law. He knew nothing of Paul’s “secrets” (μυστήριον), or the gospel of grace.4 The theme or purpose of James’ letter was to encourage Jews to endure trials with faith and wisdom which would result in joy (James 1.2–5). James  wrote,

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2.18).

This followed what had been taught throughout the entire Old Testament and the Gospels. It was consistent with the Lord’s earthly ministry. No one had told him or any of the Twelve that the Mosaic Law was over. No one had told him to stop proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and to believe Jesus was the Messiah. No one had told him a person only needed to believe Christ died for his sins and had risen from the dead to be saved. Such good news was unknown to the Twelve and the leaders of the Jerusalem assembly. It was not until the Council of Jerusalem that this matter came to a head and was resolved by Peter’s siding with Paul. Luther was right. We do not find Paul’s doctrines of grace, faith, absence of the Mosaic Law, the resurrection, the believer’s identity with Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, etc. in James. Why not? Because James knew nothing of these doctrines. These were doctrines the ascended, glorified Lord gave to Paul. Only after Paul began to teach these things did the Twelve have any understanding of these doctrines. They were Pauline revelations, given to Paul by the ascended, glorified Lord.

James reads like an Old Testament book because that is what it is. When James wrote his letter he was still operating under the Mosaic Law. Even following the Council of Jerusalem, he could not fully comprehend the implications of that decision. How do we know this? Luke wrote:

17 After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law (Acts 21.17-20).

James greeted Paul and rejoiced with him about the salvation of the Gentiles. But James’ primary joy was centered upon the salvation of Jews and that they were zealous for the Law! He still didn’t get it! God had spent 1,500 years pounding in the Law. Now, He couldn’t get it out of them!

The Mosaic Law was a hard pull. Even after Peter made his pronouncement at the Council he dissimulated so that Paul upbraided him at Antioch:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews (Galatians 2.11-14)?

Peter repented of this failure. But even at the end of his life, he found Paul’s doctrines difficult to comprehend. They were hard to understand because he was still steeped in the Mosaic Law. But one thing he knew: Paul was right. Peter’s last written words were the following;

14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3.14-16).

Peter recognized God had given revelations to Paul that He had not revealed to the Twelve. He recognized believers were to go to Paul for their doctrine, that what Paul had written was Scripture, on par with Moses and the prophets. To reject Paul was to warrant God’s condemnation for only in Paul’s letters do we have doctrine for the Church, the body of Christ. To reject Paul’s letters is to reject the revelation the Lord Jesus Christ gave to Paul when He commissioned him as the apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11.13), the founder of the Church, the body of Christ.


Salvation in the Old Testament involved faith and works. James wrote from this perspective. The ascended, glorified Lord revealed to Paul a gospel He had kept hidden, that required faith alone for salvation. Both James and Paul were correct. But each must be understood in its proper context and timeframe.

James does not contradict Paul. When James wrote, faith and works were required for salvation. Acts is a transitional book and Luke wrote Acts primarily to explain to Jews why the kingdom of God did not come to Israel and why God saved Paul to be the apostle of the Gentiles. For a time, both programs, Israel and the Church, and both gospels, the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of the grace of God were valid. At the conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem, only one gospel remained: Paul’s gospel. When the Church, the body of Christ, is complete, what Paul described as “the fullness of the Gentiles” (Romans 11.25), God will restart the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24.14). From this period until the Lord returns, the focus of the gospel and the substance of faith will return to the identity of Christ. That is the story of the book of Revelation: who is the true Messiah?5

1 Hebrews expressed this thought thus: “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united [συγκεράννυμι] by faith in those who heard” (Hebrews 4.2). Christ’s sacrifice paid for everyone’s sin. But His work is not effective for the individual until he takes it by faith. Faith is the means by which the sinner appropriates Christ’s work on his behalf to himself. Christ’s death on the cross satisfied God’s justice.This is the doctrine of unlimited atonement. Christ paid for the sins of every person, satisfying the justice of God, but His death is effective only for those who will believe.
2 Such teaching is without Scriptural support.
3 Peter’s stunning declaration can hardly be overemphasized.  Peter’s statement declared Jews were now going to have to be saved like Paul’s Gentiles. This was unheard of and overturned 1,500 years of theology. See the author’s article, The Great Hinge, for an exposition of this passage.
4 See the author’s study on Paul’s “secrets” for a fuller treatment of this subject.
5 See the author’s study on Revelation for this discussion.

©2014 Don Samdahl. Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold.

Updated, 10 January 2016

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94 thoughts on “Faith vs. Works in James: Resolving the Problem

  1. GraceReceiver

    Great article, as usual.

    I was wondering, though, which of us is mistaken regarding the bringing of the Levitical sacrifices as per Leviticus 1:3-5? As I read it, I see that it is the sinner that kills the sacrifice at the door, and then the priests begin their functions after that.

  2. AJ

    In the section”The Gospel of the Kingdom”. Isn’t your example with Nicodemus concerning water baptism not in line with your point? My understanding of that passage was that one must be born of water referring to what Jesus was talking about earlier natural birth and being born of the Spirit. Will you clarify, please?

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      The passage is debatable. Some argue Jesus’ words refer to physical birth. But in light of other Scriptures, they could refer to water baptism. What is not debatable is that water baptism was necessary for salvation under the gospel of the kingdom.

      1. douglas graham

        Reference John 3:5 “a man must be born of the water and the spirit”!
        Does this refer to Titus 3:5, “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost”?

        1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

          No, I think it refers to the necessity of water baptism for salvation according to the gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1.4, 16.16; Acts 22.16).

  3. Derrick

    Hi Don, while reading tonight, 1 Timothy 6:17-19 stood out to me because of Paul’s mention of “good works”: “17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”

    I’m not certain how to interpret the mention in this passage. Thoughts?

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Paul’s point was to instruct those with material wealth to be wise in its use. God had blessed them and Paul exhorted them to use their wealth for things that would yield eternal reward (cf. 1 Corinthians 3.11-15).

      1. Derrick

        Great thanks for the confirmation, brother. The mention of storing up for the future (in the latter part of the passage) helps put the message in proper context and avoids confusion.

        As I progress with this new way of seeing Scripture (the prophetic dispensation and the Gospel of grace .. the mystery), I believe the Lord is opening my eyes to see why there is so much “confusion” and “bible contradiction” (unnecessarily) … and the inevitable traditions/denominations as a result. On one hand, it’s immensely exhilarating to have your eyes opened to the Word and on the other, sad because so many don’t see what seems so clear.

  4. Joe

    Was the complete salvation of old testament believers put on hold (so to speak) until Christ’s blood was shed? The animal blood ‘covered’ sin but Christ’s blood forgave sin. Is this why OT believers did not go directly to Heaven at their death? OT believers went to Paradise. Christ took captivity captive. Is this when the OT believers finally got to go to Heaven to wait for their Kingdom to be established on earth? If so, do you believe OT believers and Raptured Saints will be together for a while in Heaven during the Tribulation on earth? Please correct any misunderstandings I have.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      I think that’s the way it works. But there is a difference. At the Rapture we will receive resurrection bodies. The OT believers will not. See my article, The Resurrection. I have no idea how that affects interaction among Church and OT believers.

  5. Carole

    I have difficulty imagining timing of things. To us timing is important and we cannot think outside of time. However, with God there is no time. Therefore, I imagine that all things are one in time at death…immediate judgment, heaven or hell, meeting raptured saints and OT believers, new heaven, new earth, all at once. It helps a lot to imagine this way when one just can’t wait for a resurrection body. LOL. Am I too far out?

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      The universe is a mysterious place. The greatest minds do not understand the nature of reality. According to quantum mechanics, the universe is so strange that it defies reason. We cannot really imagine a timeless world since we operate in time and time is a part of physical space. Obviously, some seriality exists in the events you mention but in a timeless environment they are “now.” I touch on this a bit in my article, Predestination. To get an idea of how weird things are, check out–Td28.

      1. Carole

        Thanks for that. I enjoyed watching it, the parts I could relate to. I think I will consider today’s liberals as holograms. LOL. Some find it tough to be in reality…but when they understand reality with mathematics they will understand the “big bang”. I have to laugh at how little we scientifically know and understand about life and the universe. It is so easy to believe in our Creator and to know we are saved by Him from His Word and Spirit, which is so miraculously supplied to us. How difficult it must be to be an atheist or agnostic!

        1. Joe

          It’s philosophical. Is math an invention or a discovery? The BBC program touched on this question and said maybe the universe exists inside math. Again, this same question is not new. Aristotle then Aquinas and now Feser touch on this in their presentations of “Universals”. There is definitely something ‘out there’. This program suggests that walking through a closed door is mathematically possible. I would suggest walking through a closed door is no big deal if you transcend the bounds of this universe.

  6. Dan B

    Dear Brother, thank you for your work in the Lord and faithful teaching of His Word. I have accepted the distinctive ministry of Paul for many years and followed the teachings of O’Hare, Stam and others. But I have never received a satisfying answer to whether the twelve and their followers where “members of the Body of Christ”.

    I agree that the Bride is redeemed Israel and not the same as the Body. And it seems clear that different destinies are proscribed for different believers. Peter and the eleven other Apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the nation of Israel and Israel with be priests to the Gentile nations during the millennium.

    I also seems clear that Paul teaches the we, the body of Christ are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places and seated in Christ at the right hand of God. And that after the rapture we will be with Him forever.

    How should we consider believers saved under the ministry and dispensation of the kingdom gospel relative to Paul’s teaching regarding the body? Are we members of the same body with different functions in God’s redemption of the heaven’s and the earth or is there a very distinct set of believers that have a particular role in God’s plan of redemption, maybe more related to the heaven’s.

    Thanks for your time to consider this!

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      The 12 were never part of the body of Christ. Believers saved under the kingdom program stayed in that program. The gospel of the kingdom ended at the Jerusalem Council, however (see The Great Hinge) and Peter later wrote the Jews to look to Paul for doctrine (2 Peter 3.15-16).

  7. GraceReceiver

    I was wondering if you could take the time to read this article by a mid-Acts man:

    In it is what I find to be the answer to Dan B’s question. I wouldn’t expect you to post a link to an article that you disagree with, of course, so I don’t want you to post my comment.

    If you can take the time to read this article but find that you disagree with this it, can you please email me and tell me why you disagree? I can’t find any fault with it; on the contrary, it answers some of the questions in my mind that have been nagging at me.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      The meaning of 1 Corinthians 12.27 is that each believer in the Church, the body of Christ, is an individual member. The author makes the verse mean something it does not and confuses the kingdom program with that of the Church. He does not understand Paul’s teaching about the Church. There was no Church before Paul.

      1. Jess

        Hi Don! Enjoying your site! I have to respectfully disagree with your review of the article. The author by no means confuses the two programs set in place. On the contrary, he acknowledges and accepts and briefly explains each by the end of the article. Paul himself acknowledges the existence of a church before him. It obviously wasn’t the one new man, but a church in Christ did exist beforehand even though this doesn’t fit neatly into much of “right division.”

        1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

          Disagreement is fine if Biblically based. The gospels teach works were required for salvation. This is what Peter preached at Pentecost. This is what was declared at the Council of Jerusalem. James was written before the Council. After that, salvation by faith alone was alone valid.

          1. John

            No it doesn’t teach works. Christ was in the peculiar position of being under the Old Testament and also having to introduce the New Covenant. In your example of the Rich Man, Jesus was still hiding who he was from many…he even speaks as if he’s only a man, ” why do you call me good, only God is good?”

            He then starts with a list that would never end until the man walked away. It’s like..wash my boots, now my feet, comb my hair…until the person gets it—No One Is Good. He is in no way requiring works for the New Covenant…he is reciting the covenant that He and the Rich Man were under.
            The work of God is believing who he sent. Baptism is Not a work. It seems you’re just trying to be controversial, new, novel and the like. Although I appreciate someone who can at least see James was Christianity in diapers n not try and reconcile it as saying the same thing…. you’re going too far which is the plague of all us Christians.

            James did allow or perhaps teach that Jews should continue observing at least some part of the law–which of course is a compromise to the true Gospel but perhaps necessary to win over at least some Jews to Christ but never was works taught by the risen Christ as part of the gospel. That is no Gospel at all but precisely what every religion on earth has taught. The scandal of Christ is that this religion required no works..none. The heart of Stone replaced by the heart of flesh via the Spirit guarantees works will flow out of the believer. Requiring them is completely and utterly moot.

            1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

              Anything man does is a work. Baptism is something man does. So is forgiving another. So is keeping the Law. So is circumcision. Faith is not a work. It is depending upon the work of another–of Christ. Before Paul, salvation by faith alone was not known. If it had been, there would have been no controversy with Paul and no need for the Jerusalem Council. Paul explained in Romans 3 and 4 that the deeds of the Law were works. Please read Acts 15.1, 5. These Jews were believers. They had been saved under the gospel of the kingdom. They understood salvation under the Law and under the gospel of the kingdom required works. This was wholly different from Paul’s gospel of grace in which one is saved by faith alone.

  8. Kerri

    I am so thankful for finding your site! I have a question that is regarding Matthew 25 – The Parable of the Talents. I believe we are saved by faith apart from works; yet in this parable the man who does not put his talent to work is cast into the darkness. Sometimes I read the Bible and am sure I am saved but then I read a passage like the parable above and feel uncertain. Can you help me in my understanding? I appreciate all the time you give to answering questions put to you on this site.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Thank you. Jesus addressed Jews and the parables primarily deal with the kingdom of heaven. The context of this parable is the Tribulation, the coming kingdom, and the Lord’s return. The theme is faithfulness, particularly in the Tribulation. Confusion comes when we fail to consider the context of a passage: ask to whom was it addressed or written, when, the circumstances, etc. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone, believing Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead was unknown until Paul (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). Paul stated he received this gospel directly from the Lord (Galatians 1.11-12). The reason for confusion about faith and works is because people read Paul into the gospels and the gospels into Paul. Keep these separate and clarity results. If you believe Paul’s gospel you are saved and can have peace (Romans 5.1). God keeps His word.

  9. Kerri

    Thank you so much for answering my question! This site has been such a blessing to me and others who love to read Gods word but sometimes need some scholarly clarification. I know there are no contradictions in God’s word so whenever something is not clear to me I know I must seek out the answers until it becomes clear. Your site has helped me immensely with that!

    1. Derrick Stewart

      This is precisely how I feel Kerri. I am determined to find answers when I don’t understand. Once I found right division, and certainly this site has been invaluable in that process, the confusion and misunderstanding has/is invariably cleared. I am forever grateful to God for the enlightenment!

      1. J. Treadwell

        Mr. Don Samdahl,
        I am impressed by the scholarship and discerned revelation you proclaim, here. It, at first read, seems to bring clarity to some issues and questions I have had, over the decades of reading and studying God’s word. You, and others, have said rightly: there is no contradiction in or between any writers or doctrines: contained in that Word. There is misunderstandings and misrepresentations among it’s supposed rightly dividers. I ask where you were theologically educated; if at an academic institution of some kind. I don’t deny the validity of divine inspiration, given to one, who asks for Wisdom and Understanding, from the Lord. I testify that that works, but refuse too offer, so far, more than scriptural advice and encouragement. You almost establish doctrine; but do so meekly and with all pertinent scriptural footnotes. You do not order, argue are disparage, but seem to me to offer advice, in love. I hope and trust, that the Holy Spirit was your main source of council and faith. Please state that you have prayed and studied this out, if that is the case; and I hope that it is. I would not ever think of seemingly judging the ministries and dispensations Of Peter, James and Paul, without an almost Burning Bush fleece in my path. God bless and confirm you, brother: one way or another. I intend to read more of your writings; and submit all to Spiritual men, that I respect and trust, as to their closeness to God and His will and direction. I hope, thru prayer and council, I reach a favorable opinion and trust in this intriguing word, you have provided.

        1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

          J. Treadwell,
          Thank you for your kind comments. I received sound theological training at Dallas Theological Seminary. I learned of Paul’s unique apostleship from godly men such as Les Feldick and C. R. Stam. From those sources I have been able to discern and reconcile from the Scriptures seemingly incongruous theological conflicts.

  10. Elvie Manrique

    I am so thankful for finding your site! I have a question that is regarding “Romans 5:12-13 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[e] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” How are men save before Moses?

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      It’s a difficult question. OT salvation is murky. Essentially, it boils down to obeying what God had revealed. Faith was always required. But works were needed also. From the time of Adam, a blood sacrifice was required. Obedience and faith are two sides of the same coin. Abraham was something of an exception. He was saved by faith alone, believing God that he would become the father of many nations. Apart from him, both faith and works was required.

  11. Byron

    Thank you very much for this article!

    I started a study of the book of James recently and found it to be out of step with Paul’s writings, which concerned me.I read a few other commentaries before reading this one and I must say I found this article to be the most helpful.I feel a lot more at ease now that I have a proper understanding of how timeline relates to the content.

    Grace to you.

  12. Paul McDonald

    Are Paul’s letter addressed to believers? Certainly. Thus he says to believers: “I warn you, as I warned you before” that fornicators and adulterers will NOT be saved, will not “inherit the Kingdom of heaven”. He is not speaking of pagans, he is speaking to and of believers. So, one of the conditions of eternal life is to not commit adultery, or if one has, to, to cease and desist from it. And that is a work.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Read the passage again. Paul wrote believers to encourage them not to live as unbelievers or as they lived before believing his gospel. He wrote the unrighteous would not inherit the kingdom of God. The Corinthians were not unrighteous, they were believers. Paul made it clear time after time that salvation was by believing his gospel (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). It is faith, not works. Christ paid for all sins. That was the point of His death. To be saved, to have eternal life requires one thing: trusting in Christ’s work.

  13. Keri

    I have another question regarding Matthew 7:21-23- ” Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you away from me, you evil doers!’ In this passage is Jesus speaking of the Jewish Pharisees? Who is he speaking about? I have many Catholic friends who use this passage to say that you are not saved apart from works. They also use Matthew 25:31-41. to support their belief that you must do works to be saved. I try to argue it is faith plus 0 but we go in circles over this and frankly I am tired of the argument.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Matthew 5-7 is the charter of the earthly, Messianic kingdom. Jesus was speaking to Jews for he will fulfill the prophecy of the Davidic covenant and reign as the King of Israel, the King of the Jews, as Pilate wrote. So this passage has nothing to do with the Church. We know from many passages that Jews were saved by both faith and works (see my article, Faith vs. Works in James: Resolving the Problem). We do not learn about salvation by faith alone until Paul. The Gospels are Old Testament and concern Israel. They have nothing to do with the Church (other than Romans 15.4; 1 Corinthians 10.11; 2 Timothy 3.16). The problem with Roman Catholics, and most Protestants, is they mix Paul with the Gospels and vice versa. Christianity is built upon Paul’s letters, not the Gospels. One is saved today by believing Paul’s gospel, that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). That was never proclaimed before Paul. Jews in the Gospels were saved by believing in the identity of Christ, who He was, the Messiah, the Son of God, not in His work. See also the articles, The Gospel, and The Gospel of the Kingdom.

  14. jim

    So during the gospel of the kingdom only those in fresh water cultures could be saved? Those in isolated and very arid regions with no access to immersion could not be saved. Those driving caravans through hundreds of miles of desert waste could not be saved?

    Worse yet. Someone with faith but without access to immediate immersion runs lickety split to the nearest river baptismal but does not quite make it. Heart attack. Heat stroke. Offed by brigands. Damnation for his poor soul because he just could not get dunked in time.

    Or believes beneath a fig tree in some remote wadi. Massive stroke. Cannot drag himself to his camel let alone immersion.

    Or during this time of such a gospel … natives deep in the western hemisphere with no knowledge of this stuff. None regenerated. None delivered. Just tinder for the lake of fire? GIVE ME A BREAK!!! This does not align with the character and grace of Christ.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      I hope your comment was joke. The gospel of the kingdom was proclaimed in Israel. No shortage of water existed. John the Baptist had no problem finding water. Nor did Jesus and the disciples. Every time someone was saved there was water. Where you come up with the western hemisphere? Do you read of Jesus or the Twelve going to the western hemisphere?

      1. Chris Brown

        I’m sure you’ve answered this a million times, but I’ve not found it asked. Regarding the necessity of baptism, what then about the thief on the cross?
        Thank you.

        1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

          Obviously, the thief could not be baptized. But God is desirous for the salvation of all. God alone can see the heart and the Lord saw the man believed. God reserves the right to make exceptions.

          1. Chris Brown

            “God alone can see the heart and the Lord saw the man believed.”

            With respect, aren’t you equating kingdom gospel with Paul’s gospel?

              1. Chris Brown

                My limited understanding of what you are presenting is that P-gospel is belief only (i.e. what the thief on the cross did).
                And that K-gospel is belief + works (i.e. something the thief on the cross fell short of).
                Hence, he was saved by/under P-gospel as confirmed by Christ.

                1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

                  God reserves the right to make exceptions. Obviously, the thief was dying. He could not be baptized, do works, etc. He recognized Jesus was the Messiah and was saved.

          2. Debbie

            Just a thought. Jesus told the thief that today he would be in paradise with Him. Jesus didn’t go straight to the Father, correct. He spent 3 days in the center of the earth. Was that a paradise in Hades? Some believe in various places within hell, right? You’re thoughts are appreciated. I believe Les just had mentioned this on a program according to my friend.

            1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

              The best description of the afterlife before Christ’s resurrection is Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Paradise was “Abraham’s Bosom” and it was divided from the place of torment. This is where Jesus went. But He also went to Tartarus, where the fallen angels of Genesis 6 are held and pronounced His victory (1 Peter 3.18-20).

              1. Faith

                A thought- if Jesus said to the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that day would it not be true in that Jesus is God so therefore the thief was with Jesus? Also would it be that the human form of Jesus went to Tartarus? Just wondered

    2. Craig

      If salvation in the OT was faith PLUS works, then how was Abraham saved? What WORKS had he done when God declared him righteous? There was no church, no 10 Commandments yet, no law of circumcision. Nor was it his sacrificing Issac because Abraham was saved before Issac was born. So how was Abraham saved. The Bible says it was his faith that God credited to him as righteousness.

      1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

        Abraham was saved by faith alone which is why Paul used him to make his case. But nowhere (other than this) does the OT or gospels state salvation was by faith alone. On the contrary, they explicitly reveal salvation before Paul required faith and works.

  15. Joe

    I asked a C of C preacher about the thief not being baptized. He asked me how did I know he hadn’t been baptized some time earlier. ….I’m surprised how liberal the C of C has become. The founders of the C of C came out of the Presbyterian church back in the early 1800’s. Interestingly Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander (C of C is sometimes called Campbellism) both considered themselves saved even though they had never been previously immersed except for their church’s ‘infant baptism’ ritual. “Baptism remission” is probably their #1 heresy. …..seems the early to mid 1800’s had an explosion of cults.

  16. Brad

    You said: “Obviously, the thief could not be baptized. But God is desirous for the salvation of all. God alone can see the heart and the Lord saw the man believed. God reserves the right to make exceptions.” So, God just makes exceptions to whoever? What did the thief do to garner this exception? Had a good heart? Nobody is good but God alone. How do you know God hasn’t made multiple exceptions? You also said Abraham was an “Exception.” So, your “Gospel of the Kingdom” is actually faith+works + exceptions=salvation. This seems to be “twisting scripture” as you say. You throw in “exceptions” to fit your incorrect narrative. God doesn’t just choose who He is especially “desirous” for. He is especially “desirous” for everybody. There must be a definitive conclusion as to what it takes to be saved both in the old and new testament WITHOUT “exception.” This “exception” of yours is writing into scripture something that definitely is not there. Salvation was, is and always will be by faith alone through Christ alone. Nobody helps Jesus pay for sins before or after Paul’s doctrine.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      God is sovereign. He is ominiscient. He knows men’s hearts and wishes ALL to be saved. He can made exceptions because He is God. He makes the rules which conform to His justice. Would you have the thief on the cross go to hell because he couldn’t be baptized? Do you think Christ went to the cross NOT to save people? The man recognized Christ as the Messiah and God saved him. There is no definitive statement of salavation in the OT like there is for Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). It is murky. It was by both faith and works but faith was always the trump card.

  17. Brad

    You said “There is no definitive statement of salvation in the OT like there is for Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). It is murky.” So, you just automatically assume works were required, because you seem to think it is murky? It wasn’t murky to the people in the old testament. If belief was all it took for Abraham, then belief is all it took for all the old testament people as well. You can’t pick and choose “exceptions” because it doesn’t fit your narrative. Paul used the Old Testament to show salvation has always been by God’s grace and can only be received through faith. (Romans 4:1–5, 9–10, 16) He wasn’t making an exception for just Abraham. He is clearly saying that salvation has always been by faith for everybody and never have works been a requirement nor will they ever be. Hyper dispensationalism is a flawed theology. You might as well believe in the doctrine of election if God just arbitrarily makes “exceptions” for some and not for others. The thief on the cross “believed” just like Abraham did. He didn’t need to be baptized, because baptism has never been a requirement for salvation and never will be.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      No, the Scriptures state works were required. A Jew had to bring an animal sacrifice for sin. That was a work. Mark, Jesus, and Peter stated water baptism was necessary for salvation (Mark 1.4, 16.16, John 3.5, Acts 2.38). Water baptism is a work. The Council of believing Jews in Jerusalem stated one had to be circumcised and keep the Law for salvation (Acts 15.1, 5). Those were works. Salvation by faith alone was unknown before Paul.

      1. Roberts

        happy New Year to you.

        Only yesterday found your site.
        From the very beginning it makes me ask this question – is it true what this man is sharing
        or is it something that sounds good but is twisted?
        I will read other articles of yours but while reading through these commentaries
        I would love to challenge you by saying that believing that Jesus has done everything for us to be saved, water baptism and filling with the Holy Spirit – is what Jesus does alone 100%
        Here comes my point – Jesus has done everything for salvation to be established in one’s life, therefore in order for that to happen spiritually and physically, he actually requires us to obey him/ answer to his 100% work by our obedience. For us to ANSWER requires action.
        So therefore I believe #1 we repent and believe – 100% Jesus work/ our answer(obedience)
        #2 we get baptized to Jesus – 100% Jesus work by burying our sinful man
        and washing us clean/ our answer(obedience)
        #3 we get filled with the Holy Spirit – 100% Jesus work / our answer(obedience)
        In fact, it does not end there, now the life we live is 100% Jesus work / our answer(obedience)

        Just by my own experience I have seen too many people JUST BELIEVING but not being FREE.
        When true repentance, water baptism with full immersion and baptism of the Spirit comes in – things change totally!

        P.S. Robber on the cross is such a simple thing if we see time frame the way it is – he could not be baptized to Jesus Christ because Jesus himself at the cross has not died yet and buried and rose up again, therefore at that time there was no baptism to Jesus.

        would appreciate your thoughts on this.
        Much love,

        1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

          The gospel is that Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). If one believes this he is saved. Christ has done all the work. All one need do is to believe God, believe the gospel, to have eternal life. When one believes the gospel, the Holy Spirit indwells him and baptizes him into Christ. The Church, the body of Christ, has “one baptism”(Ephesians 4.5). This baptism identifies one into Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6.1-11) and it is through this baptism that one becomes part of a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17), the Church, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12.12-13). Water baptism has ended and only the “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit now exists.

          1. Roberts

            Thank you Don for your replay,

            If what you write would be true
            then in reality things would look way different when we come to salvation.
            I know that the Word is the Truth therefore we have to be in the Word, live the Word and become the Word for the dying world, but it seems we have so many different interpretations of what Bible actually is saying.
            Seriously, I have met countless people who have believed that Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for them to be saved but in reality these people are bound in old life no matter how often they repeat themselves – I am saved, I am free, many of them for years have tried to get free, desperate to get rid of old life but they simply could not. When we explain to them the Gospel the way we do, many if not all experience freedom either after the repentance, before or in the water baptism.
            If the Scripture actually by one baptism would mean exactly ONE baptism, then all people who believed in Christ would all speak in tongues right from the moment when they start to believe, but the book of Acts, also including Paul’s experience in Chapter 19:1-7 shows us a quite different picture and I believe that this way of entering into a new life in Christ still functions the same way in our days.
            At least it is my own experience with God and for those people I have ministered to.
            I have come to a very simple conclusion – bearing fruits and true freedom always will define whether person knows Christ intimately or doesn’t.

            Blessings and much love,

            1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

              The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a fact apprehended by faith and is about identification with Christ, not speaking in tongues. Tongues was a short-lived, temporary gift and has nothing to do with living the Christian life today. No one legitimately speaks in tongues today. True belief leads to good works (Ephesians 2.10), a result of faith.

              1. Bobbi

                Ephesians 2:11 KJV — Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 KJV — That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
                To believe the scriptures, we (us Gentiles) before the dispensation of the grace of God, were without hope, and without God.
                In this dispensation there is only one baptism. Ephesians. 4:1-6
                It’s true it is different in the earlier periods, but in this one we are in a time God has made a way for us through Christ Jesus. Just thinking how important it is to know what period were are in.

  18. Brad

    You are simply wrong, and do not interpret scripture correctly. Paul makes it clear that it has always been by faith alone in Romans 4:1–5, 9–10, 16. No man has ever helped Jesus on the cross. He paid it ALL. “Sins” of the world means sins of the “whole world” not just the sins of those under Paul’s gospel. You can’t just make stuff up as “exceptions.” Sorry, that won’t work. Paul is being explicit stating that it has always been by faith alone using Abraham as an example NOT an “exception.” What did each person have to believe specifically to be saved in the old testament? I don’t know for sure, but if Paul said it was by faith alone, then it was by faith alone, and I don’t insert “exceptions” when that is outside what is written in God’s word. You are adding to the Bible. Adam and Eve’s fig leaves (works) were not enough to cover their sins. They could not even hide their nakedness much less help cover their sin, and that’s why God gave them skin to cover themselves. They obviously acted by faith alone. But, I guess they were another “exception.” Not buying it…

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      So your position is that the Scriptures I sent you, Mark 1.4, 16.16, John 3.5, Acts 2.38 do not mean what they say? Jews didn’t have to bring animal sacrifices for forgiveness? What Scriptural evidence exists that people were saved by faith alone other than Abraham? If salvation by faith alone was always the case, why did Jesus and the Twelve not proclaim this? These are questions that must be answered to maintain your position. The truth is that salvation by faith alone was unknown before Paul and that is why Paul called the gospel he received from the risen Lord, “my gospel.” It was new.

    2. Bobbi

      By Gods Grace they (Adam and Eve) were covered with skins you mean surely. I can’t say covering themselves with leaves and hiding shows faith do you truly?
      I think what your seeing is that by Gods Good Grace everyone is saved. The thing is at different times Gods will for His people and His directions are different.
      Like Noah, he had to build an ark. He did what he was told to do and was saved the destruction of the flood.
      Joshua, had to March around the city…etc…he did what was told him to do.
      Jews in Jesus day were told to repent and be baptized, beginning with John. Thus that they did.
      We are told that Gods goodness and Grace leads us to repentance, and that the just shall live by faith. Thusly we do.
      No matter what God says what His people need to do and it has required different things at different times.
      The point of this article is that James wrote it under a different program than Paul did, so the directions were not the same. We are not saved today by anything we ‘do’, or as James says by works. Today God requires us to humble yourself before Him and it’s Him in us that saves. That’s the difference.
      But definitely with whatever people have been told to do they and we are all saved by the good grace of God.

    3. Debbie

      Brad, where was Jesus going as soon as He died? Not to heaven. He told the thief, today you will be in paradise with me, not you are going to heaven with me because Jesus wasn’t going straight to heaven.

  19. Brad

    Doctrine, those verses are speaking of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which one receives by “Believing” just as Abraham did. Again, I’m sorry, but I’m not buying your “exception” of Abraham AND the thief on the cross as you stated and Adam and Eve for that matter. Paul is clearly making the case that salvation has ALWAYS been by faith alone. You add to God’s word with these “exceptions.” If “Paul’s gospel” was different than that of Jesus and John, then that is a complete contradiction of Grace.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Paul is not making the case that salvation was ALWAYS by faith alone. He is making the case that salvation is NOW by faith alone according to Paul’s gospel. The Scriptures make it absolutely certain that salvation was NOT by faith alone before Paul. I have given you many Scriptures that prove this beyond all doubt. Have you read them? If you have do you believe them? How you reach the conclusion that different gospels contradict God’s grace is not rational. God does what He wants when He wants. How do you think people in the OT were saved?

  20. Brad

    Bobbie, you said “We are told that God’s goodness and Grace leads us to repentance.” You obviously believe in works based repentance or that repentance is “turning from sin.” That is NOT the biblical definition of repentance. Repentance is simply turning to God in faith by changing one’s mind. It has NEVER been about reformation or works. You and doctrine are writing into scripture something that just isn’t there. You have a wrong understanding of what repent means. Adam and Eve acted in faith when they put the clothes on that God gave them. It was a symbol of what Christ would do for us and how we are clothed in His righteousness by simply trusting in Him for forgiveness and everlasting life.

      1. Bobbi

        Also Brad i’m sorry, I misread your comment on Adam and Eve. I agree that the skins were a type of what Christ Jesus would do for us.
        Also, Gal. 3:21-29 says why it’s different now than times past.
        Paul does say that the Grace gospel is a dispensation Eph. 3:2-7.

  21. Brad

    Doctrine, I see you also have the wrong definition of repent. Repentance is always a change of one’s mind. That is the literal definition of the Greek word metanoia, and it means the same thing in Hebrew. What did God do in Jonah 3:10 KJV??? He “repented,” so He most definitely did NOT turn from His sin or reform His lifestyle. He changed His mind. Repent can NEVER mean a reformation of one’s life in general. Regarding 2 Cor 12:21, the “object of” repentance is “uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness,” but turning from “uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness” is NOT the definition of repent, and is NOT required for salvation. Yes, somebody can repent from all those things (turn from them by changing their mind about their behavior and stopping those sins), but for salvation Jesus is the object of repentance. One must change their mind about who He is and trust that only He can save us from our sins. They must turn from any preconceived notion of salvation or no notion at all and place their faith in Christ. There is a free will choice, and that is the only action in repentance for salvation, and that action is not a work. (Romans 4:5 KJV) However, the action in the change of mind regarding 2 Cor 12:21 IS works, but that verse is NOT dealing with salvation. Paul was speaking to already SAVED believers who had “Passed the test” (2 Cor 13:6) Hebrews 6:1: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works .” What is the object of repentance in this verse??? “Dead works” It’s NOT sin. Some of these “Dead Works” were most likely good works, but they were dead in the sense that they could not bring salvation. The Jews had a forehead of “Brass” (Isaiah 48:4), so they more so than the Gentiles needed to “change their mind” of brass regarding works for salvation. This verse in Hebrews along with Jonah 3:10 proves without a doubt that “Turning from sin” is NOT required for salvation, and “Turning from sin” is NOT the biblical definition of repent.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      You have a spirit of contentiousness. The word “repent,” μετανοέω means a change of mind. It can be towards, God, sin, or whatever. Context determines what the change is. Paul told believers to repent, to change their mind about sin. Repentance is never a work, just as faith is never a work. You fail to distinguish between repentance regarding unbelievers and repentance regarding believers. What you have written indicates confused thinking.

  22. Brad

    Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that A MAN is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Paul is clearly talking about mankind IN GENERAL being justified by faith not just those under his gospel, and he is including old testament saints, because he immediately ties in what Abraham “found” in Romans 4:3 “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” People before Abraham probably didn’t know they were saved by faith in the old testament, but that was always the case, and Paul is clearly explaining that here.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Again, you ignore the Scriptures! What do you do with verses such as Mark 1.4, 16.16; Acts 2.36-38; 22.16? Do they mean what they say? Did Jesus lie to the rich young ruler? Were the Twelve disobedient when they told Paul that those believing his gospel were not saved (Acts 15.1, 5)? Salvation by faith alone was unknown before Paul. This is as clear as day to one who will believe the Scriptures. The problem you have is unbelief.

    2. Joe

      In early Acts (chapter 2) Peter had this in mind as the means for salvation:…repent and be baptized

      Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

      40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized,

  23. Brad

    Doctrine, I don’t have a spirit of contentiousness. I capitalize for emphasis only, and I am a passionate defender of the Gospel. When somebody simply throws around random “exceptions” with no biblical basis, I can’t just give it a pass. Where does it say that sacrifices etc were directly required for salvation from hell and for eternal life in the old testament? It just isn’t there.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      So your conclusion is that a Jew could have forgiveness of sin without offering an animal sacrifice? Jesus said keeping the commandments was required for eternal life. The believing Jews in Acts 15 said the same. So, according to your reasoning, Moses was wrong, Jesus was wrong, and the Twelve were wrong. I believe it is time to end the conversation so you can do some Bible study. I have given you many verses to examine and you have no answers for any of them. I encourage you to put away tradition and believe the Scriptures.

  24. Brad

    “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” That is what Acts 15:5 says. It says nothing about the twelve saying Paul’s gospel couldn’t save them. Vs 1 says “And certain men” not the twelve. As far as the rich young ruler, Jesus was giving him an impossible task. The rich young ruler didn’t believe; it wasn’t about his works. Jesus said but “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Nobody can keep the commandments. It’s impossible. So, you’re saying that Jesus was telling the kid to be perfect, and the kid now had to be perfect to get to heaven, because it was by works for the Jews. If you say that selling all his possessions and following Jesus was all he needed to do, then you are conveniently leaving out that Jesus also told him to be perfect. That is biblical gymnastics to satisfy your narrative.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      There you go again. The sect was under the control of the Twelve. Do you really think they would have held a major council involving James, Peter, etc. (the text says the apostles and elders v.6) if they were not in agreement and in disagreement with Paul? The fact that you continue to ignore verses such as Mark 1.4, 16.16; Acts 2.36-38; 22.16 indicates you are not interested in truth but only in preserving tradition, a myth. Nothing in the OT or in the gospels supports the idea that faith alone was sufficient for salvation before Paul (1 exception: Abraham). Please do not reply again unless you provide an explanation regarding the water baptism passages. I really am tired of pointing out the obvious and my article has made a sound case that salvation before Paul required faith and works. You can believe or reject the Scriptures.

  25. Isaac

    Are you trying to say that we, the gentile believers are supposed to ignore the epistles and content of John, Peter and James, since the authors were writing to jewish believers, or are there passages in these epistles that appeal to us?

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      You will not find anywhere that I have written we should ignore any portion of the Scriptures. What I have written is that for Church doctrine we have to go to Paul’s letters. Paul wrote that “all Scripture is profitable.” All Scripture is FOR us but all Scripture is not TO us. See Romans 15.8; 1 Corinthians 10.11.

  26. Neal Jessup

    Dear Brother Don,
    A search for understanding the gospels led my to your site and book, both of which I have immensely enjoyed. Further searching has also led me to a better understanding of mid-Acts dispensationalism, and ultimately to its critics (for example I can see most criticisms are characterized by simply misrepresenting dispensational views, or by not first agreeing on terms, but one charge constantly appears, that dispensationalists put forth the claim that a works based gospel is found in the NT gospels and certain epistles. I’m familiar with your distinction of repentance + baptism vs. grace through faith, but i’m trying to reconcile that with what I see in the Scriptures.

    Paul gave us the proper view of works in Romans 4: 2-12
    2 “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
    Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!
    And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
    And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
    It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”

    It would seem at any point you could substitute “baptism” for a Kingdom gospel believer. They received baptism as perhaps a sign or seal, but their salvation came first, through faith, just like with Abraham. If not, what was Paul saying?

    God describes in several places how much works really count.
    Hos 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
    Mic 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.
    Mark 12:33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

    These reveal that God desires the heart change first, then the resulting obedience. And faith and repentance seem to me inseparable. How can you have faith in God and His promises without at the same time repenting of self-righteousness, faithlessness, and rebellion toward God? You certainly can’t continue in those if you’re serious.

    You cite the rich young ruler, but here Jesus seemed to be really just cutting to the chase. If he really wanted to “inherit eternal life”, and “be perfect”, and “lay up treasures in heaven” and then to “come, follow me” it could have only come through faith and “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance”, repentance from his idolatry of wealth. Jesus even explained to the disciples about His reply, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” No matter how Jesus made him reveal his heart, the idea that the man could have bought his salvation seems rather outrageous.

    You cite OT sacrifices, and yes God demanded sacrifices to satisfy His justice, but they invariably fell short, and one still had to rely on God’s mercy, especially when it came to intentional sins, which all committed. You recognize in your article at that time with what they were given, they believed that faith and works were required for salvation. But to God? In His economy, works obviously count for something, but for one’s salvation? As to works, yes he gave them ways to identify and to minister, and he gave them ways to understand the seriousness of sin; but as to their salvation, that had to be all on Him.

    I can’t help but see that Paul’s revealed mystery at the council was that it had always been through faith. That would have certainly been new information to the Jews. Does Paul at any point say that it was at one time faith plus works, from God’s perspective? I view his revelation as being that Abraham, all who “follow in the footsteps of the faith” the Hebrews 11 saints, the thief on the cross, all were saved through faith. You have to see why some could never accept the idea that works gain any credit toward salvation, it seems opposite to the whole Bible message (example Ps 44:1-8).

    From what I’ve read in your letters, I think your “suffering for Christ” will always include defending your doctrine on these points. One day all will be revealed. We may all be in for a few surprises.


    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Thank you. Glad you have enjoyed the book. Too many passages exist which declare works were necessary for salvation in the OT and in the gospel of the kingdom. If we are to allow the Scriptures to mean what they say there is no way works cannot be excluded as necessary. What must be understood is that Paul’s message of salvation by faith alone was new and revolutionary. No one ever believed this before. The great exception was Paul’s example of Abraham. If you had told a Jew before Paul’s revelation that he could be saved by faith alone he would have declared you a heretic. This was exactly the problem at the Council of Jerusalem. This is why Paul stated his gospel was a secret (Ephesians 6.19; Romans 16.25). Faith was always necessary for salvation but not faith alone. The saved Jew of the OT exercised faith by obedience, doing what God commanded, e.g., offering sacrifices. The essential aspect of faith is obeying what God has revealed at the time. For us today, we exercise faith through obeying (believing) Paul’s gospel. No “work” is attached. This was new.

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