We begin our study of whether or not there is a contradiction by looking at what the Apostle Paul taught.
Paul taught we are saved by grace through faith
Paul wrote in Romans chapters 1-3 how we are under God’s judgment. God is going pour out his wrath upon all who do wrong and His love upon all who do right (2:5-11). However, we have one major problem; we all break God’s laws! Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all condemned sinners under the wrath of God.
Beginning in verse 21 of chapter 3 Paul delivered great news! Romans 3:21-22 “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” Paul tells us the righteousness of God is available to all who believe. This righteousness or right standing before God is received by faith. We read in verse 22 “…even the righteousness of God through faith.” The object of our faith is Jesus Christ. We receive God’s righteousness “Through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” Paul taught we are right with God apart from trying to live by the law. Salvation is open to all who believe. It is available to everyone, Jew or Gentile by faith in His Son Jesus Christ. That’s it! Nothing more! No works, not being good, just believing in God’s Son.
Paul is now going to use Abraham as an example to emphasize how we can be right with God by faith alone. What is interesting is Abraham would have been thought of by the Jews as the father of works and not faith. This was probably why Paul used him. We read in Romans 4:1-5 “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” I will define a few key terms:
- Justified – Legal act by God where our sins are forgiven and we receive Christ’s righteousness.
- Works – Following God’s law and doing good deeds.
- Righteousness – Being in right standing or relationship restored with God.
- Credited (reckoned) – A banking term. God applies righteousness to our account.
Paul says, “What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather, according to the flesh. What has he found? If Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about, but not before God. The words “justified by works” simply means a person can pay for his sins by following the law. Paul here is making a hypothetical statement. He is saying if Abraham could earn his way to heaven then he could brag about it; he could tell God I didn’t need you. However, Paul had already dealt with the boasting in Romans 3:27-28 “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” If we could earn heaven by works we could boast, however, Paul says boasting is excluded. Why? Justification comes by faith and not by our works!
Now Paul is going to reinforce his point from the Old Testament. Romans 4:3 “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was credited (reckoned) to him as righteousness.” This is a quote from Genesis 15:6. Abraham was credited righteousness by belief; by faith in God.
Paul writes in Romans 4:4, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” If you work for it, then God owes you forgiveness. Verse 5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” God’s forgiveness cannot be earned! We cannot work our way heaven.
By believing in His Son Jesus Christ, God applies Christ’s righteousness to our account. We have an empty bank account and God puts cash in there. It's not our cash it’s God’s cash; it’s God’s righteousness. He puts it into our account, and because the account is in our name, then we can spend it. It becomes ours even though we didn't earn it. The cash put into our account is our sins are forgiven and we get credit for all the good Jesus represents. We receive all this through faith. Now that’s a deal! Jesus pays for our moral wrongs on the cross and we receive His goodness. Not by doing good but by faith.
This is one of the main themes of much of what the Apostle Paul writes. He is no doubt the champion of salvation by grace through faith. It is central in his writings to the Church at Galatia and Ephesus.
Some call this a bizarre doctrine invented by Paul and not taught in the Old Testament. Paul communicated to the church in Rome, salvation by faith was taught in the Old Testament. Abraham was right with God through faith and not by works. These individuals need to rethink their position.
Next we will examine the writings of James on this issue.