Definitions Matter

My comments on someone else’s comments on James and Paul.

“What are we to do with James’s apparent contradiction of Paul? In James 2: 14– 26 the writer is apparently in direct conflict with Paul. According to Paul, justification is by faith alone and not by the works of the law-see for example, Gal. 2: 14– 21; according to James, a man is justified by works and not only by faith (James 2: 24).”

One response might be: “What are we to do with your apparent inability to read the God-breathed word in a charitable manner?” Context is important and definitions matter.

“Upon closer examination, however, the contradiction is seen to be one of form and not of substance; and like other apparent contradictions in the Bible it serves only to reveal the Scripture combination of rich variety with perfect unity.”

Proverbs 26:4 admonishes believers to NOT answer a fool according to his folly lest you be like unto him; and it also says TO answer a fool according to this folly lest he be wise in his own conceit. Why even say that the alleged “contradiction” is merely “one of form” given the fact that the same word can have different meanings?

“So what is meant by faith? According to James faith without works is dead; according to Paul faith is all sufficient for salvation. But what does James mean by faith? The answer is perfectly plain. The faith which James is condemning is a mere intellectual assent which has no effect upon conduct.”

If the mere intellectual assent has NO EFFECT upon conduct, then NO mere intellectual assent has been made. Mere intellectual assent to the true gospel of Christ ALWAYS results in a life characterized by a desire to glorify Christ. Mere intellectual assent is the immediate and inevitable result of regeneration (2 Corinthians 4:6). The person who SAYS he assents but gives the lie to that assent is, well, a LIAR, as John says.

“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).

“The demons also, he says, have that sort of faith, and yet evidently they are not saved (James 2: 19).”

The demons do NOT “have that sort of faith.” For one thing, the faith (or “mere intellectual assent”) of demons actually results in a sort of effect upon their conduct — that of, trembling (James 2:19). The demon faith involves the “work” of trembling; the dead faith does not even do that. Neither are true faith, but one them actually results in evidential fruit. Also, these demons are said to believe in monotheism, not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“What Paul means by faith is something entirely different; it is not a mere intellectual assent to certain propositions, but an attitude of the entire man by which the whole life is entrusted to Christ.”

Faith IS mere intellectual assent to certain essential gospel propositions (e.g., the doctrine of Christ):

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).

As long as this “attitude of the entire man by which the whole life is entrusted to Christ” is Biblically-defined, then this attitude of gratitude is a NECESSARY and INEVITABLE result of giving mere intellectual assent to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). As Ezekiel and Jeremiah have said:

“And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jeremiah 32:39-40).

“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them]” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

“In other words, the faith that James is condemning is not the faith that Paul is commending.”

James condemns “SAID FAITH.” This “said faith” is dead faith, and dead faith is NOT mere intellectual assent. Dead faith CLAIMS to have given mere intellectual assent, but does lie, as John respectfully said in 1 John 2:4.

“The solution of the whole problem is provided by Paul himself in a single phrase. In Gal. 5: 6, he says, ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.’ ‘Faith working through love’ is the key to an understanding both of Paul and James. The faith about which Paul has been speaking is not the idle faith which James condemns, but a faith that works. It works itself out through love.”

Mere intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel of Christ is NEVER and can NEVER be idle, as the quotes from Ezekiel and Jeremiah reveal. If there is no working out through love, but the falsehood of idleness, then guess what? Mere intellectual assent has NOT been given.

“And what love is Paul explains in the whole last division of Galatians. It is no mere emotion, but the actual fulfilling of the whole moral law. ‘For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Gal. 5: 14). Paul is fully as severe as James against a faith that commends, so also the works which James commends are different from the works which Paul condemns. Paul is speaking about ‘works of the law’- that is, works which are intended to earn salvation by fulfilling the law through human effort. James says nothing in chapter 2: 14-26 about works of the law. The works of which he is speaking are works that spring from faith and are the expression of faith. Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice only because he believed God. His works are merely an evidence that his faith was real. Such works as that are insisted upon by God.”

How do those who disparage mere intellectual assent define mere intellectual assent? What, to them, does mere intellectual assent mean? If it be defined as a mere approving “tip of the hat” or “nod of the head” without evidential fruit, then this “nod of the head” was a nefarious lie, correct?

If the common disparagement of “mere intellectual assent” actually amounts to a disparagement of true belief of the gospel of Christ, then the supposed “attitude of the entire man by which the whole life is entrusted to Christ” becomes an expression of dead works and fruit unto death (Hebrews 9:13-14).

“We see then the value of James. If James had had the epistles of Paul before him he would no doubt have expressed himself differently. He might have said not that faith without works is dead, but that faith without works is not true faith at all. This is what he clearly means. But the expression of his thought is all the more poignant because it is independent. His stern, terse insistence upon moral reality in religion, of which the passage just considered is only a typical example, provides a valuable supplement to the rest of the New Testament. Of itself it would be insufficient; but taken in connection with the Gospels and with Paul it contributes a necessary fiber to the woven cord of Christian character.”

Two important articles on this topic of faith and works, of works and faith (based on relevant portions from Hebrews and James):