James may seem to contradict Paul when he wrote, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified (considered righteous NIV) by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (ESV v21) James here is using the language of the court with God the Father being judge. Paul wrote, ‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.’ Romans 4:3-5
The bible teaches all will be judged by God including disciples of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:12 It is a painful thought and rightly should be viewed with the greatest seriousness. It is a mistake to think that there is a pass mark where if the balance of good in our terms outweighs the balance of bad then God will choose to overlook the not so good. It is also a mistake to think there is an appeals process, God is the highest court there is no appeal beyond him. We are not the ultimate arbiter over our own lives even though this is anti the majority perspective of the western world. The modern western individual normally takes the perspective if it is good for me then it is good. Goodness is relative, it is argued except in the most extreme examples there is no ultimate right and wrong. So for example one might say if I have an affair and my spouse does not know and the affair brings me happiness then there is nothing wrong. Others would go further and say even if my spouse does know and is made very unhappy about it, as long as I was happy then for me it is a good thing.
James has already made clear that one transgression from God’s law means that they are guilty of breaking the whole of God’s law. James 2:10 James is concurring with Paul that, ‘none is righteous no not one.’ Romans 3:10 This leaves us with the dilemma, is it possible for God to make the judgement that we are considered righteous or justified. Paul says only through faith in Jesus, referring to Genesis 15:6 where Abraham was justified through faith. James seems to be saying we can be justified through what we do, citing Abraham’s preparedness to sacrifice Isaac Genesis 22:9-10 and Rahab helping the Israelite spies when they were planning to conquer Jericho. Joshua 2
The apparent difference is explained by James applying a different sense to the word “justify”. Paul uses “justify” to mean being declared righteous by God through faith on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice which atones for sin. Romans 3:24-26 James uses “justify” to show the way works reveal that someone has been justified. James here is concurring with Jesus’ own teaching. Mathew 12:33-37 Paul’s intention is to show how one is justified, James is drawing attention to what justification looks like in the life of a Christian.
Do you feel God has the right to judge you?
How do you feel about God’s judgement on your life?
If you have trusted in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice how has that impacted on your life?
And can it be – Stuart Townend