I recently responded to a question about whether the broken record approach can be turned against us. The questioner asked if a person we were witnessing to might just keep quoting James 2:24, or a similar verse. Then you’d have dueling broken records!
As I said in that blog, the people who you talk with may not be open. But if they are open, then eventually the truth of the free gift of everlasting life will break through, as it did for us one day.
When someone seems to be genuinely confused by a passage like James 2:24, it would be helpful if we could explain it to them. Here is how you might respond:
As you may be aware, the word translated alone in James 2:24 is not an adjective in Greek, but an adverb (monon). Adverbs modify verbs, not nouns. So, James 2:24 should be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works and not only justified by faith” (my own translation).
James 2:24, like Rom 4:2, speaks of two different justifications, one by faith and one by works. The one by faith is before God as James 2:23, quoting Gen 15:6, says. James 2:23 looks to the time when 75-year old Abraham believed God concerning the coming Messiah. The other justification is by works before men, as James 2:21, says. James 2:21 refers to Genesis 22, twenty-five years after Abraham was justified by faith, when Abraham put the promised heir, the progenitor of the Messiah, on an altar and began to plunge the knife to sacrifice his only son.
See here for an article by me on James 2:14-26, here for an article by me on justification by faith alone that has a section on James 2:24, here for an article by Dr. John Hart on James 2:19 and the faith of demons, and here for an article by Dr. John Hart on James 2:14-26 and the need to energize your faith.
Romans 4:2 agrees with what James says in James 2:24: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” If not before God, then before whom can Abraham boast? Before men.
But let’s say the person you’re witnessing to is not convinced. Let’s say he still believes that James 2:24 refutes justification by faith alone. What should you do?
You should pray and quote your broken-record verses(s) again. Then you might say, “Whatever James 2:24 means, it can’t refute the clear words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. James does not contradict the Lord Jesus.”
Justification, or vindication, before men is a different matter entirely than justification before God. James 2:20-26 shows this clearly. Justification before men does not occur when one believes in Jesus for everlasting life. It occurs when one who has already been justified by faith does works that show men that he is not only righteous in his position, but also in his experience. Abraham offering up his only son on an altar is regarded as the greatest act of human piety in the history of mankind by three different world religions. Abraham was indeed vindicated before men when he offered up his one and only son. But he was declared righteous in his position by God twenty-five years earlier when He believed God’s promise regarding the coming Messiah (Gen 15:1-6).
The debate over works salvation goes back to before the birth of the church (see John 5:39-40). We are on the right side of the issue. But it doesn’t look like we are if you count noses. Way more people in Christianity believe in works salvation than believe in the free gift of everlasting life. But in the end, we will be vindicated when we appear before Christ at the Bema.
If we lovingly and prayerfully use God’s Word to share the message of everlasting life with our friends and loved ones, we are doing a good thing. Whether they accept or reject our witness, we are expressing our love for them, and our love for the Lord Jesus Christ. He will reward us one day for all we have done that is pleasing to Him (2 Cor 5:10). And that certainly includes sharing His Word with others.