“The Mission Begins”: Preschool & Kids Leader Training for Unit 29, Session 4—Doers of the Word
“Faith without works is dead.”
Who would imagine that these five words that wrap up James 2:26 would be so controversial?
The source of all the fuss centers on what some seem to think James was saying: that faith alone is not sufficient for salvation, rather that works must accompany faith.
Let’s be clear. This is not what James was saying.
With that said, let’s get back to the point of contention. So some read the Book of James, and especially this verse, as James disagreeing with the gospel. That, as Paul wrote, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 CSB)
So which is it? Is Paul right? Does salvation come by faith? Or is James right? Is faith without works dead?
They are both right, of course. Because they are not contradicting one another; they are complementing one another.
What is going on here is that Paul and James are looking at the same thing—salvation—but from different perspectives. Paul is looking forward into salvation, while James is looking backward from salvation.
Paul Looking Forward
What is it that a person needs to do to be saved? Place his or her faith in Christ. That’s it. That is the core tenet of the gospel that Paul wants his readers to understand, especially any of his original readers who were coming from a works-based Jewish imagination. For Paul, it was critical to be emphatic and clear about this truth. We can do no single thing to earn salvation. There is no “plus” to Jesus. Jesus “plus” anything is not the gospel.
James Looking Backward
What does a person who has been saved look like? Different. That is the core tenet of the gospel that James wants his readers to understand, especially any of his original readers who were coming from a works-based Jewish imagination who may have been tempted to take grace too far. For James, it was critical to be emphatic and clear about this truth. If a person does no single thing differently than before salvation, they are not really saved. Salvation must change a person. Works must follow salvation. After all, it was the big idea behind what Jesus talked about in the separation of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.
So how do we reconcile Paul and James? We don’t. Friends don’t need to be reconciled.
Holiness is not the way to Christ. Christ is the way to holiness.” — Adrian Rogers (1931-2005)Adrian Rogers, Adrianisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Adrian Rogers (Memphis, TN: Love Worth Finding Ministries, 2006), 57.
Tips for Teaching this Week’s Session
Every week, Karen Jones and I offer guidance to help you as you prepare to teach every session of The Gospel Project for Preschool and Kids. Listen in as we discuss:
- The big idea of the session
- Any areas of caution or requiring additional prep time
- What we hope God will do through this session
This training is available on Ministry Grid, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms.