James: The Body or Soul
February 29, 2012, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Law/Gospel Distinction, Lordship Salvation, the book of James

by David Bishop

It so confused Luther that he pronounced it uninspired, before tossing it out of his Bible altogether.  It has been the bane of many a Protestant’s message, the thorn in most every Christian’s “by grace alone”, the flaming arrow of every Lordship Salvationist’s dart.  What it is it?  It is the epistle of James.  And though it can certainly be one of the more difficult books in the Bible to understand, it doesn’t need to be as long as we keep in mind the fact that the Bible comes to as a whole; verses laid upon verses, chapters upon chapters, each meant to be understood not in a vacuum, but rather as part of the whole.   God is, after all, unchanging, and so we must keep in mind that one part of His word will never contradict another.  This means that we not must come to James as though his epistle is independent of the rest of Scripture.   Rather, there is no James 2:17 without Romans 4:5.  The one  is affirmed in the light of the other. 

The first things I discover about James’ epistle is the fact that he addressed his epistle to people whom he believed were Christians.

James 1:2
Count it all joy,
my brothers, when you meet trials of many kinds

James 2:1
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

This fact may seem rather trivial at first, but it is paramount we keep it in mind, because most commentaries I have read forget this almost immediately.

The second thing I discover is that James does not use the words “save” and “soul” in today’s Roman-influenced, common vernacular.   For instance, most church goers are conditioned to always think of the word “saved” as a reference to eternal salvation.   Indeed, sometimes Scripture does use the word “saved” with that view in mind, but not always.   For example, in Matthew 14:30, we find the following:

Matthew 14:
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”   28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”

I hardly think Peter was concerned at that moment with the fate of his eternal destiny.  He wasn’t asking Jesus to save him from hell.   Rather, he was asking Jesus to save him from drowning.

We find similar usage for the word “saved” in places like Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:30, Luke 6:9, Acts 27:43, 1 Samuel 4:3, Genesis 45:7, and more.   In these instances, the Scripture uses the word in reference to the preservation of bodily life, or the rescue from bodily danger, rather than eternal salvation from Hell.   King David often used the word in the Psalms to express this very meaning.  Consider Psalm 7:1, Psalm 22:21, Psalm 57:3, and Psalm 69:1, for example.

What this means for us is that we must not presume that when James told his readers to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”, that he meant putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness is able to save you from eternal judgment.  We know this is not his meaning, because this would at every point deny the gospel of grace.  (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 11:6, Titus 3:5, Romans 4:5, 2 Timothy 1:9, Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:21).  What James must have been referring to instead, is to the saving of your physical body.   But if this is the case, why then use the word “soul”?

Here again, the Bible uses the word soul in ways that we have not been conditioned to think.   For example, sometimes the word soul is used in reference to the word person, as in Exodus 12:15, “that soul shall be cut off from Israel” and in Leviticus 4:2, “if a soul shall sin through ignorance.”  At other times the word soul is used in reference to the word mind, as in Deuteronomy 4:29, 6:5, 10:12, 11:13 and 11:18, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”   However, the most common usage for the word soul is in reference to the physical body, or more precisely, physical life, as in Genesis 35:18, 1 Samuel 26:21, and 1 Samuel 25:29, for example.

What did James mean then when he said, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”?  He meant we can save our bodies from being disciplined with an early grave by putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.  Remember, he is addressing people who are already justified, who are already regenerated.  Their eternal destiny has already been secured.  He is not speaking to the idea of saving themselves from hell.  He was urging his readers instead to obey God in this life, or risk going to an early grave as a form of discipline.

Discipline?  God uses death to discipline? You bet He does.  The apostle Paul himself gives us an example of just this in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 11:
28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Here in 1 Corinthians, we find some wealthy people who were treating their poorer brothers with disdain by consuming all the food and drink at the  Lord’s before the poorer brothers had arrived to partake.  As a result, God struck some of these wealthy brothers with sickness, while He struck others with death.  Does this mean they will now be lost to destruction at the day of judgment?  No!  Not at all!  For the judgment which they were judged by, Paul says in verse 32, was the judgment of Godly discipline.

The writer of Hebrews concurs with Paul, and says something very similar.

Hebrews 12:
5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

As does James!

James 1:
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

The judgment James speaks of is not eternal destruction at the last day, but rather a disciplinary act marked by physical death in this life.  This is what James is talking about when he says faith without works is dead, and when he asks, what good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  He is not asking can that faith save him from eternal destruction.  He is not asking can that faith save him to heaven.  He is asking, can that faith same him from God’s discipline.  The answer, of course, is no.

There are some people however, who turn James’ argument on its head and assert that if a person has truly been justified, if he is truly going to heaven, then he will do good works.  THIS IS NOT JAMES’ ARGUMENT!  How could it have been, when the fact is that he has just finished calling these misbehaving people his brothers?!  James would have condemned the Lordship Salvation, proof-of-justification talk as foolishness and wicked!   And make no mistake about it, the men who teach that Christians will prove their justification by doing good works are engaging in nothing less than foolish and evil speech.  Such teaching removes Christ as the object of faith by insisting that we focus upon our faith and obedience instead.

James nowhere insists that we prove our faith authentic by doing good works.  Nowhere does the Bible talk about faith as being real or true.  Faith is faith, either you agree with God or you don’t.

“Christians will bear fruit.”

This statement is not necessarily true.  It depends.  If fruit is defined as faith and repentance, then the statement is true.  If fruit, however, is defined as a change in ethical/moral behavior, then the statement is not true.

Certainly, some Christians do enjoy a change in moral behavior, but it’s also equally true that some don’t.  Created in Christ for good works that we SHOULD walk in them does not mean all do.  Case in point, 1 Cor 11:27-32.

James did not argue that Christians must express proof of their justification by doing good works.  Again, he would have condemned such teaching.   Instead, he that if we don’t obey God, then we will suffer and die in this life, but still be saved in the next.

Lordship Salvation turns this on its head.  It says, you MUST do moral works to prove you will be saved from eternal judgment.  This is why it is really salvation by works.  It sneaks salvation by works in through the back door in order to avoid having to say salvation as a result of good works.  It is exactly that though.

3 Comments so far
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So what did James mean when he used the term “justify” in James 2:21 and 2:24?

Comment by Nick

Yo creo que Santiago habla de justificación delante de los hombres y no de Dios, ya que menciona la fe de los demonios y dice que ellos tambien creen y tiemblan, una fe en Dios no en Cristo, o sea una fe que no es para justificación DELANTE de Dios (ya que la única fe que nos justifica delante de Dios es la fe puesta en Cristo, mejor dicho Cristo nos justifica por medio de la fe 😀 ), y el segundo punto viene en que Santiago dice que ‘yo te mostrare mi fe por mis obras’ o sea como puedo mostrar mi fe a otra persona.

El hombre es justificado (delante de otros hombres) por las obras y no solamente por la fe.

Comment by Albert

Estoy de acuerdo, Albert. Algo en qué pensar. Los demonios creen que Dios es uno, pero es que casi la única cosa que ellos creen verdad acerca de Dios. Piense en lo que los demonios dice que Jesús echó fuera. Ellos confesaron a creer que Dios había establecido un plazo para su castigo. Ellos creían que esto es cierto. Pero no creo que Dios es sólo para hacer esto. Ellos no creen que Dios es justo hacer esto. Ellos creen en cambio que Él es injusto hacerlo.

Comment by Sovereign Grace Society

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