In my blog post of November 20, 2009, I quoted words from James: "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." - James 2:14-17 (KJV)
Now we look at another side. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians wrote "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)
My goodness, is the Bible contradicting itself? I was exposed to a Sunday School lesson which set up James and Paul like a debate or a day in court. It was a good lesson. We came to the conclusion that God gave us common sense, and all we have to do is to use it. In secular law we use juries, because we expect 12 people to use common sense in reaching a verdict. A judge might instruct a jury to weigh evidence, but the jury has the last word. Thank the Lord that people can arrive at sensible answers regardless of what the law says.
People can argue about the Word of God, and I believe that all scripture is profitable. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Paul wrote it in his second letter to Timothy. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. (KJV)
Profitable it says, but it does not say that each piece of scripture is equally profitable. There again, it requires common sense that God gave us. We are taught the Ten Commandments and that's okay. Count hard and you might conclude that there are 12 of them. Is that all? No, not if you are a legalist. A legalist must obey all those many laws to be found in the Book of Leviticus. One of them makes it illegal to eat catfish. Another one against barbecued pork. What southerner wants to give that up? Well everyone has a choice, be an inerrant legalist or live through faith by grace and enjoy the meal unless it causes a brother to go wrong.
Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, the only way to the Father. Grace is the unmerited favor of God through Jesus and His sacrifice. Salvation is a gift, given by God. It cannot be earned. Paul was in favor of good works, as has been established in his letters and preaching, but he knew that a person could never work his way to heaven. It's a gift.
The Bible is profitable, but it can be very confusing. Bible study can be a good thing. But that book with the black cover and red or gold edge is just a book. It is profitable, but it can never replace God and His Son. In the first chapter of the book of John we can find the real Word of God.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."--John 1:1-5 (KJV)
The Word of God is Jesus Christ. Would the Supreme Intelligent God want to hurt us or to confuse us. Jesus taught that God is love and He loves us. Jesus said "My burden is light and my yoke is easy." Jesus took all those laws and wrapped them into just two, to love the Lord with our entire being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. R. A. Perry used to pray that the Lord would help us to love Him supremely, love each other more, and love those about us.
Back when I was young there were tiny, almost stamp-sized, copies of the Book of John. I never knew why they were distributed ahead of the other three gospels. I know now. It comes first for the benefit of the believer and the prospective believer. It starts with Jesus, not at His earthly birth, but before that when He was with God the Father. I believe that the Book of John should be introduced ahead of any other scripture, because it proclaims Jesus and simply. The gospel is simple.
Some people love academics so much that they become professors, doctors, lawyers, and other book-indoctrinated professionals. Some people are smart in other ways, hard-working, and God-loving. They simply follow Jesus and his way. Some people may be more studious than others, but the Bible scholar is no nearer to salvation than any other follower of Jesus. It's not from works, lest anyone boast.
The gospel, the Good News of Jesus, is spiritual and soul-saving. Jesus came to us and fulfilled the law. Scripture and law are profitable, but they are not soul-saving. Only grace, the free gift from God, is able to save us miserable wretches. No way but Jesus's way.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
William A. Ricks