14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:14-18 (NASB)
The passage I placed at the beginning of this article is one of the most abused and misunderstood passages that I know of. If it is read casually, it can be easily misunderstood. If is exposited by someone possessing a faulty hermeneutic, it can be twisted to say what no other part of the Bible teaches, that faith plus works is required for salvation.
Works salvation is nothing new. Jesus’ earthly ministry took place in a religious environment that was oppressively legalistic and works based. What is a works based theology? It is a religious system built around one succinct point; salvation comes to those who earn it. If you have little or no works then you are out of luck. It brings people into bondage because it teaches that salvation is based on their own personal worth, goodness, or faithfulness. Under this theology, you live your life and try to be as good and faithful as you can and when you die if your good works outweigh your sins then you are in, but if it is the other way around you are not going to make it. Keeping rules is very big in a “works” theology. What was Jesus’ reaction to those who oppressed others with their legalism?