Read This Week’s Passage: James 2:14–26
It is undeniable that one common struggle of the church—any church—is legalism. Legalism is the idea that there are requirements for salvation beyond repentance and faith, especially when those supposed requirements are merit-based. This heretical belief cuts at the heart of the gospel, implying that Jesus’ death and resurrection was somehow insufficient, or that humans are able to merit salvation (at least in part) by their own efforts. Legalism is completely unbiblical.
In an attempt to flee legalism, though, sometimes Christians have allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. The definition is broadened to, “Any outward following of a biblical standard is legalism.” And that’s just not true.
In this week’s passage, James’s focus is not to convince anyone of a life of legalism. His words are not contrary to the fact that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ. His point is simply to answer the question, “What is true faith?” Faith is neither all action nor all inaction. Instead, it is an inward change that results in an outward change. Although the outward change is not all there is, it can give evidence of whether or not there was an inward change.
Humanity is not saved by works; instead, we are saved by faith. What that faith truly is, then, is indeed a salvific issue and one worthy of close consideration.