One of the largest stumbling blocks within Christian circles is legalism. Legalism is the first heresy that threatened to divide the apostolic church.
What is legalism? It is placing conditions on salvation other than simple faith in Christ alone. In the early church it was making circumcision a requirement for salvation. In other ages it meant giving up certain vices like gambling, smoking, drinking, or dancing to be considered a genuine Christian.
Now there is certainly nothing wrong with being circumcised, but it has nothing to do with salvation. I also understand that all Christians should avoid self-destructive vices, but does a person lose salvation because they played the slot machine at a Las Vegas Casino? Should a Christian lose his or her Church membership if they taste test some wines at a winery?
Within Adventist circles the temptation is to make proper diet a requirement for salvation. Some have suggested that those who wear jewelry will not make it through judgement. While I am not against enforcing church standards, I am adamantly against placing the standards as requirements for salvation.
We are saved by faith alone in the perfect merits of Jesus who bore God’s judgment for our sins. There is only one requirement for salvation and that is simple faith and trust in Christ alone.
But doesn’t the book of James say that faith without works is dead? If we look at the context of what James was saying then there is no contradiction.
James was speaking against those had all the information they needed to be Christian but would not give themselves fully to the idea of trusting Christ alone. They had one foot in Judaism and the other foot in Christianity and some were even questioning the need to accept Jesus as the son of God. James was saying that if you believe in God then you must accept Jesus as the son of God who died for your sins. There was no room for doublemindedness.
He was also saying that it does a person no good to say they “believe” that Jesus was the son of God if they do not “trust” him alone for salvation.
A. The James formula: Faith does not equal only believing Jesus is the son of God but it also requires trusting Him alone for salvation.
B. The Paul formula: Faith equals believing and trusting Christ alone for salvation.
As you can see there is no contradiction between James and Paul. It is easy to misunderstand James if one does not have a proper grasp on the message that Paul was preaching. If the Bible is the word of God then they must agree with each other.
Paul and James were both preaching the same thing but from different angles. Genuine faith requires not only believing Jesus is the son of God but it also requires trusting Him alone for salvation. It does no one any good if they are only hearers of the word and not doers of the word. Our actions must be consistent with our beliefs.
Stephen Beagles (2022)