First… what are we doing here? Well… this CFYC feature is for the Type B’s, the non-linear thinkers, the visual learners. It’s for the woman who thinks maybe she just isn’t cut out for deep study because it never seems to stick in her mind. “Illuminations” is for the artsy, but not just the artsy. Artistic skill is emphatically NOT a requirement. This feature is born of a discovery. I used to study for hours and hours, and I would learn a lot. But it was sort of like cramming for a test: all the knowledge and amazing truths I’d learned slid right off my teflon-coated memory as soon as I’d given whatever lesson I was studying for. Then inspiration struck (not literally; I’m not claiming divine anything. No need to get out the branding iron, ha!) and I started drawing pictures of what I was learning. One concept was building on another, so I drew bricks labeled with the concepts. Real beauty is in submission and a quiet spirit according to Peter, so I drew a mirror and brush with labels like submission and quiet spirit. Whaddya know? The knowledge and truths didn’t slide off. The pictures were like strips of tape sticking the bits and pieces down, and I could remember what I was learning. A simple sketch with stick people and hastily done doodles was enough to dramatically increase my retention.
That is what this feature, Illuminations, is about.
On my end, I study something, write an article, and share the doodles that help me solidify the concepts in my mind. On your end, it’s my hope that you’ll read the scriptures, learn from them and from the article, and then make your own doodles, scribbles or masterpieces.
Most of the time, the doodles I share here are polished up a bit so that maybe they make sense to more than just me. But this time (and sometimes down the road, too), I’d like to share the more rough sketches. I hope it will encourage the less artsy among us to try it out. See if doodles might serve like strips of tape for you, too. It might work. And anything we can do to help us write God’s word more deeply on our hearts… it’s worth a shot, don’t you think? So I hope you’ll join in. And if you do, and you want to share with us, use #cfycilluminations so we can cheer each other on.
Ok… on with the study.
Many atheists’ sites have lists of passages they have labeled as Bible discrepancies/ contradictions/ inconsistencies. The vast majority of these are easily cleared up with a moment’s explanation or simply reading a few more verses within the context of the passages. There’s one, though— I confess it had me puzzled when I first came across it. The supposed contradiction is from Romans 4:2 compared to James 2:21. Paul says if Abraham was justified by works, he’d have something to boast about, implying that he was not saved by works. On the other hand, James asserts that Abraham was saved by works. They even quote the same passage (Genesis 15:6) for proof. What is going on here? It’s confusing. So… let’s talk about it.
Pause for a soapbox moment.
Questions are not scary. Questions are good. Questions should be welcomed. Even the dumb-sounding ones. How will you grow in your faith if you don’t ask questions? Think about it: studying of any sort is really just asking questions and answering them, even if it’s simply, “What does this have to say to me?” How will your spiritual life improve if you cover up a question and let it fester? If you do that with a wound, it’s called an abscess, and it’s bad news. It’s not good for your faith, either. So ask your questions! Seek out the answers! God promises to give wisdom generously if you seek it (James 1:5).
The reverse is true, too. If someone asks you a question, be excited! Welcome their question and if you don’t know the answer, be willing to say, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out!” Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can feed your faith.
<stepping off of soapbox>
Romans 4:2 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”
Romans was written by the apostle Paul to the church at Rome, where they were having some pretty serious issues and divisions. The church was dealing with the religious integration of two peoples who had been ideologically separate since time immemorial. One of the major points of contention was the Jews feeling entitled to salvation because they had been following the Old Law, and many of them believed that the Gentiles needed to jump on the wagon and get to obeying, too (this was a big deal in the book of Acts; for more information on this see Acts 15:1-29. Note that circumcision isn’t the only burden the Jews were trying to impose. Acts 15:10 makes this clear.) In Romans 4, we pick up in the midst of a discussion Paul is having about justification by works of the Law vs. justification by faith. Actually, it’s a pretty horrible chapter break. The context of the discussion really begins in 3:19. In 3:19-26, Paul asserts that justification is through faith in Jesus. Paul then begins a series of rhetorical questions in 3:27. First he says that boasting is excluded because justification is through faith in Jesus, not because of works performed, then he continues with his questioning and answering. 4:1 brings Abraham into the discussion. There was no doubt in the Jews’ mind that Abraham was justified, so how did he do it? Paul says that if it had been through works, he would have something to brag about with his fellow man— what an accomplishment! God, though… any boasting before Him would be sort of like bragging to Michael Phelps that you’d won your high school swim meet. Scripture backs this up, too. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (emphasis added). His righteousness came by faith, not by works of the Law. Paul goes on to prove his point further with David’s own words, and then brings it back to the Gentiles. In working to heal the rift, Paul wants the Jews to understand that they— as well as the Gentiles— are saved the same way: faith. He asks them to consider the timing of Abraham’s justification: while circumcised, or not? Without question, it was while he was uncircumcised, just like the Gentiles. Thus Abraham is the father not only of many nations, but of all who believe and gain righteousness in the same manner as he did: by faith.
James 2:21 “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?”
Initially, this seems like a direct contradiction of Paul’s assertions in Romans. In fact, if you use a concordance to look up every occurrence of “works” in James, the whole thing starts to seem a bit… wrong. Which is sort of why James is one of my favorites— you have to dig in and do more than a superficial reading. When you do, you see that James is using “works” differently than Paul does in Romans. We do this in English, too. It’s sort of a dated, cliché example, but think of the word “cool.” If I say, “Her outfit is really cool,” I mean that her outfit is up-to-date (even if my lingo isn’t, lol) and I like it. If I say to my son, “It’s cool outside,” I mean it’s chilly and he should grab a jacket. If I say, “You need to cool it,” I mean tempers are rising and it’s time to reverse that. Same word, different meanings. Likewise, Paul uses “works” one way, and James uses it another (at least in these writings; just like I can use “cool” many different ways, they did not necessarily use “works” the same way every time; let context— the board context of whole books— determine the meaning). The primary difference is that Paul is talking about works of the Law. He’s talking about works done for the purpose of earning salvation, works done to pay for salvation and make it your due (cf Romans 4:4). James is talking about works as an expression of faith (James 2:18) and as a perfecter of faith (James 2:22).
Abraham had faith and it was reckoned to him as righteousness in Genesis 15:6. At that time, Abraham did not have any children. We can see his faith in his leaving Ur, and in his making a covenant with God, but none of those things demonstrates his faith like his willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. God Himself says, “I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son from me” (quick note: because the reader of Genesis already knows Abraham has at least one other son at this point, it would automatically be understood that a special son is meant, not a literal only son). Abraham’s faith in God is seen throughout Genesis 22. He declares to the young men accompanying them that he and the boy will return (22:5), and that God will provide the lamb (22:8). He seems to know exactly what will happen, but he goes through with all of it until God stops him, showing his belief and trust in God. As the scene closes, God confirms the promise He has already given Abraham “… because you have obeyed My voice.” He is justified— shown to be right with God— by his deeds on the mountain that day. His faith was perfected— matured, polished— by that day. Abraham could not have heard the command of God, and just sat on his tuchus. He had to obey, he had to show his faith. It’s the same for us today. We have to actually go out and love people. We have to actually visit the orphans and widows (James 1:27). We have to actually give cups of water and feed the hungry and DO the things (Matthew 25:34-40). We are supposed to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). And that is James’ point. If you and your faith just sit on your tuchus, it’s a dead faith and it won’t save you (James 2:14, 17).
Both passages teach us important things about faith and about works and how the two interact. It comes down to the heart and motivation. If, with your works, you’re trying to stack up enough good deeds to earn salvation— that’s a nope. It isn’t going to work. Justification is through faith in Jesus. He is the way, not you (John 14:6).
If, with your faith, you’re sitting back riding the faith train and watching the world go by— that’s a nope, too. It’s a dead faith, and you need to get to doing. Your works demonstrate your faith. Your works show your Savior to the lost and dying world that needs Him as much as you do. Your works polish your faith and cause you to rely on Him all the more. And if you’re not sure how that works, well… try it. I can’t exactly tell you how it works either, but I can tell you that it does. I can also tell you that God said so (James 2:22).
And if you aren’t in either of those camps, and you don’t have faith or works at this point, thanks for your curiosity. Thanks for reading. If you have questions, ask away. Search away. You can even ask me if you want to; I’m not hard to find on social media. Seek with an honest heart and be willing to accept the truth when you find it, even if it’s costly—sometimes it is—but it’s worth it.