The following commentary was originally published in Friday, March 12, 2010. References to "This lesson," are references to the lesson of that week. I hope it is helpful.
Commentary: Bible Jeopardy
Jill asked Simon, "Would you like to help me move the furniture?" Simon said, "yes." But did not move. Jill then asked Simon, "Well, you said you would help me. But you are still sitting there. Are you going to help me or not?' Simon then replied, "I did not said I would help you, I said I would like to. That does not mean I will help you." Jill replied "Why are you being so difficult? Can you help me or not?" Simon answers, "O, the answer to that question is, 'I can.'" Jill interrupts Simon, and says, "I got it, but it does not mean you will. Will you help me move the furniture?" Simon says, "Oh, the right question!" Simon stood up from the chair and said, "Yes I will." The point of the story is to show us that asking the right question gives us the right answer.
But, what if are given the answer, so that we can give the question. In the TV game show Jeopardy, a group of contestants are given a series of words and statements. These words and statements are to be treated as answers to questions the contestants are suppose to know (or guess) the answer to. So the object of the game is not to answer the question, but to find the question to the answer.
Sometime in the Bible we have to do the same thing with certain verses. They may seem to contradict each other, because they seem to be dealing with the same subject. But, upon further study – studying the context, for example – we find that the verses actually answer different questions.
Such is the case with the relation between works and faith. Many are confused by the apparent difference between the expressions of Paul and James. Yet, the Holy Scriptures penned by Paul and James both originate with the same Author. They reveal no diversity of viewpoints. James and Paul were both inspired by the same Person (i.e. the third Person of the Godhead) and they both taught the same view. The false perceptions are rooted in the failure to realize that Paul and James are not addressing the same problem. Therefore, their "answers" must not be applied to the same question. This mistake has produced false perception and misunderstanding.
Paul's issue is justification before God. The lesson calls this imputed righteousness, others call it justification by faith.
"What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness'" (Romans 4:1-3).
James is dealing with justification before man. The lesson calls this imparted righteousness. Others call it sanctification by faith. This is why he cites the example of a brother who destitute and hungry and asks the questions "what does it profit."
"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?" (James 2:15-16).
James argues for justification by works in the eyes of man. Paul argues against justification by works in the eyes of God. Yet, James would agree with Paul that we are not justified by works in the eyes of God and Paul would agree with James that we are justified by works in the eyes of man. James is describing how will men who live by faith - walk in the Spirit, abide in Christ - look to other men. Men who live by faith continually believe that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to them and being imparted to them. This is something the Holy Spirit works in them. The Holy Spirit reminds them of this, as He convicts these men of Sin and righteousness. As the men repent, remembering the righteousness of Christ, the Holy Spirit renews their mind transforming them into the likeness of Christ.
So we can conclude that those who walk by faith will show their faith with agape toward others. Therefore we should agree that justification is "without works". And our works contribute nothing toward our salvation, even though genuine works of faith are an evidence of the reception of the gift of salvation from sin (i.e. the righteousness of Christ). In other words, continually believing that we are saved by grace through faith produces in and through us the works of righteousness (which is really a display of God's love). So, accepting imputed righteousness enables and produces imparted righteousness, in those who believe.