Paul Vs. James: “justified by works” or not?

Romans 4:2, Justified by works. (See notes at Rom 3:28.) Works-based justification produces self-pride and diminishes YHVH in mans’ eyes by giving man a self-exalted and self-sufficient view of himself, which places man and his efforts as the cause of his salvation, and not the grace of YHVH. Works-based justification is humanism and causes man to glory in himself, not YHVH, and to attempt to impress other men instead humbly, yet confidently, relying on YHVH’s grace.

Do Paul and James conflict when the former teaches that we’re not justified by works, while the later says the opposite (Jas 2:17–26)? Not at all. Both are true depending on the vantage point. Let’s explain.

Where many people miss it is viewing scriptural ideas through a Western mindset instead of from a Hebraic vantage point, which is that of the biblical authors. In Western thought, we tend to look at things from a linear perspective—like viewing points on a time line. We say and thinks things like this: I got saved, justified, sanctified, etc., etc. at such and such point in time in the past. While this may be true, Hebraic thought views things more as a process that involves events that have occurred, are occurring and will occur in the future. For example, the Bible teaches that you were saved (at the time you “came to Yeshua”), you are being saved (e.g. work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Phil 2:12), and you will be saved (in the ultimate sense when you receive your glorified body at the second coming resurrection and are adopted into the family of Elohim as a literal child of Elohim). The same is true of justification. When one understands this, the seeming conflict between Paul and James resolves itself. 

Paul was speaking about justification at the time of initial salvation or conversion, while James is talking about the on-going process of justification via the production of good works (i.e. loving Yeshua by keeping his commandments, John 14:15). That’s the part of working out your salvation with fear and trembling that Paul admits to in Phil 2:12. 

Peter discusses this same concept when he talks about making your calling and election sure so that you don’t fall spiritually along the way en route to the kingdom of heaven and the redemption and glorification of your physical bodies into eternal life before Elohim (2 Pet 1:10).

I believe that the justification that James is talking about is nothing more than what Paul expresses in the famous Eph 2:8–9 passage, but with the addition of verse ten, which many people overlook. Please note the highlighted portion of verse ten (below), which is the justification by works part of the equation, which is nothing more than the process of, if you will, “staying saved” once we’ve received our initial salvation. The Bible expresses this concept in many ways: enduring to the end, overcoming, walking on the straight and narrow path, staying close to Yeshua and abiding in him, loving him and keeping his commandments, producing the fruits of the Spirit, working out your salvation, making your calling and election sure, and so on.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of Elohim: Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua unto good works, which Elohim hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8–10)

In the preceding discussion, I’ve just presented a brief lesson in biblical Hebraic thought versus Greco-Roman Western thought.


The ancient Jews and modern Christians believe the same lie about Paul!

Romans 3:7, As we are slanderously reported…let us do evil, that good may come. “Evil” in Hebraic thought is simply another way of saying, “violating YHVH’s Torah-law.” There were those of Paul’s day who were perverting his message of salvation by grace through faith by turning it into a Torahless message. They were slanderously claiming that he was teaching against the Torah. Sadly, this same lie is taught universally in mainstream Christianity to this day. 

In the book of Acts, we find much evidence of Paul being slandered again over the same issue as well (Acts 21:27–28). This time, it resulted in his arrest by the Romans and his defense against these false accusation (of him teaching against the Torah) in two courts of law where he confesses that he “believes all thing which are written in the Torah and the Prophets”(Acts 24:14) and “neither against the Torah-law of the Jews…have I offended anything at all”(Acts 25:8). Paul made these statements in Acts about the year A.D. 58 prior to his trip to Rome while the book of Romans had been written about two years earlier in A.D. 56. 

Ironically, the very false accusation against which Paul had to so vigorously defend himself was the same accusation leveled against Stephen by his accusers in Acts 6:13. Paul was the one ultimately responsible for the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58). This slanderous report­—that both Paul and Stephen were speaking against and changed the Torah—is the very lie that mainstream Christianity teaches today under the guise of the theological term dispensationalism, where it is taught that the Jews were “under the law” , that the law was “done away and nailed to cross” and that Christians are now “under grace” and the “law of Moses” is of little or no relevance to believers today.

Not only did Paul NOT teach against the Torah, but he was defending it against the Jews’ perverted or caricaturized view of Torah by which they had largely nullified the Torah through their religious traditions. (See Yeshua’s comments about this in Mark 15, Matthew 7 and 23.) The same thing can be said of modern Christian teachers who assert a similar anti-Torah bias.

Romans 3:8, Let us do evil, that good may come. This is another way of saying, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Elohim forbid” (heaven forbid, CJB Rom 6:1–2). The prevailing idea in mainstream Christianity is that New Covenant or Gentile believers are no longer bound to Torah-law obedience, therefore, since we are under grace, they some of the more liberal Christians will affirm, anything is acceptable. On this basis, I have heard “Christians” justify homosexuality, fornication, marijuana smoking and a host of other sinful practices justified on the basis of the this fallacious and libertine reasoning. This goes to show that human nature has not changed much in 2000 years since Paul’s day. The warped, twisted and sinful mind of man (Jer 17:9) is still prone to rebellion against the laws of Elohim and refuses to be subject to them (Rom 8:7). 

Sadly, mainstream Christian dispensational theology has laid the groundwork for the rationale that we can sin (i.e. violate the Torah [see 1 John 3:4] that grace may abound). Such a belief system is actually a form of circular reasoning meaning that the premise is only true if the conclusion is true. This errant reasoning goes something like this: New Testament Christians are “under grace” and not “under law” and that grace and law are mutually exclusive concepts. Christians are under grace (or free and unmerited pardon) because of their past sin [i.e. the violation of Torah-law (1 John 3:4)], yet because they are “under grace” (or under the so-called “dispensation of grace”) and they are no longer “under law,” for the law is now annulled (the very violation of which caused them to need grace in the first place), and is no longer binding upon them; therefore, they can violate the law (especially laws concerning the Sabbath, the biblical feasts and the biblical dietary laws), the violation of which caused them to need grace in the first place. Can you see the circular reasoning of this argument?


What is the Biblical definition of “good works”?

Romans 2:6, Every man according to his works. 

The Scriptures are clear: every person will be judged, both the wicked and the saints. The writer of Hebrew says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Yeshua said in Jn. 5:24 that Believers in him “have everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but have passed from death unto life.” The question is begged, therefore, what is the purpose of judgment of believers? It is for believers to receive their rewards in addition to eternal life (salvation). There are various levels of rewards or positions in the kingdom of Elohim. In the Sermon On the Mount Yeshua reveals at least two levels of reward: the least and the greatest. He says in Matthew 5:19,

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least Torah-commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

What we see revealed here is that one’s level of reward will be commensurate to their obedience to his Torah (the righteous instructions, teachings, or precepts of YHVH Elohim as revealed to the nation of Israel through Moses). Revelation 20:12–13 speaks of this:

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works (emphasis added).

What are the works of the saints that will gain them the highest position in Elohim’s kingdom? We have already seen from Yeshua’s words that Torah-obedience will gain one the highest position. Revelation 19:7–9 states the same thing:

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God (emphasis added).

Scripture defines righteousness as obedience to the Torah commandments of YHVH (Ps 119:172). Yeshua goes on to say elsewhere that, “he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt 16:27). Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 thought we are saved by YHVH’s grace and not through any human effort the result of our salvation should be good works:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of Elohim. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua unto good works, which Elohim hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

James says that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17, 20, 26) and that faith is made perfect through works (Jas 2:22). The works spoken of here are the fruits of the Spirit of Elohim (Gal 5:22–3) which is a summation and end result of the Torah-law’s outworking in the life of the Believer: to love Elohim with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18).

The concept of “good works” as related to the life of the saints is a theme that is echoed more than 30 times in the Testimony of Yeshua from the mouth of Yeshua in the Gospels to the end of the book of Revelation (e.g. Matt 5:16; 16:27; 1 Tim 5:10; 6:18; 2 Tim 3:17; Tit 2:7; 3:8; Heb 10:24; 1 Pet 2:12; Rev 2:5, 9, 13, 19, 23, 26; 3:1, 2, 8, 15; 20:12–13). The mainstream Christian church has down-played the role of “works” in the life of the saint, but it must be remembered what Yeshua said in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments” and what John said in 1 John 2:7, “He that says, I know [YHVH] and does not keep his Torah commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” Obedience to YHVH’s commandments is “works” or otherwise stated, “good fruits” of a saint’s life. Such is pleasing to YHVH and will determine our position of service and honor in his kingdom.


Is the Hebrew Roots Movement a Cult or “the Faith Once Delivered”?

Boy reading from a gevil parchment scroll. This one is written on goat skin.

Jude 3, Contend…for the faith…once…delivered.

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3, emphasis added)

In recent year there has been great awareness brought upon the subject of non-Christian cults by Christian apologetic organizations whose mission it is to defend the “historic Christian faith” against teachings they consider to be contrary to the Bible and to traditional or normative Christian theology and tradition.

Many well-meaning and sometimes misguided Christians in their zeal to protect Christian beliefs from the onslaught of cult groups who are attempting to missionize those around them including Christians have developed a fortress-like mentality where they deem everything a cult that does not agree with their understanding of the “historic Christian faith”. Yet many of these same Christians would be hard-pressed to give a dictionary definition of the word cult or to define it in terms of the sociological, psychological and theological perimeters laid out by those Christian theologians who have been pioneers in the area of cult awareness, Christian apologetics to cultists and defining what a cult is.

The author has a unique perspective on the subject of cultism having been born and raised in a name-brand cult till age 30 where upon leaving the cult he became an ordained Christian evangelist in a major Christian (Protestant) denomination where he evangelized those bound up in cultism.

Let us first define from Webster’s Dictionary the word cult:

  • 1) a particular system of religious worship; 
  • 2) an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing; 
  • 3) the object of such devotion;
  • 4) a group or sect bound together by devotion to or veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc…
  • 5) religion that is considered or held to be false or unorthodox (Webster’s Encyclopedia of the English Language, Random House, 1983).

How does the late Dr. Walter Martin, author of the famous book, The Kingdom of the Cults and founder of the anti-cult, Christian apologetic organization, The Christian Research Institute in southern California define a cult. In the above-named book on page 11, quoting a Dr. Braden, Martin writes: “A cult…is any religious group which differs significantly in some one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expression of religion in our total culture [emphasis added].”

To properly answer the question stated in the title of this article, Is the Hebrew Roots Movement cultic or is Christianity a cult? We must ask and explore the following questions: What is normative? No doubt, whatever the majority is believing at a particular point in history could be called normative. But is the majority always right? Who is the majority now? Was it always the majority? These are questions that need to be asked and addressed when defining the word “cult.” 

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How to Easily Understand the Hard Sayings of Paul

2 Peter 3:15–16, Paul…hard to understand. If the writings of Paul are confusing as 2nd Peter 3:15-16 affirms, then why did the Holy Spirit write confusing things through Paul and not through others?

Why Paul Is Difficult to Understand

Paul was hard to understand in the first century as Peter states in 2 Peter 3:16–17, and he’s hard to understand now in the twenty first century, as we will discuss below. In fact, it might be said that if it was hard for Paul’s contemporaries (those who knew him and ministered with him) to understand him, then, logically, it follows that it will be even much harder for those of us to understand him who live 2000 years later and who didn’t know him or work with him. To the former point, Peter writes, 

And account that the longsuffering of our YHVH is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.  Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.

Again, if Paul was hard to understand in his day, how much more 2000 years later!

For those living and working with Paul, he was hard to understand because of his intellect and education. He was one of the top Jewish scholars of his day with an intellect to match it. You weren’t taught by Gamliel, the grandson of Hillel the Great, the founder of the Hillel School of Phariseeism and considered by some modern Jews to be the greatest sage of the common era, unless you were the top of your class in Judaism! This was the same Paul who was well-travelled, multi-lingual, could debate with the Greek philosophers of Athens, could quote Greek literature from memory and was from a wealthy and prominent family who were Roman citizens because of their wealth and influence. By contrast, most of Yeshua’s other disciples were from the backwoods regions of the Galilee and were common tradesman. Today it would analogous to a logger from Oregon or a fur trapper from Alaska suddenly linking up into a working relationship with a PhD professor in physics or philosophy from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Yale universities. 

Now scroll forward 2000 years. Since then, we have nearly 2000 years of church history with all of its institutionalized traditions, syncretistic belief systems, man-made doctrines, anti-Semitic theologies and so on to have to wade through. The very purveyors of these church traditions are also the same people (the Christian leaders and “scholars”) who are translating our Bibles. This means that they’ll often be translating the biblical text in ways that agree with their best (often anti-Torah) understandings of Scripture. 

It is this Babylonian mixture of truth and error (man made doctrines and traditions of men along with questionable if not faulty Bible translations) out of which most of us have come. We have to somehow weave our way through this tangled religious theological web and mess and figure out what is truth and what is error, what to keep and what to toss out, who is right and who is wrong, what is wheat and what is chaff. This isn’t easy to do especially when we’ve been indoctrinated, even brainwashed by the church to view Paul, the Torah-law and the rest of the Bible in a certain way through the lenses of those who have taught us their viewpoints be they right or wrong. One’s attempt to separate the precious from the vile and the holy from the polluted promises, justifiably so, to be a daunting and frightening proposition. That’s why the majority of people will prefer to stay in the comfort zones of their churches and man made traditions, rather than to step out into the unknown and unexplored wilderness of being a truth seeker, and, like a modern-day archeologist, to dig down to the bedrock of biblical truth. To step out of the boat of the church system means that, like Peter, you have to have a higher measure of faith than those who will remain safely and comfortably in the boat of their religious traditions. It means that one has to keep their eyes on Yeshua and follow his voice, or else sink into the spiritual watery depths of spiritual confusion. It means that you have to role up your sleeves and get to work, and put on your rubber muck boots and slog through the muddy dung in the barnyard of men’s religious traditions, some of which are good and many of which are vile, to get to the solid high ground of biblical Truth.

Unlocking the Mystery of Understanding Paul

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Has the Torah been “done away with”? — Hebrews 8 explained

What human deigns to have the hubris and audacity to break the immutable laws of YHVH Elohim, the Creator of the Universe, and then to call it righteousness?????

I just received this comment from a Christian minister who is well known in certain circles and who, over the decades, has done commendable work in opposing wickedness and promoting righteousness in America.

You’re a good advocate for your own perspective, and have provided a great historical outline on the rise of Hellenic thinking in the church. I’ll use some of this in my debates with Roman Catholics. BUT this is not (as you laudably acknowledge) objective scholarship on the question of keeping the Torah. You have entirely avoided Hebrews as a source, which is arguably the most relevant to this topic of all the Epistles.  Your thesis is directly challenged by Hebrews 8, for example.  In my view, keeping the law voluntarily is a matter of personal liberty, and some people benefit from maximum structure in their lives, and for all believers there is great benefit from knowing and being influenced by the Torah.  But leading people back under the Mosaic law as an obligation IS Judaizing — a term that (as used today) defines a concept with much broader Scriptural support than you admit.  

Here is my initial response to to Scott’s comment:

Well hello Scott! Welcome to my blog. I followed your and Lon’s ministry for years when you lived in Oregon, and even met you once decades ago when your office was located in my hometown, and I have appreciated your bold stand in your fight against abortion and the homosexual agenda.

With regard to my article to which you make reference, no, I didn’t cover Hebrews 8 in this particular piece. As a writer, you well know that it’s not possible to cover every facet of every topic including all of the relevant Scriptures on any biblical subject in one article, otherwise the article would be a long book and not an article. I cover Hebrews, Galatians, Romans and everything other scriptural passage in the Bible on the subject of the Torah in many of the 500 some videos on my You Tube channel, some 100 articles on our website and some 2000 articles on this blog.

Moreover, what you call Judaizing I call righteous obedience to the immutable commandments of YHVH Elohim. Judaizing is a term, as you know, that goes back to a Greek word in the NT. However, the early church fathers grossly misunderstood the writings of Paul (largely thanks to the influence of Marcion the heretic who was an anti-Jewish Torah-hater), even as Peter admits in his second epistle was occurring in his day. For Paul, Judaizing WAS NOT obedience to the Torah, or else all of Paul’s pro-Torah statements are nonsensical and contradictory. No, rather for Paul, Judaising was saying that obedience to Torah was mandatory as a requirement for salvation. This was the main thesis of the book of Galatians and the subject of the first Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. However, once saved according to the whole council of Scripture, one is duty bound to follow the Torah, which tells us how, as Paul states in Romans 13, how to fulfill the Torah, and as Yeshua states in the Gospels, how to love Elohim and our neighbor. Following the Torah is simply the fruit of the Spirit, while disobedience to it is the works of the flesh as Paul outlines in Galatians five. You see, Scott, you, to your credit, already follow much of YHVH’s Torah law. You don’t steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, covet, worship idols and so on. Where most people have a problem is with the Sabbath, biblical feasts and biblical dietary laws. These last three were the first biblical commands the ante-Nicene church fathers jettisoned because they were “too Jewish,” and the church has followed their errant ways ever since. If obeying YHVH’s Torah is Judaizing as you say, then so is not stealing, lying, coveting, murdering, etc. It’s simple logic. As James indicates, the YHVH’s Torah-laws all stand and fall together (Jas 2:10). As John states in chapter three of his first epistle, the Torah defines what sin is. So how can not sinning be a bad thing? Beyond this, to take a pick and choose approach to Torah-obedience is to follow the lie of the serpent at the tree of knowledge and to question Elohim as to what he has told us to do and to determine for ourselves what aspects of Elohim’s Word are valid and relevant for us or not. This, as Francis Schaeffer defines it, is the basis for the modern concept of secular humanism.

With regard to Hebrews chapter eight, I have addressed this chapter in my other writings, and I will do so again for your benefit on my blog right now. I invite you to go to it where you will find my response to your kind protestation.

Blessings and thank you for you comments. It has allowed me the occasion to deal with issues that keep needing to be addressed due to the misunderstandings of Scripture in mainstream, traditional Christianity.

From Natan Lawrence’s commentary on the Bible

Hebrews 8:6, Better covenant … better promises. (See Heb 9:11–15.) In the Greek, the word better is kreitton meaning “more useful, more serviceable, more advantageous, more excellent.” The Renewed Covenant is a better covenant for the reasons discussed in the notes in verse eight. In 2 Cor 3:7 calls it “the ministry of the Spirit” and refers to it as “more glorious” than the former covenant. The Renewed Covenant comes with Yeshua’s promise that from within our heart the Set-Apart Spirit will empower and lead us into all truth. Moreover, under the Renewed Covenant, the promise of salvation resulting in eternal life in the kingdom of Elohim is spelled out more clearly. The Renewed Covenant also carries with it relief from the penalty of the law, which is death, for those who put their faith in Yeshua’s atoning and substitutionary death (see notes at 2 Cor 3:7). Through the Spirit and blood of Yeshua, one’s sin conscience is now cleansed in that the guilt from sin is removed (Heb 9:14). Also, as discussed in the verse eight notes, the covenant (or contract) is the actual agreement between two parties. The terms and conditions of a covenant (or contract) are something else. Torah was the terms and conditions of YHVH’s agreement between himself and his people. When the author here uses phrase like “better covenant,” this in no way implies that the Torah has been abrogated. If this were true, then this flies in the face of what is said elsewhere in the Testimony of Yeshua to the contrary (e.g. Matt 5:17–19; Acts 21:24; 24:14; 25:8; Rom 3:31; 7:14; 1 John 2: 3–6; 3:4; Rev 12:17; 14:17; 22:14).

Hebrews 8:8, Finding fault with them. What was the fault of the first covenant? The Torah-law of Elohim, or the people who failed to abide by the terms of the covenant, i.e, the Torah? The next verse gives us the answer: “because they continued not in my covenant…” The Israelites were at fault.

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The Works of the Law Vs. the Works of Faith Explained

James 2:20–24, Faith without works is dead. James is referring here to the works of faith, not the works of the law. No man can live a good enough life to be saved by his Torah-obedience or the works of the law (Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; 3:11). 

At the same time, faith in Elohim is more than just mental ascent—“a knowing in your heart.” It has to be backed up by action (and we’re not talking about the works of the law). For example, when Elohim told Abraham to leave Babylon or to sacrifice Isaac, he obeyed by leaving that country and moving to Canaan. 

Moreover, many were healed in Yeshua’s ministry because they had faith in the Master and backed that faith up with corresponding action, which was the evidence of their faith. This faith-action continuum had nothing to do with Torah-obedience per se, but had everything to do with “putting your money where your mouth is” by backing up your faith or belief with action. 

It is this kind of faith that James is talking about here, and this in no wise contradicts the teachings of Paul who said that no man is justified by the works of the law. When Paul declares in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of Elohim, not of works…,” he was correct and not opposed to James. What’s more, Paul goes on to say in verse 10, “For we are [Elohim’s] workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works…that we should walk in them.” These good works (i.e. obedience to the Torah) are the fruits, evidence or proof of our salvation and are the works that back up our faith. 

So, in summary, the Bible teaches that we need the faith (a heart that believes and wants to obey Elohim) to lead us to salvation, as well as the works of faith after we have received Elohim’