James 2 is no threat to the

James 2 is no threat to the “salvation by grace alone” message

  Taking about James 2:14-26 with Your Mormon Friends

For Christians        



LeGrand Richards, Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  (the Mormon Church),said, “One common erroneous concept is that belief alone in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only requirement for salvation; salvation comes through living the Lord’s commandments and doing good works.”(Church News 14/11/1973.p.110) (emphasis added)


Many Mormons are eager to point to James 2:20 or 2:24, in order to demonstrate that works are necessary for salvation.  It is a pity that Mormons have widely misunderstood these passages.  The Roman Catholic Church also quotes these passages to support the doctrine of justification by works.  Many Christians know these passages reasonably well, but may find it difficult to talk about them with Mormons in an emotionally charged atmosphere. However, if Mormons see that you are intimidated by James 2, you may lose control of the conversation.  So be prepared to talk about James 2 and demonstrate that we appreciate James’ teachings.


Mormons have grown up in a “works”-dominated environment. It is unrealistic to expect that they understand immediately the relationship between faith and work.1 Our goal is to make Mormons see that James 2 is no threat to the “salvation by grace alone” message.2 We need to explain the context of the passage and the reasons for James writing. 


James was probably addressing scattered Jewish-Christian congregations (1:1).3 The letter is a practical letter about the Christian life.  The context of James 2:14-26 is that some of his readers, through misunderstanding Paul’s teachings, were confining faith to a verbal confession of faith (2:19) and empty, insincere wishes (2:15-16), giving lip service to Jesus.  The purpose of the letter is to show what saving faith is and how we can recognise it, not how it saves.4



1. Start with James 2:18


James brings in an imaginary opponent to argue with him (2:18), who sees faith and works as if they were separate gifts from God.5 “Shew me thy faith without works, and I will shew thee my faith by works”(KJV). James says that he will demonstrate his commitment to God or faith through his deeds. He cites Abraham, and his most honoured acts of obedience to God, the offering of Isaac to the altar (2:21). James quotes Genesis 15:6. “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God” (KJV James 2:23).


2. Which came first, the proper relationship with God or the works that demonstrated Abraham’s faith in God?


Ask the Mormon, “When was Abraham made righteous? When was righteousness imputed to him? ”6 Then go to Genesis 15:6. Ask your Mormon friend, ”What made Abraham righteous, his works or his faith?”7 Genesis 15:6 says,” And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Then ask,” Which came first- Genesis 15:6, God’s imputation of righteousness to Abraham, or his offering of Isaac on the altar? Which came first? The proper relationship with God or the demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God?”8


3. Explain that the story of Isaac in Genesis 22 took place 20-40 years after Genesis 15:6.


The story of Isaac in Genesis 22 took place 20-40 years after Genesis 15:6.9 ”And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”  God spoke these words before Isaac was born!  His willingness to sacrifice his son came from his confidence in God who could actually resurrect his son’s body from literal, physical death (Hebrews 11:17-19).  The offering of Isaac was the end of a long period of continued obedience beginning in Genesis 12:1. 10Abraham’s faith was “made perfect” (NIVmade complete”)(James 2:22). The Greek word suggests development and maturation.11 His faith was strengthened and matured by works! 12


4.“Faith without works is dead, but you’re still saved by a saving faith alone.”                            (Wally Tope)        


True faith produces works, which then become visible evidence of faith’s invisible presence. James was using the word ’justified’ regarding demonstration of faith before men. 13 For men to see our faith, it must result in visible works, but not for God.  Paul says that justification before God (in the sight of God) is by faith and not by works (Romans 3:20, 4:2, Galatians 3:11).14  So we conclude, Faith without works is dead, but you’re still saved by a saving faith alone.” 15


5.“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”                                                                                                  (Ephesians 2:8-9)


Delay using Ephesians 2:8-9 until you have managed to lay a solid foundation for it.16 Combine Romans 3:20 with Ephesians 2:8-9.


6. Tell the story of Little Orphan Andy17


Pastor Mark Cares, who has had lots of experiences in reaching out to Mormons in USA, gives us a useful illustration regarding the tremendous difference in motivation that exists between Christians and Mormons.


   Little Orphan Andy lived in an orphanage. He desperately wanted to be adopted. One day a couple came to the orphanage and told Andy that they wanted to adopt him, provided that Andy demonstrated how wonderful he would be during a month trial period.

    Andy was ecstatic but he was fearful. That entire month he felt like he was walking on eggshells as he tried not to do anything to displease his potential parents.  In fact, he was so careful that much of his shining personality didn’t come out.  It was one of the toughest months of his life.”

   There is another scenario. “Suppose a second couple had come to the orphanage and told Andy that they had already adopted him. He was now their son; no ifs, ands, or buts about it. No trial period-it was already final. He was already part of their family.”

   “Andy would still be on his best behaviour - but probably would do more because he would be liberated from his fear of being rejected.”


Then we tell our Mormon friend that Mormons are like Andy in the first scenario. Out of fear of rejection, they strive to please God.  Christians fit the second scenario. We are so grateful for being accepted by God that we are willing to please God by completely trusting in him and following Jesus in everyday life. Outwardly, the good works of Mormonism and Christians might appear the same, but what separates us is our confidence that Christians are right with God.



Mormons are eager to produce James 2:20 or 2:24. They will agree that reading a passage out of context is a pretext for error. We need to provide information on the context of the passage and why it was written. Then read the whole Chapter 2 of James together with Mormons, asking questions.  Do not expect that Mormons will immediately understand the proper relationship between faith and works. We need to make them understand that James 2 is no threat to the “salvation by grace alone” message.   “Faith without works is dead, but you’re still saved by a saving faith alone”.





1.      Ron Rhodes & Marion Bodine, Reasoning from the Scripture with Mormons  (Oregon, Harvest House, 1995) p.336

2.      Ibid, p.336

3.      Peter Davids, JAMES, EPISTLE OF in “The Illustrated Bible Dictionary(Leicester, IVP, 1994) p.733

4.      Mark Cares, Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons (Milwaukee, Northwestern Publishing House, 1993) p.192

        5.    Peter Davids, JAMES in “ New Bible Commentary” (Leicester, IVP, 1994) p.1361

6.      James White, “SectionVII Salvation”(Jan.22, 2000)(

7.      Ibid

8.      Ibid

9.      Ibid

10.  Peter Davids, JAMES in “NEW Bible Commentary, p.1361

11.  Zone Hodges, ”Justification By Works”(2:20-24)” (

12.  James Adamson, NICNT The Epistle of James (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1976) p.130

 13.  Zone Hodges, “What is a dead faith?”(

14.  Zane Hodges, “Justification By Works (2:20-24)”(

15.  James White,    

16.  Ibid.

17.  Mark Cares, pp.193-194



Only present this table to a Mormon if you are sure that he/she understands what you have presented about James 2.

James does not contradict Paul




Faith means commitment to him as the one who died for our sins and rose for our justification       (Romans 4: 25, Romans 10:9) 1


*Paul and James are in complete agreement in terms of faith.

Faith is a firm, unwavering commitment to God and Christ (James 2: 1).


True Christian faith must find its expression in Christian conduct.

The error Paul was addressing was Jewish tendency to rely on obedience to the law (‘works of the law ’such as circumcision, dietary rules, Sabbath keeping)

The error James was addressing was dead orthodoxy, intellectual acceptance of monotheism (James 2:15-16,2:19.)

Works means ‘works of the law’ done specially to earn salvation apart from Christ.


Paul denies any efficacy to pre-conversion works2

Works that follow conversion.

 Keeping the royal law (James 2:8)


James pleads for the absolute necessity of post-conversion works3  (James 2:20-25)

Justification is God’s declaration that a sinner has been acquitted (Romans 4:5).

(‘Justify’ is used as a technical term)4


Justification by faith means our free imputation of righteousness before the judgement seat of God. (Romans 4:2, Note: “not before God”, Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:11.) 6

Justification is that a person is vindicated, or proved genuine and right before God and men  (‘Justify’ is used in its general sense).5


Justification by faith means the demonstration of righteousness from its effects, before men.7



1.Bruce Milne, Know the Truth  (Leicester, IVP, p.1982) p.p187-188

2.Douglas Moo, TNTC, James (Leicester, IVP, 1993,p.102)

3. Ibid

4. Peter Davids, JAMES, EPISTLE OF in “The Illustrated Bible Dictionary”, p.844

5 .Ibid.

6.  Zone Hodges, “What is a dead faith?”

  1. Ibid

                              Copyrightã2003 Mormon Outreach Ministries, Sydney