Sola Gratia is the teaching that salvation comes by God’s grace or “unmerited favor” only — not as something deserved by the sinner and is an unearned gift from God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The bible makes it clear that our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6) and that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. If we think that there is anything that we can do to earn salvation, then that is what is called ‘works righteousness’. This view is held by Roman Catholics and the Mormons for example where it is taught that our good works somehow earn us into heaven. This is in direct contradiction to the above scriptures because it makes it claer that it is ‘not of works, lest anyone should boast‘.

Some may say that the book of James promotes works righteousness and that there is a contradiction. This is not the case. James is basically saying that your good works is a product of your salvation (Matthew 5:16) but your works cannot in and of itself save you.

UPDATE: Tyrellh gently encouraged me to clarify the above statement so as to not cause confusion so I will try to explain what James meant. Here is the scripture below

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 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? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works ( James 2:14-18 )

So was James saying that we cannot be saved by faith alone thus disagreeing with Paul in Eph 2:8-9?

When James says ‘Can faith save him?’, I believe it was a rhetorical question where he was asking , and I paraphrase, ‘Can a person believe and that’s it, and then live as they want?’. I believe he was stating that if you have true faith, then it will be evident in your works, hence the reason why he said ‘Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works‘. So James is not a contradiction at all with Eph 2:8-9. Good works are not a REQUIREMENT of salvation,but EVIDENCE of it’!

We must never think that that we deserve anything from God. We are saved by grace alone

Related Posts:

The Five Solas – Sola Scriptura (By Scripture Alone)

The Five Solas – Solas Christus (Christ Alone)

The Five Solas – Sola Fide (By Faith Alone)

The Five Solas – Soli Deo Gloria (Glory To God Alone)

  1. tyrellh says:

    Hey Alan, I enjoyed your article. However, I think it would be helpful to then explain to us why James does not mean works, the only verse you need to look at really is where he wrote, “not faith alone justifies, but works (paraphrase”. I believe in grace alone, but if you are going to blog such a subject and someone comes across I encourage you to do justice to the subject brother. Just now a catholic or Mormon will come and say, well you see, he just ignores James, and an atheist will come say, see the Bible contradicts itself. Just a thought my friend

  2. Alan Higgins says:

    Tyrellh, thanks for that gentle rebuke. You are correct and I will update it. Thanks again


  3. Betty says:

    James’ concern is with a kind of counterfeit faith that does not produce love. This faith cannot justify anybody. Verse 14: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” You see his concern. “Can that faith save him?” Such faith is not going to save. What kind of works is James interested in? The same kind Paul is – the works of love. Verses 15-16: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” So James’ concern is that people have real saving faith, not counterfeit faith. And the difference is that the real faith produces loving behavior.

    hen James says in verse 21 that Abraham was “justified by works” he has a meaning in mind different from Paul’s when Paul denies that a man is justified by works (Romans 3:28; 4:2; 4:5). James is answering the question: Does the ongoing and final reckoning of Abraham’s righteousness depend on works as the necessary evidence of true and living faith? James’ answer to that question is Yes. And Paul’s answer is also Yes, in Galatians 5:6 (the only thing that counts is “faith working through love”). If you ask James and Paul, “How does an ungodly person get right with God and receive the righteousness of God in Christ as a gift?” both James and Paul would answer with the words of James 2:23: “Trust God (trust Christ) and that faith alone will be reckoned as righteousness.”

    But if you ask them, “Does justification as an ongoing and final right standing with God depend on the works of love?” Paul is going to say, “No, if by works you mean deeds done to show that you deserve God’s ongoing blessing (the point of Romans 4:4).” And James is going to say, “Yes, if by works you mean the fruit and evidence of faith like Abraham’s obedience on Mount Moriah.” And Paul is going to say, “I agree with the James, based on his definitions.” And James is going to say, “I agree with Paul, based on his definitions.”

    So when Paul renounces “justification by works” he renounces the view that anything we do along with faith is credited to us as righteousness. Only faith obtains the verdict, not guilty, when we become Christians. Works of any kind are not acceptable in the moment of initial justification. But when James affirms “justification by works” he means that works are absolutely necessary in the ongoing life of a Christian to confirm and prove the reality of the faith which justifies.

    For Paul, “justification by works” (which he rejects) means “gaining right standing with God by the merit of works.” For James, “justification by works” (which he accepts) means “maintaining a right standing with God by faith along with the necessary evidence of faith, namely, the works of love.”

    • Don says:

      Betty, I think we are on the same page. Both Paul and James would reject the fact the works can save anyone. They would also accept the fact that works can give evidence of saving faith. I can even accept your works of love. Any other work I suppose would be works for righteousness which God rejects. Can I posit to you this: Abraham was justified by works because his works give evidence of his faith in God–the same evidence of faith that James was speaking of. It wasn’t that Abraham worked his way into heaven but because he believed God, he obeyed God and these works gave evidence of his faith in God? Are we still on the same page?

  4. Don says:

    I understood what you were saying but Tyrellh was right. I have seen what athiests can do from other posts I’ve written. Thanks for the information. I came across your website because I was looking up information for my blog about sola gratia. I was trying to make sure I spelled it right. We are saved by grace alone. It is God’s gift to us. Instead, we try to save ourselves through works as if we are our gift to God! James was saying that our works give evidence of a faith which saves. I would elaborate further but I think you said it already and very well.

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