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Salvation in James: A Survey of Free Grace Interpretations

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What did James mean by salvation?

He used the verb save [sōzō] five times in his letter (1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:15, 20). And if you ever preach grace, someone will always quote his second use in v 14, “if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” The objector will say James means that you can’t be eternally saved without works. Is that what James meant? Was he referring to eternal salvation in that passage? How did he use salvation generally?

Like most words, sōzō has a range of meanings and uses in Greek—about as wide a range as you’d find for the English word save. In Greek it can mean “rescue from danger…deliver in to divine salvation…heal, to make healthy from an illness” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages). Another lexicon says the word can mean: “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions…save from death…bring out safely…save from disease…keep, preserve in good condition…thrive, prosper, get on well” (BDAG).

That’s a wide range of possibilities! So, which one(s) did James mean?

To get some answers, I wanted to survey the range of options among Free Grace writers. I chose the following books:

  • Marty Cauley, Salvation (unpublished)
  • Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of the Servant Kings.
  • Michael Eaton, The Branch New Testament Commentary.
  • Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.
  • Zane Hodges, “James,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin.
  • R. T. Kendall, Justification by Works: Sermons on James 1–3; The Way of Wisdom: Sermons on James 4–5.
  • Lucas Kitchen, Salvation and Discipleship: Is There a Difference?
  • Nelson Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House (hereafter NIBC).
  • Moses Onwubiko, James: Faith Without Works Is Dead.
  • Hutson Smelley, Enduring Storms: A Mission 119 Guide to James.

All of these books are either explicitly or implicitly Free Grace in their approach to eternal salvation. This is not meant to be an exhaustive survey. (If I left out your book, and you want me to know about it, please send it to me.) I am not summarizing the reasons that each interpreter has for his conclusions (please look up the books). This is just to give you an idea of the range of options that have been suggested.

Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls (James 1:21).

  • Cauley: Primarily concerned with the temporal salvation of our souls; secondarily, with the misthological salvation of our souls at the Bema.
  • Dillow: Finding deliverance from the spiritually impoverishing consequences of sin.
  • Eaton: Rescue from the power of sin.
  • Evans: Deliverance and transformation.
  • Hodges: Preservation of physical life from death.
  • Kendall: Salvation in the sense of “a new, unprecedented era” in your Christian walk.
  • Kitchen: Physical deliverance from troubles that plague the uncommitted believer.
  • NIBC: Salvation from sinful behavior that can lead directly or indirectly to physical death.
  • Onwubiko: Salvation of physical life from premature death.
  • Smelley: To live as to be rewarded by Jesus at the future judgment.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? (James 2:14).

  • Cauley: Primarily concerned with the misthological salvation of our souls at the Bema; secondarily, with temporal salvation in terms of present spiritual vitality.
  • Dillow: Getting an advantage at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
  • Eaton: Saving other people through works of mercy.
  • Evans: From the power of sin’s consequences in history.
  • Hodges: From the deadly outcome of sin.
  • Kendall: Saving the other person by doing good to them.
  • Kitchen: Physical salvation from the deadly consequences of sin.
  • NIBC: Salvation from judgment without mercy at the Bema.
  • Onwubiko: Salvation from premature physical death.
  • Smelley: Salvation at the judgment of works.

There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)

  • Cauley: Primarily concerned with the temporal salvation of our souls; secondarily, with the misthological salvation of our souls at the Bema.
  • Dillow: Deliverance from spiritual and psychological ruin from a possible judgment unto physical death or from a damaged reputation.
  • Eaton: Receiving approval from God.
  • Evans: N/A.
  • Hodges: Preserving the life.
  • Kendall: Refers to salvation in both time and eternity.
  • Kitchen: N/A.
  • NIBC: N/A.
  • Onwubiko: Eternal soul salvation vs eternal judgment.
  • Smelley: N/A.

The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven (James 5:15).

  • Dillow: N/A.
  • Eaton: Healing.
  • Evans: Divine encouragement amid problems.
  • Hodges: Salvation from dying.
  • Kendall: Healing.
  • Kitchen: N/A.
  • NIBC: Healing.
  • Onwubiko: Premature physical death.
  • Smelley:  Deliverance from spiritual weariness due to the storms of life.

You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

  • Cauley: Primarily concerned with the temporal salvation of our souls; secondarily, with the misthological salvation of our souls at the Bema.
  • Dillow: Salvation from a path that leads to death.
  • Eaton: Salvation from physical death and/or spiritual ruin.
  • Evans: Salvation from physical death, deterioration in circumstances, or spiritual misery.
  • Hodges: Salvation from physical death.
  • Kendall: Salvation from physical death due to sin.
  • Kitchen: Salvation from the deadly consequences of sin.
  • NIBC: Salvation from physical death.
  • Onwubiko: Salvation from premature physical death.
  • Smelley: Deliverance from experiencing death in their daily walk.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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