Believers seek to know and understand the will of God for their life through the study of his word. Yet, many struggle in their understanding because as they study they find a great many verses disagree with each other. This leaves the believer confused and uncertain as to what to believe.
We’ve heard many times how people debate"faith vs. works” and essentially misconstrue scripture, resulting in confusion. They will use what James wrote when it comes to this question as if he was writing to us today. In James chapter 2 he says, “What doth it profit my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? ...Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only? (James 2:14, 24). Now pay close attention to what Paul says in Romans 3:28, “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
How can both of these conflicting verses be scripturally correct? Both of these verses are true and the inconsistency can be explained. In James, God was addressing the Jews according to the dispensation of law and in Paul, he was addressing the Gentiles according to the dispensation of grace. These verses provide different instructions to people in different dispensations or periods of time. The only way to understand these verses correctly is that they must be rightly divided dispensationally as God instructs in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” When we wrongly apply truth that was intended for someone else, in a different dispensation, we cannot grow spiritually as God would have us and we’ll inevitably be confused.
It will help us a great deal if we go back into biblical history and find out how we progressed to this point in time, our current dispensation of grace. After the fall of Adam sin was passed onto all men (Romans 5:12). Men became so wicked; God destroyed all but eight souls on the earth (Genesis 6:5, 7:21-22, 11:5-8). In a desire to have a people for himself, God raised up the nation of Israel through the seed of Abraham, to be separated from other nations that would serve Him in righteousness (Genesis 12:1-4; Deuteronomy 14:2; Leviticus 20:26). However, as a nation Israel walked in disobedience to God, crucified their Messiah, stoned his messenger, and rejected the resurrected Christ (Jeremiah 3:6-10; Matthew 27:35; Acts 7:51, 58-59). Though Israel deserved God’s wrath for their lack of faith and rebellion (Romans 1:18), he extended grace by revealing to the Apostle Paul a mystery that had been kept secret since the world began (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:9), which would save both Jews and Gentiles without distinction (Acts 9:6, 15-16; Galatians 3:28).
During the time when God was dealing only with the nation of Israel, God’s offer of salvation to Israel was conditioned on laws and covenant promises specific to them. This created a middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). Under the law, Gentiles were strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world, and could only have access to Him through Israel’s prophetic program (Ephesians 2:12; Genesis 17:12-14; Acts 3:25). God would forgive Israel’s sins if they were disobedient to the covenants and commandments he had given them (Deuteronomy 6:24-25; James 2:14, 17), but they were only promised salvation if they endured to the end (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13).
In this current dispensation of grace, believers are not under Israel’s program of law (Romans 6:14, 10:4), and we can have assurance of a present salvation that cannot be lost (Ephesians 4:30; Jude 4). Through Christ's death the middle wall of partition, that once separated Gentiles, has been broken down (Eph. 2:14). God is offering believers salvation as a free gift of his grace which rests exclusively upon faith in the finished work that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross on our behalf (Romans 3:20, 5:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
When we understand that the Gospel of Grace was given to the Apostle Paul and is doctrine specific to us in this dispensation, all confusion will disappear. In Ephesians 3:1-5 Paul writes, “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles. If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward. How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words; Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ). Which in other ages was not made know unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” So then, we can understand that God chose Paul to be our Apostle and in his letters we find our doctrine and we’ll further understand that James was written to the nation of Israel for times to come.
The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was given only to Paul, (remember, it was kept hidden (or secret) until God’s appointed time) reveals that Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel (Ephesians 3:6, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). All are saved who believe that Christ died for their sins according to the Scriptures, was buried and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:2-4). If we believe this, we have been made a new man (Ephesians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17), whose identity can only be found in Christ. Galatians 3:26-28 says, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In conclusion, all scripture is for us for our learning, but it is in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, that we discover our true identity in Christ. It is in these epistles that God makes known his will for believers today, and through the Spirit has the power to erase uncertainties and doubts regarding our security and identity in Christ.