“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jam 2:17)
“You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (Jam 2:24)
On the one hand, the Apostle Paul teaches Christians that they are saved by grace alone through faith and not works. However, James teaches that faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James clearly says that people are justified by works and faith. The writings of Paul are very different from the rest of the New Testament. Paul’s view of (irresistible) grace is the prevalent reformed view. According to Paul, if you add works to faith then you have boasting rights about your good deeds (making the sacrificial provision of the cross less sovereign and complete). If on the other hand you claim that by grace you have been saved through faith alone, then according to James your faith is dead. These are simply two contradicting doctrines. Just like today, Christians of the past taught contradictory doctrines. The Bible, as we have seen, contains many such contradictions. You cannot reconcile these two doctrines without causing flat contradiction.
Many early Christians believed that anything in the physical world could be an idol. Even the Old Testament scrolls, as a man-made physical document, became an idol. As a result of this, many early Christians were opposed to a New Law (New Testament canon). The different Christian churches couldn’t decide on the books to be canonized. That argument remains to this day. After the Babylonian exile was over (515 B.C.E.), the Jews returned to their homeland and “canonized” the Old Testament. The Council of Nicaea (324 C.E.) regressed into Jewish legalism by canonizing a written and mandated “word of God” now known as the New Testament. The entire idea of grace was not a Jewish idea; it was an early Christian (30-100 C.E.) idea. Gnostics and other parts of the Jesus Movement knew that Christian doctrines of grace contradict the Jewish works of legalism. Under Moses’ Old Testament, the written word of the law bound you to obey God. So in 324 C.E., when the Council of Nicaea declared the books of the Bible, they were actually reverting back to the Jewish tradition of written law and the doctrines of works as seen in the physical. This contradiction is the source of countless theological books attempting to reconcile works with grace; law with faith...idols with God. You cannot reconcile them unless you subscribe to the notion that a flat contradiction is merely a holy riddle. The moment you implement, as the fundamentalists do, the notion that the physical “Word of God” is the final authority above all human activity, you have implemented a doctrine of works. Since the Bible was written by humans, all biblical works are therefore done in service to humans, not God. In short, Christian fundamentalists are worshipping a book, not God.
You can claim all day long that your works are done “because of grace” and therefore your works are not done to acquire salvation. This, however, does not excuse the fact that you acquired and obeyed that belief from a man-made mandatory document of authority. The New Testament is the mandatory document that insists on obedience; obedience that demands physical actions (works). Repentance is just one of many demanded actions in the New Testament. Without repentance, which is certainly a work, you cannot be saved! Again, trying to reconcile grace with a mandatory document (the Bible) is absurdity. This is the same absurdity that fundamentalists use to demand that the Bible is inerrant.
Let’s not forget that human men wrote the Bible. Fundamentalist-type theologians have always taught that works are necessary so that the church can dictate the rules. It provides religious leaders the power to hold fear over the heads of “disobedient” Christians. For example, the priest can say “yes, you are saved by grace, but you must also do the works that I have given you.” Once the “written laws” are made into a creed (Bible, Westminster Confession, etc.), the Christian leaders can dictate with legal force.
The words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament never discuss a new written creed or law. Jesus never mentions that a new covenant of grace would require a written New Testament Bible. None of the books in the Bible were written by Jesus. The writer(s) of Paul’s letters, which represents more than 50% of the New Testament, were obviously heavy into Hebrew theology, the written law, and the sacrificial system. Paul’s letters almost never mention the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps the early Jesus Movement knew quite well that a new physical/legal/mandatory written document would contradict what Jesus was actually teaching.