Modern-day critics of the Bible have long argued that the book of James contradicts the rest of Scripture in its teaching “that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (2:24). In sharp contrast, early Christianity did not so much as countenance such an obvious and false dichotomy. Indeed, faith and works must never be viewed in opposition to one another.
First, in context, the apostle James taught that we are saved by the kind of faith that produces good works. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (2:14). The answer is quite obviously no. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (v. 26).
Furthermore, when James asserted that a person is not justified by faith alone, he underscored the reality that one is not justified by mental assent alone. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (vv. 18–19). Demons believe in the sense of mental agreement to the actuality of one true God, all the while failing to place their hope and trust in Him.
Finally, James in concert with the whole of Scripture, makes plain that faith and works of love are inextricably connected. As the note on Ephesians 2:8–10 in The Orthodox Study Bible aptly communicates, salvation is a “unity of grace, faith, and works. Not that these are equal, for grace is uncreated and infinite, whereas our faith is limited and can grow; good works flow out of authentic faith. Works cannot earn us this great treasure—it is a pure gift—but those who receive this gift do good.”
In the end salvation is not punctiliar but a process—we have been saved, are being saved, and, ultimately, will be saved. For we must “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? James 2:21–22 NKJV
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