“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:20–26, KJV)
Let’s recall what we’ve learned so far. James is talking to saved Christians.
Where people go wrong in studying this book is to assume that ‘justified’ here means ‘saved’. And so, Messianics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Roman Catholics all insist we have to do works to be saved. However, clearly, the Bible says elsewhere that we are saved by faith and not of works, lest any should boast.
Do we have a contradiction here? Liberals say yes, but this letter is not to them anyway, as they are not saved – and James is talking about “Brethren”, meaning saved Christians.
And that’s the key to James. These people are already saved! So, obviously, if they’re brethren (already saved) THEN… this justification is different from salvation.
“Flimsy faith is dead; so are empty, faithless works. James’ argument is not pro-works/anti-faith or pro-faith/anti-works. He has simply said that genuine faith is accompanied by good works. Spiritual works are the evidence, not the energizer, of sincere faith.
J. Ronald Blue, “James,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 826.
So James begins to offer examples, much the same way Paul did in Hebrews – indeed, the same example as Paul. If we grant that Paul’s writings are inspired by God (remember, this is called Mechanical inspiration), then we must say that James’ writings were inspired by God also, and inerrant.
James and Paul quoted the same passage—Genesis 15:6—to prove their points (cf. Rom. 4:3). Paul said that Abraham was justified by faith, and James said that Abraham was justified by faith evidenced by what he did.
J. Ronald Blue, “James,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 826–827.
One of the key concepts here to walk away with is that if you walked down an aisle or raised your hand at a crusade of some kind and repeated someone’s prayer sixteen years ago – and your life remained exactly the same as prior – um… you’re very probably not saved. Up until the last 100 years, Christianity has always maintained that if you are a Christian, there will be a before/after change in your life. If before/after are exactly the same, except that you somehow think you’re a Christian – um, you’re not.
Now, if you begin to worry about “Does my life please God?” as I’ve said a hundred times, that’s a really good worry. That means you worry about that. That means you’re showing evidence of salvation. It’s not too far from that to reading and studying your Bible. To growing your prayer life. To growing in sanctification.