(The following is the November 3 devotional from my Next Step Devotions book. Before reading it, I suggest you read James 2 and pay close attention to verses 14-26.)
What James and Paul write regarding the relationship between faith and works is complementary, not contradictory, as some claim. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him?” (v. 14). “In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v. 17). “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works” (v. 18). Regarding Abraham, James writes, “You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete” (v. 22). “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (v. 24). “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (v. 26).
Those suggesting a contradiction with Paul compare verse 24 with Paul’s statements in Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:28, which affirm salvation and justification by grace through faith, not by works. How do we reconcile the two inspired authors?
When James asks in 2:14, “Can such faith save him?” he isn’t saying that no faith can save but that the type of faith not accompanied by works can’t save because it isn’t genuine. In a sense, he’s saying, “Don’t tell me you have faith if your life doesn’t show it because that’s not how faith works.” Paul says, in effect, “Don’t tell me you can earn your salvation or justification by what you do because that’s not how those work.” James focuses on works as evidence of faith, while Paul focuses on faith as the instrument of salvation and justification. Both are true. Paul still affirms works as a response to salvation (Acts 26:20; Eph. 2:10).
Praise God that we are saved and justified by grace through faith. May our lives bear fruit worthy of repentance through our works.
How do you understand the connection in your life between faith and works? Read Romans 3-4, Ephesians 2, and James 2 for clarification.