What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. (James 2:14, 18)
As good students of the word of God, we are amazed at the perfect congruity of biblical doctrine. We understand there is nothing written in God’s word that is inconsistent with any other part, and this is true because the Holy Spirit is the author of divine scripture. Though men were used as God’s instruments of recording the Word, yet their words were inspired by God. Therefore, when we arrive at a scripture in which one author seems to be in conflict with another, we must recognize the conflict exists because of our lack of understanding.
It is because of misunderstanding that some imagine Paul and James were running on opposite tracks when they expounded the doctrine of justification. Paul says that we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28) while James asks the question, “Can faith without works save us?” Which of these writers is correct? Are works necessary for salvation or are they not? If this is indeed a conflict between Paul and James, the problem is actually much greater because it also becomes a conflict between Paul and John and Paul and Jesus. Both John and Jesus demand faith that includes righteous works.
The truth of the matter is no conflict exists. John and James wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well as Paul, and it goes without saying that Jesus could not be incorrect because He is God. Paul views the matter of justification in the sense of the initial act. Is there any specific work or a number of works we can do that will add up to make us righteous in God’s eyes? The answer is “no” because all of our good works fall short of God’s standard. They are all imperfect and all done with selfish motives. James is not speaking of this initial act; he is speaking of the evidentiary proof of justification. Faith alone saves, but as both Calvin and Luther said, a faith that is alone does not save. Faith always produces good works in the Christian.
We can rephrase James’ question in James 2:14 this way: “What is the profit if a man says he has faith and not works? Can that kind of faith save him?” A faith that does not produce works is not the kind of faith that God gives. And this point is critical to our understanding—faith is a gift from God and the faith that God gives could never be a deficient faith that fails to produce what God intends for it to produce. Here we can interject Paul’s teaching on the grace of God in salvation by quoting Ephesians 2:10. Immediately after saying that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and not by works, he says: ”For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” James stated this exact point only with different wording. True saving faith is one that produces works of righteousness. These works are ordained by God and will not fail to be present. If anyone says he has true saving faith but his faith is not a productive faith, his faith is self-generated not God given.
In their epistles, both James and John include helpful information to differentiate false faith from true faith. The type of faith a person has will determine whether he is truly a child of God. Paul does no less in his epistles as he consistently outlines the kind of conduct that is evident in the lives of true believers. The agreement of these writers is apparent because each conveys the perfect mind of God.
Pastor V. Mark Smith