“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"-- and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
(James 2:20-26 ESV)
Skeptics are quick to say that the Bible is full of contradictions. They do so in order to discredit the Scriptures. It’s their intent to undermine the faith that many place in the Word of God.
One example of this can be seen above. Scripture is clear that we are saved not by what we do. It is clear that our works play no role in our salvation. It tells us that we are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. However, in the words of James, we read that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
As we run into something like this, it can be quite troubling. And it’s caused quite a stir throughout the centuries. Many have assumed that James contradicts the teaching of Paul, as well as that of Jesus.
What are we to do? Does this prove to us that Scripture is not inerrant? Does it prove to us that it’s not infallible? Does it reveal to us that we have to determine, with our reason, which parts of Scripture are true, which parts are God’s Word, and which are not?
The Bible does not contradict itself in any way. As all Scripture is God-breathed, as it proceeds from the mouth of a perfect, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, it cannot contradict itself. Differences such as the one we’re discussing do not contradict one another. They, instead, complement one another.
We must first begin by looking at the context in which James makes this statement. He’s been telling us that faith, apart from works, is dead and cannot save. He’s been telling us that genuine faith is more than a mere profession of belief. It’s something that impacts the way that we live our life.
What James is telling us, in this passage, is that a mere profession of faith cannot justify us. It’s only a true, genuine faith that can do so. And such a faith is expressed in our actions. It’s demonstrated in the way that we live our life.
Paul would not dispute this. However, when said that we are saved by faith, apart from the works of the law, he was speaking against those who believed they could earn their salvation. He was telling them that we can play no role in our justification. It’s a free gift of God, given to those with faith in Jesus.
It’s not a matter, then, of who is right. They’re both right. We are saved through faith. Our works play no role in our salvation. But, at the same time, our works are necessary. They are the essential result of our faith in Jesus.