2:16 See “Faith and Works” at James 2:24. In the Old Testament, God rules and judges with perfect justice (1 Sam. 26:23), and pronounces His verdict of innocence or guilt. To “justify” is to declare to be right (Deut. 25:1). But if no one living is righteous before God (Ps. 143:2), how can there be hope of that verdict (Job 9:2)? As God is the Judge, whose verdict is final and just, so He is the Savior who can provide deliverance from His own judgment (Jon. 2:9). God’s righteousness is revealed, not only as His requirement, but as His gift (Is. 45:24, 25; 54:14–17). That gift comes at last through the Messiah (Is. 53:8; Jer. 23:5, 6; 33:14–16). Paul proclaims the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise (Rom. 3:21–26). Faith receives the gift of Christ’s righteousness as well as forgiveness through His atonement.
works of the law. Paul has been referring to the “works” that distinguish Jews from Gentiles (v. 15), such as circumcision, dietary restrictions, and Sabbath-keeping. His phrase, however, includes all the efforts of fallen humanity to keep God’s law so as to merit His justifying verdict.
no one will be justified. A near quotation of Ps. 143:2. No one can keep the law fully, so legal observances such as circumcision cannot establish a right relationship with God. Something other than the law is needed for that, and God has provided it in the gift of Christ’s righteousness and the blood of His atonement. Faith does not merit God’s acceptance; it accepts Christ’s merit before God (Phil. 3:9).