James’ focus on works is frequently cited as a contradiction to other messages in the Bible. On the one hand, it appears James is saying that salvation is achieved by works; on the other, writers such as Paul emphasize that salvation comes by faith alone, not works of the law (Galatians 2).
Look carefully and you’ll see that Paul and James are talking about different issues. Paul is in the middle of a debate with Jewish Christians over whether Gentiles must live like Jews to enter the family of faith. He says that no one is made right with God by performing the works of the law. Instead, all people are made right by faith, thanks to God’s grace. For James the situation is entirely different. The works he is talking about refer to God’s people helping the poor, not whether non-Jews must live like Jews. He’s concerned about a shallow, insincere, and hypocritical faith.
Paul describes the root of salvation; a person is saved by God’s grace received through faith. James is explaining the fruit of salvation; saving faith is a faith that works.
14 Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t make any sense to say you have faith and act in a way that denies that faith. Mere talk never gets you very far, and a commitment to Jesus only in words will not save you.
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