The Book of James tells us that faith without works is dead being alone. How can we reconcile this doctrinal point with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone?
In order to understand this conundrum we first need to understand the Biblical concept of works.
In the book of James the Greek word for works is ergon. This word means an occupation, an act, a deed, to labor.
In other words our ministry work in the kingdom of God.
James was addressing a problem he saw in the church. People claiming to know Jesus were giving preference to the rich while disregarding the needs of the poor.
James uses Abraham as an example to correct this.
James tells us how Abraham’s belief in God caused him to obey him by doing the deed that God asked him to do.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. Genesis 22:2
James tells us that Abraham’s works counted as righteousness. Not just his faith.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? James 2:21
Notice however that the work which Abraham was called to do was initiated not of himself but by God.
And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. Genesis 22:8
Also notice how that Abraham did not exactly sacrifice his son. It was God himself who provided the sacrifice. Therefore the work of Abraham in this case was really a work of God. God provided the sacrifice.
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” Genesis 22:13
This faith/works argument is one that divides joint from marrow. In other words they are different yet closely attached.
God’s work at the cross through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only work which produces salvation.
To believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the work of God. Scriptures testify to this.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:29
Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness according to Paul.
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Romans 4:3
The thief who received Jesus as his Savior at the cross never did a work except to believe on Jesus. Based on his belief he inherited eternal life.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43
Therefore we can see that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves.
However, if we are really saved then we will produce fruits of righteousness. If there is no fruit in someone’s life who claims to know God, then it is doubtful there is true salvation.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts 16:31
James says. “I will show you my faith by my works.”
This tells us that faith if it has no works is dead being alone. In other words faith that does not produce works is not a faith that is genuine.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” James 2:18
Herein lies the answer. Works that are initiated by the Holy Spirit are righteous works BUT works in and of themselves do not constitute salvation!
Salvation is by faith alone without the deeds of the law. Our faith in Jesus Christ is counted as righteousness before God.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. Romans 11:6
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Galatians 2:21
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1
Works confirm that our faith is genuine.
And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful. Titus 3:14
This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. Titus 3:18
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Our work in the kingdom of God (if initiated by God) will produce fruit that brings glory to God but our justification before God is by faith in Jesus Christ alone without the deeds of the law. Hebrews 13:21