Does James contradict Paul regarding justification?
Rev. Bryn MacPhail

James begins his argument for genuine faith with 2 rhetorical questions: "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?"(v.14).

James then illustrates his point by saying that if we see "a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," and yet do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?"(v.15, 16).

James, by his illustration, is attempting to demonstrate that this type of faith is of no use at all. And James' conclusion in verse 17 is that, "faith, if it has no works, is dead".

What is this? "Faith without works is dead"? Doesn't the apostle Paul insist that we are saved by faith alone? In Romans 3:28 Paul says "we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law". It appears that James is seriously contradicting the rest of the New Testament Scriptures that teach that we are saved by faith alone.

The truth is, however, there is no real contradiction between James and Paul, and I'll tell you why.

In Romans, Galatians and Ephesians--when Paul talks about justification by faith alone--Paul's subject matter is the nature of justification. Paul is telling us how one becomes a Christian.

James, in his epistle, is speaking of something slightly different. While Paul focuses on the nature of justification, James focuses on the nature of faith. James is telling us, not how one becomes a Christian, but what a genuine Christian looks like.

While the Bible clearly teaches that Christians are saved by "faith alone", James correctly reminds us that we are saved by faith which is not alone.

That is to say that works is to faith, what branches is to a tree. If I was to say the only thing in my backyard was a tree, you would not be surprised to hear me talk later about pruning branches or raking leaves in my backyard. Because even though I never mentioned branches or leaves in my backyard, you know to include them in your understanding of a tree. So James wants us to know that good "works" is part of the very nature of faith.

Does this mean that we have worked for our salvation? Not at all. Paul tells us in Ephesians that even the faith required for salvation is a "gift"(2:8). Salvation is a gift from God--we do nothing to get it. However, when given the gift of salvation we are simultaneously given the gift of faith. And with faith, James tells us, comes the natural growth of works. True faith manifests itself in works. If it doesn't, it isn't genuine faith.