But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.James 2:18
Some have seen in this passage a conflict between the teaching of Paul and of James. But such a view is totally unnecessary. If I told you that I was a father and then told you that I was a son, you would not conclude that I contradicted myself. You would understand that I was speaking of two different relationships. In the same way, though Paul speaks of “justification by faith” and James speaks of “justification by works”, they are not contradicting one another, but emphasising different truths. Indeed, Paul himself says not only that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1), but that we are justified by Christ (Galatians 2:17); we are justified by His grace (Titus 3:7); and we are justified by His blood (Romans 5:9). These are not contradictions but different aspects and perspectives on the same truth.
Others have expressed the truth this way: “Faith alone saves; but the faith that saves is not alone.” And the point that James is making is that mere words or mental acknowledgement of a truth are not truly faith. Faith always acts upon the truth that it believes. If I say that I trust the doctor, but refuse to take the medication she prescribes, do I really trust her?
James reminds us of the time when God asked Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (James 2:21; Genesis 22:2). The Scriptures tell us that Abraham rose early the next morning, quick to obey his God. But how God could fulfil His promises of building a great nation through Isaac if he was dead? Yet he believed that his obedience to God would not annul the promise of God, so he took Isaac to the mountain God showed him, built an altar there, bound him, and was ready to kill him. But at the last moment, God intervened. James is making the point that Abraham’s willingness to obey God unconditionally showed the reality of his faith and so he was “justified by works.” But to whom did Abraham show his faith? Surely God was the only one to witness his faith! Indeed, God says to Abraham, “Now I know that you fear God…” (Genesis 22:12).
In the same way, we must demonstrate our faith to God through our actions. It is not that we need to add works to our faith; rather, true faith always acts. If we truly believe God like Abraham, we must and will do the things that He tells us in His Word, even if we don’t always understand them.