2:14 What [doth it] profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 2:15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 2:16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be [ye] warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what [doth it] profit? 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 2:18 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. 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
James 2:14-24 KJV
I came across this issue recently. This passage can be easily interpretted to endorse works based salvation.
The problem is if that were true then salvation is based on works and no one is perfect enough to make it to heaven. Even greater problem would be the fact that James would be contradicting the apostle Paul makine the scriptures the works of man and not God. However I know in my heart that this is not the case.
Many times when we practice our faith or are reading the Bible we see roadblocks too our faith. These "problem passages" can give a sinner the excuse of denying God and leaving the faith.
Why would an all powerful God allow this room for confusion?
Alan Dershewitz a Jewish atheist intellectual was claimed if he were confronted by God, why did God not allow him evidence?
As a defender of the Bible I have read an interesting answer by KJV defender and scholar Ed Hills.
God in his providence leaves somethings around but hidden so that the believer will search for him will the unbeliever will shown fo his lack of faith. If you love God you must search for him. He is there, but he wants a relationship.
So what about this passage?
first the context.
1. James may have been the earliest written epistle. Well before Paul's Epistles.
2. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, He would begin a period of the NewCovenant we call the age of GRace. Before this Between John the Baptist and him we had a short period of time called the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Apostles were Apostles of the Jews trying to reconcile the nation of Israel to Christianity. When Israel rejected the gospel, paul was commissioned to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and allow them to posess the spiritual benefits. We call this the age or reign of grace.
3, here James is speaking to Jewish Christians.
1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
James 1:1 KJV
4. His focus is upon the gospel of christ as it relates to proper religion
1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion [is] vain. 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world. 2:1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons.
James 1:26-2:1 KJV
5. When it is discussing faith in this epistle,(2:1) the emphasis is upon faith for religion, not faith for salvation.
6. Paul would write later in the book of romans discussing the faith of Christ which is his perfect religion which helps him acquire the righteousness of God.
3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 3:22 Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 3:25 Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 3:26 To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 3:27 Where [is] boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Romans 3:21-27 KJV
4:18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 4:19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: 4:20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 4:21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 4:22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. 4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 4:24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 5:2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Romans 4:18-5:2 KJV
So Paul will later show us the difference of the faithfulness of Christ and our faith to recieve Christ for Justification.
7. So James is writing his epistle without Paul in mind.
8. He is speaking to Jewish christians who obvious have an idea of salvation in Christ yet are interpretting salvation as religion. They are assuming because christ was righteous I have no need to be righteous.
9. James is explaining to them that Faith makes us become righteous and so he is discussing to faiths for Christian religion.
on point nine James is referring to religion and delineates between two faiths
2:18 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 KJV
10. So Faith alone is correct for salvation. But faith alone is heretical for religion
So then the question is what is right for perfect religion?
It is good works that perfects religious faith.
2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
James 2:20-22 KJV
Here we see James argueing that in terms of religion you can not have just religious faith but also religious action and try to make a difference in our society.
Look back on james discussing faith and works, it is obvious that he is concern about the community and not the soul.
2:15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 2:16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be [ye] warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what [doth it] profit? 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:15-17 KJV
James is attacking those Christians who preach a good game but do not back up there preaching with action.
11. Final james mentions abraham being justified by faith before works
Finally James brings up the imputation passage.
2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
James 2:23 KJV
Years before Abraham had faith in God. God counted Abraham as righteous. the works Abraham would do years later authenticate that faith. However before he did any works Abraham had already Justified by faith alone.
So here James admits Justification by grace through faith alone. However saving faith is the faith at will bring for the fruits of right religion. But good religion unlike salvation can not be justified by faith alone.
2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
James 2:24 KJV
But once again do not be confuse this is not justification as the declaration of God but this is justification to show righteous. For example
16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
Luke 16:15 KJV
So I think James would agree that we should first be justified by God by grace through faith. Then we should make our faith justified by good deeds making a good witness.