If a person says he has faith but he has no works, can his faith save him? James 2:24 says that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. Could you explain this please!
Fair question that many wonder about. To start with we need to discern whether James 2:14-25 is a salvation or sanctification context.
Years ago, while witnessing in Chicago’s downtown, we engaged some young men in conversation. They were studying to be priests, and our conversation quickly went to the heart of the gospel. They believed salvation is by works. When we emphasized salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, the immediate response was, “What about James 2?”
Quite frankly, if the chapter is a salvation context, these works-oriented religionists had a point. However, James 2 is a sanctification and service context. The opening verse of the debated portion helps immensely. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14).
James addresses his audience as “brethren.” Obviously, the subject matter pertains to those who are already believers, and what James focuses on is seen in the word profit. Usefulness. The topic is not salvation, but rather, being of use or profit. The word save is used in a non-salvific sense (like it is in James 5 regarding healing). The next few verses give the example of clothing those in need, which is Christian charity but not the way of salvation. The point is to merely talk piously amounts to easy-believism on sanctification. Regarding sanctification and service, the inflow faith-step of trusting must be followed by the outflow faith-step of obeying in order to be counted real faith. It is a matter of trusting to obey. Otherwise, it is passivity.
Next, the example of Abraham’s “works” were actions undertaken long after his faith for salvation. In fact, this very passage cites the fact that he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (James 2:21-23). In Genesis, this is first stated about Abraham 40 years before he offered up Isaac.
Then, verse 24 is key to our understanding. “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” You see in this manner because man can only see the outward work. It is God who sees the faith only.
The passage beautifully emphasizes and illustrates the fact that faith for sanctification and service involves steps without which there is no real trust. In salvation, you believe for what you receive. After that, you walk by faith. Walking demand steps. So walking by faith demand steps of faith. Thus faith without works (the steps of faith) is dead being alone.
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