What Do We Learn about Faith and Works in James 2?

What James does is that he, trying to convince his Jewish audience that your faith ought to make a difference in your life, he gives them two examples that they would have been familiar with, one, Abraham and one's Rahab. For Abraham, the Jewish hero, he gives two examples, which best I can tell were at least separated by 20, 24 years.

The first one he mentions about when he sacrificed Isaac on Mount Moriah. The second one is when he had been justified simply by believing that he would have descendants as numerable as the stars. As best I can tell, those two events happened in his life, separated by around 20 something years apart. But one demonstrated the validity of the other. And that was the work James was trying to say demonstrated in Abraham's life. 

And Rahab's life, the work that demonstrated her faith, meaning her faith wasn't dead, was simply that she knew that her people were going to be annihilated and so she saw one way out. She grabs his spies, they bring her into her house. You knew what everybody was thinking, what was going on behind close doors. She's telling them, "I want out of this situation. You're the only way I can imagine to get out of here." So she hides the spies, lies to the soldiers who come to her door, and then sends away the spies with peace. So you've got two examples of works James is saying, one of them is a man who's about to kill his son, the other one is a woman who lies and who's spent her entire life making money in a immoral way.

So much in Christendom we think there must be good works or they must have a quality of a kind of person. What I see James is saying is that, "Faith demonstrates itself," not just being a nicer person, because there's a lots of nice, pagan, unbelieving Atheists. There's lots of them, but what the work that demonstrates genuine faith is that it aligns itself with what you know of God's revealed will, and you will do whatever to stay in line with God. That's the work that James, I believe is saying, indicates genuine faith.