Why Does James 2:17 Tell Us that Faith Without Works Is Dead?
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“James is one of those books that can often confuse Christians who read it for the first time because in some ways, it sounds like James is contradicting what Paul says when Paul says that ‘salvation is not by works, but by faith alone.’ I don't think James is contradicting Paul at all, though. I think James and Paul are exactly on the same page.
I simply think that what James is doing is talking about what happens in the Christian life after justification by faith alone. And what James is saying over and over again in the book, with his commands, with his theological explanation in Chapter 2, he's saying that faith, if it's real, if it's genuine, if it's actually relying on Christ, will produce fruit.
So even if you look at carefully the argument James makes in James Chapter 2, he actually accepts everything that Paul says when he quotes from Genesis Chapter 2, Verse 6, that Abraham was justified by faith. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. James agrees with that. He affirms it. He just says, ‘now, watch what happens in Abraham's life after his faith is credited to him as righteousness. That faith then produces fruit.
So he says there in that chapter, that verse is fulfilled when Abraham offers Isaac as a sacrifice. What he means by that is just that, that verse, Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness, reaches its intended conclusion. In other words, his faith grows to maturity and finds its maturity in obedience.
He's not at all denying that faith is what saved Abraham, that faith is what was credited as righteousness. He's just saying, ‘that was a genuine faith and it issued in obedience.’ And so the whole point of his book over and over again is, ‘Listen, you Christians, you're not supposed to have a faith that is dead. You're not supposed to be hearers of the word only. If your faith is genuine, if it's real, then just like Abraham's faith that saved him, your faith is going to issue in a life lived in obedience to God.’”