Galatians 2:16-21 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (17) "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! (18) For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. (19) For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. (20) I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (21) I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
James 2:12-24 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. (13) For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (14) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (18) 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. (19) You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (20) But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (22) Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS." And he was called the friend of God. (24) You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
One of the main causes of confusion about law and grace within evangelical Christianity is the contrast between Paul and James about faith and works. It caused Calvin to write and say that “people are saved by faith alone, but, faith that saves is never alone.” This comment alone is responsible for much of the erroneous attitude about law and grace. Likewise, this apparent controversy is responsible for much of the schizophrenic attitude surrounding law and grace. Here are the facts as they relate to these two passages. Check them out in context and see if I am speaking correctly. Paul is speaking of works of the law and James is speaking of works of love.
When James says that faith without works is dead being alone he is speaking of very narrow works. He is not saying that one who has faith will obey the law. He is saying that one who has faith will have the law written on their hearts and will be loving toward their fellowman, and that means feeding them if they are hungry, clothing them if they need it, and giving them shelter if they are homeless. Let me repeat… James is not saying what the standard evangelical party line is. The standard evangelical understanding of James 2:17 is that the works that demonstrate true faith is obeying all the laws of the Old and New Testaments. This is absolutely false and is evident by reading the passages in context.
James uses a vignette of Abraham’s life as an example. He finds Abraham on the mountain willing to sacrifice Isaac. This is very close to the end of Abraham’s life. God had demonstrated his faithfulness to Abraham over and over again. Abraham’s faithful work was the result of a life witnessing God’s faithfulness. In Romans chapter four Paul uses the same argument that he used in the above passage from Galatians. Both James and Paul quote Genesis 15:6 (“And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”) Paul uses the vignette that shows Abraham in Gen 15:1 so it is at the beginning of Abraham’s faith walk. This was before God had proven himself faithful over and over again. In this picture it is simply belief. It is important to remember here how the Amplified Bible treats the word faith. The Amplified Bible always includes with faith the definition (trusts in, relies on, and clings too.) Therefore real faith, real belief is more than a mere assent to facts. One must trust in, rely on and cling to the facts in order to demonstrate proper and true faith. When you read Gen 15:6 in the Amplified Bible believed is defined by (trusted in, relied on, and remained steadfast to.)
Therefore, James and Paul are discussing a different aspect of faith. Paul is referencing the initial act of faith and James is referencing the lifelong faith. A person who lives their life completely trusting in, relying on and clinging too a committed belief in God’s unconditional mercy, love and grace will over time develop the ability to love God beyond measure and thereby obey. Jesus showed in Matthew 25:31-46 that Christians would be judged by how they treated the unfortunate. Did they… would they… feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless? This is precisely why James makes these works the works that demonstrates true faith.