James, Paul, and Their Complimentary Views on Justification by Faith
It is usually suggested by skeptics that James is appealing to the necessity of good works to attain justification (‘works righteousness’). Some see within James 2:14-26 a direct conflict and contradiction of Paul’s teaching on justification by faith. Such an alleged contradiction is proposed between James 2:24, which states “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone,” and Romans 3:28, which states, “a man is justified by faith apart from works.” It is unfortunate that individuals see within these authors a difference in view, when the scriptural evidence seems clear that it is rather a difference in emphasis. The texts may be argued as being complimentary, rather than contradictory.
First to be noted is the difference in emphasis. In Paul’s epistles, his usual targeted audience is dealing with the dilemma of Jewish legalism that requires believers to uphold certain requirements of the Law in order to be justified. James, on the other hand, seems to be addressing a crowd struggling with an antinomianism. As a result, Paul is addressing works in regards to those of the Law’s requirements (circumcision, etc), while James is addressing works in the form produced by faith. In addition to emphasis, their terminology could be seen as different. When Paul is speaking of ‘justification’, he is implying the condition of being declared righteous, while James is using the term to mean faith rightly authenticated. Both James and Paul can be seen agreeing with the points that salvation is necessary for salvation, where James states “I will show you faith from my works,” (Jms 2:18), and Paul states it is “not from works,” (Eph 2:8-9). They also agree that faith without works is different from saving faith (Jms 2:17, 24; 1 Cor 15:2; Rm 3:31; Eph 2:8-10). As Paul states in Ephesians, we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” (Eph 2:8). James affirms this in his presentation of Abraham and Rahab, whose good works made evident their faith (Jms 2:21, 25).
In teasing this distinction further, an analogy may be useful. If one man tells another that a car is about to run into him, we may verify that the man trusts/has faith in the other by how he responds. He could simply admit that he believed the man, and stay where he is. If he does such a think, we’d either consider him absent of intelligence, or truly lacking faith in the other man’s warning (regardless of whether he admits he believed him). As opposed to this, we may ‘authenticate’ the man’s faith in the other’s warning by observing him stepping out of the warned path. Such a ‘work’ verifies that the man believed the other enough to heed his words and act upon them. In this regard we may approach James, and find him and Paul absent of ‘justification’ conflict, but rather emphasizing two aspects of faith and works.