Do Paul and James agree in their writings?
In studying Galatians, one really must visit another passage of Scripture. It usually enters the conversation when faith alone is praised as the way to salvation. It is of course, Brother James’ letter. Let’s compare Galatians 2:16 and following to James 2:14 and following.
Galatians 2:16, in the middle of the sentence, says, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus… by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified… “
Now, brother James, will you weigh in? Yes, this is the James who had a long discussion with the apostle Paul at the Jerusalem Council. This is the James that was in full agreement with Paul and Peter that the Gentiles needed to come into the Kingdom simply by faith. Keep that in mind as you listen to what the Spirit says through him:
James 2:14: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
He goes on to describe a Christian who ignores the physical needs of fellow-Christians, and then concludes: “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
He is not finished. He makes another argument in verses 18-20, then concludes again that it is foolish to think you can have faith without works. He comes out and says in verse 24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone… Faith without works is dead.”
So, what is the context of James’ statement about faith and works?
In that last bundle of words is the key to what James is talking about. He is not talking about the way of salvation, as Paul is talking about. He is not talking about the entrance requirement into Heaven, being born again, or even being justified the way Paul is talking about justification. That would be a discussion that either he was not so informed about or that was still new to him.
He’s talking about dead faith that saves no one. He’s talking about people who make a profession of faith but really don’t have it. He’s saying that you cannot have a God kind of faith if it does not manifest itself soon in demonstrating deeds for other people.
The fact that you have a mental concept of Jesus does not save you. Abraham, says James, Abraham, the father of the faithful, who believed God and God counted it to him for righteousness, true salvation, showed that He knew God by doing what God told him to do. That’s how we show others and ourselves that we know God in a saving relationship: when we find ourselves doing for others, things we would not have imagined before Christ came in.
If Paul and James stood before you, based on what we know of James’ position at Jerusalem, and his welcoming of the Gentiles without circumcision or the whole bondage of the Jewish Law hung around their necks, they would be in perfect agreement about what saves (Paul) and what proves your salvation (James).
End of contradiction.