Consider the following quotations.
Romans 3: 28 “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of law.”
James 2: 24 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
It might appear that St. James and St. Paul are contradicting each other. However, if we go below the surface and examine these statements in their proper contexts, we discover that they are not in disagreement at all. Since they are addressing different pastoral situations in the early church, they draw attention to different aspects of the common doctrine on faith and works. (As an aside, the words “faith alone” only appear in James; never in Paul.)
St. Paul: He is speaking of the faith that leads to Baptism; the faith of the convert.
St. James: He is talking about the faith of a professing Christian.
The point: Paul and James discuss the role of justifying faith in two different contexts; namely before and after the believer is incorporated into Christ by Baptism.
St. Paul: In Romans 3: 28, he is specifically speaking about works of the Mosaic Law. His point is that no one can earn or merit the free gift of grace by obedience to the Torah.
St. James: In Jas 1: 27; 2: 15-16, he is affirming works of mercy by those already established in grace.
The point: Paul denies the saving power of Mosaic works performed on the strength of human nature, while James affirms the value of Christian works performed by the grace and power supplied by Jesus Christ.
St. Paul: According to him, our initial justification is in Christ; that critical moment when God makes the believer righteous by an infusion of His Spirit and life.
St. James: He talks about works of Christian obedience undertaken in response to the grace of Christ: believers who put their faith into action and want to live the gospel in practical and charitable ways.
The point: This teaching of James is in full harmony with the teaching of Paul. (Rom 2: 13; 6: 12-19)
Let’s stop here so everyone can read James 2: 14-26 in our own Bibles.
Next time: Celebrating Faith
Meditation: Use 1 Cor 13: 4-7 as a starting point to make an examination of conscience. To make the passage more personal, substitute “I am. . .” for the words “Love is. . .”