If you hired someone to plant a garden and he asked if you wanted all roots or all fruit, what would you think? Both are essential!
In his letter, Jamess concern is about those whose faith has no effect in their lives. His purpose is to show the difference between a “dead” faith and an “alive” or true faith (2:17-18,26). His conclusion is that any faith that is not an active faith resulting in acts of love is no faith at all. Dead faith is not valid faith. Paul would say the same thing. If we ask, “Did Paul know of a faith that does not work?” the answer is a resounding “No!” In Pauls letters, the plural works often acts as a shorthand expression for the “works of the law” (for example, see Rom. 3:28; 4:2), which refers to human efforts to present oneself as righteous to God. In this context the word is almost wholly viewed as negative. On the other hand, when Paul used “work” in the singular, it is almost always a positive term that refers to the productive life of faith. It is this latter sense of the term that James is concerned with, and his conclusions are one to which the apostle Paul would say “Amen.”
Faith apart from a productive life would not be acceptable to Paul. In 1 Cor. 13:2 he writes, “If I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” In Gal. 5:6 he writes, “In Christ Jesus circumcision accomplishes nothing nor does uncircumcision, but faith working through love does.” The parallel passage in 1 Cor. 7:19 is even more surprising: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is.”
Such passages could be multiplied over and over, and the result would be the same. We are, as 1 Cor. 15:58 puts it, always to be abounding in the work of the Lord.There is no such thing as faith without obedience. In fact, Paul sometimes uses “faith” and “obedience” interchangeably (for example, in Rom. 10:16). Paul could even summarize his missionary purpose as seeking “the obedience of faith” among all the Gentiles (Rom. 1:5). When we consider the message of Jesus and the other New Testament writers, the result is the same.
Everywhere there is the expectation that a life in relation with God involves loving obedience to God and love for our neighbors. There is no such thing as salvation without obedience. We cannot have faith without being faithful.The only time there is tension between faith and works is when there is a misunderstanding of one or the other. There is no tension between faith and works because, properly understood, faith encompasses works and necessitates productive living. Faith works, but is does not use its activity to prove to God or people that the believer is righteous.
Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works againuntil they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.
The question is asked: how can justification take place without the works of the law, even though James says: “Faith without works is dead”? In answer, the apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace. The works of the law are works done without faith and grace, by the law, which forces them to be done through fear or the enticing promise of temporal advantages. But works of faith are those done in the spirit of liberty, purely out of love to God. And they can be done only by those who are justified by faith. An ape can cleverly imitate the actions of humans. But he is not therefore a human. If he became a human, it would undoubtedly be not by virtue of the works by which he imitated man but by virtue of something else; namely, by an act of God. Then, having been made a human, he would perform the works of humans in proper fashion.
Paul does not say that faith is without its characteristic works, but that it justifies without the works of the law. Therefore justification does not require the works of the law; but it does require a living faith, which performs its works.