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James 2:14

Conflict—James and Paul

The well-known apparent “conflict” between James and Paul focuses especially on this verse. The Apostle Paul says emphatically: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Yet James, also an apostle, insists: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20).

There is no real conflict, of course. In our text verse, there is a definite article before the word “faith.” That is, James’ question is, literally, “Can that faith save him?” This is obviously intended as a rhetorical question, with a negative answer. In the context, James is saying that a “profession of faith” is not enough to produce salvation, if that faith “have not works.”

Since that kind of faith does not save, then what kind of faith does save? The answer is given by Paul, in the very verses quoted above. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that—i.e., that faith (which is the inference in the original)—is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” In other words, true saving faith is not a man-generated faith of some kind; it is a supernatural gift of God!” And that faith does save, because it is part of the new nature implanted by the Holy Spirit when a new believer is born again. Furthermore, this faith does inevitably produce good works, for the verse following says that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Faith must be faith in something, of course, and true saving faith must have its proper object. It must be centered in the saving gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in His inerrant Word. Such faith will inevitably result in a changed life and good works, as well as a sound and growing confidence in the deity of Christ, His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, the full authority of Scripture and the assurance of one’s personal salvation. That is the faith that saves. - HMM

Our Daily Bread, September 19