Are we justified by faith alone? According to the Apostle James, we are not. But according to the Apostle Paul, we are. Who is right? What did Jesus teach? Many Christians believe that they have to work their way to heaven. In other words, the better they do, the higher their chances are of getting through the “Pearly Gates.” Others believe faith is enough and as long as they believe in Jesus as their Saviour that is all that matters. It would seem those in the early church had the same impressions. But as we have seen from the beginning of this study, our actions say a lot about our faith in Christ. James sets the record straight on the importance of our actions as believers in Jesus. Works and faith go hand in hand.
The word for “works” in Greek is érgon, and it means “toil” as an effort or occupation and by implication means an act or deed – something you “do.” James is not contradicting Paul who says we are justified by faith. James is saying your faith is not real if you don’t follow it up by your actions. Abraham believed in God, and he showed his love by obeying Him, to the point where he was about to sacrifice his son. Abraham believed God would provide another way. His actions confirmed his faith in God. Rahab had already believed in Israel’s God, and when the spies came to her door, she willingly hid them from the King of Jericho. She acted on her belief that Israel’s God was the only God as she stated in Joshua 2:11 – “For the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Her faith in God justified her and her works proved that faith.
Romans 3:10-12 reminds us that no one does good or is good. We are all like sheep who have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). There is nothing we can do to work our way into heaven. But for the believer, you cannot have faith in God without acting on His behalf. It is impossible. As James stated in James 2:15-16 if you ignore the plight of your fellow man (those hungry, in need of shelter, the widow, the orphan, sharing the Gospel, etc.) your faith is dead. So we are not working our way into heaven, we are working on behalf of heaven. If you are not contributing in some way to God’s kingdom, your faith is dead.
Faith without works is dead.