James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
James 2:24 is an often quoted, often used scripture…often misquoted, and often misused. Let’s take a look brief at it. We’ll start by looking at a little more of the text around it.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, and by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the alter?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect”
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (KJV)
The first and major rule of scripture interpretation is that we interpret scripture by scripture. When we see a truth plainly taught, dozens and dozens of times; when God makes it extremely obvious what His truth is, and then we run into a verse or passage that appears to go against everything we know about Him, that verse or passage must be viewed in the light of the totality of Holy Scripture.
Taken out of context, it may seem that this verse contradicts what the Bible clearly, repeatedly, teaches us: That salvation is by faith and not by our good deeds (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:15-16). James is saying that righteous acts are evidence of real faith, not that they actually save us. In verse 2:23 he quotes Genesis 15:6 which plainly says that believing God is what resulted in Abraham’s right standing with God. This happened long before Abraham’s act of offering up Isaac. (This all happened 430 years before the law was given to Moses, but we don’t have time to get into that now.)
The phrase “not by faith alone” found in James 2:23 refers to a mental agreement to certain truths. The Bible says the demons “believe” and tremble. Obviously, this is not the same “belief” that results in salvation, for that will never be found by demons!
The whole point is that true faith, the faith that results in righteousness, the faith that results in salvation will produce works! Works are an important result of saving faith, but they will never result in salvation. They come from salvation. When we tell others they need to do works to prove their faith, we’re getting the cart before the horse. Trying to make people do works only leads to frustration. If the works are not there, the problem is in the “faith” department. It must be approached from that angle if any good for that person is to be accomplished.
We do, of course, need to be very careful in judging others. Yes, we know a tree by what kind of fruit is produced. In nature, various plants produce fruit in different ways, and in different seasons. An apple tree doesn’t produce apples all year-round. There is a time of rest and nourishment. True faith will produce works, but God’s timing is not always as we see it. Beating on an apple tree will not bring forth apples. Neither will religiously beating up on your brothers and sister bring about fruit in their lives! James also says in chapter 2, verse 8, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.”
In the end, true faith will show itself, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.”
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”A you are doing right.
9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,”also said, “Do not murder.”If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,
13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”E and he was called God’s friend.
24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.