Faith and Works III

[Faith and Works I is here and II is here.]

James: “A man is justified by works, and not by faith only”—James 2:24.

Paul: “A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith”—Galatians 2:16.

Is there a contradiction between these two verses?


Though the choice of one word happens to be identical, the “works” of James’ argument are not the same as the “works” in the point that Paul is making. In fact, the “works” of James are the opposite of the “works of the law” that Paul argues against.

Paul’s argument about the “works of the law” could apply to all of the religious or churchy things I do in the hope of earning God’s favor. As Paul makes clear, these works don’t work.

By contrast, James’ “works” include the personal changes and outward choices that arise naturally—gracefully—because of my belief that God’s favor has already been won, and has been given to me for free. Believing I have this favor, I can stand upon it and start to walk in it. My faith will go to work.

(PS. These two men, James and Paul, deserve the space in which to develop their arguments. It is not splitting hairs to allow that the same word might point to two different things within their different contexts. To read how Jesus used the word “works,” see John 14:12.)

[31 Days of James]