Paul says that Christians are saved by faith, not by works. He says: “You have been saved through faith not owing to works.” James, however, insists on the importance of works. He writes: “As the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)
How can these two statements be reconciled?
Considering the context of Paul’s words, we find that one statement complements the other. The apostle Paul is referring to the efforts of the Jews to keep the Mosaic Law. They believed that if they kept the Law in all its details, they would be righteous.
Paul pointed out that this was impossible. We can never become righteous and thus deserve salvation by our own works, for we are inherently sinful. We can only be saved by faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. Romans 5:18.
James, however, adds the vital point that faith in itself is valueless if not supported by actions. A person who claims to have faith in Jesus should prove it by what he does. An inactive faith is a dead faith and will not lead to salvation.
The apostle Paul was in full agreement with this, and he often mentions the kinds of works that Christians should engage in to demonstrate their faith.
For example, to the Romans he wrote: With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation. Making a public declaration sharing our faith with others is vital for salvation.
A person does not earn salvation by his works. But anyone who has genuine faith will have works to go with it works of obedience to the commands of God and Christ, works that demonstrate his faith and love.
Without such works, his faith is dead.