Understanding the Book of James

A Message of Faith and Works

Many misunderstand the book of James concerning the relationship between faith and works. It is misunderstood by the unbelievers, and also by many who are saved. This is largely due to the fact that James and Paul seem to be contradicting each other!

Let’s compare two verses from each writer. First we will begin with Paul’s writing concerning faith and works from the book of Romans.

Rom 4:4-5:
(4) Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. (5) But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Now let’s see what James has to say about this in the book of James.

Jam 2:20:
(20) But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Paul makes it abundantly clear. Works has no part with faith. We are saved by believing on him. It is by faith alone. So what about James? How can faith without works be dead?

This conflict will not be resolved until we can understand the theme, and subject of the book of James.

Without this understanding, James’s writings will seem to be in direct conflict with Paul’s writings about the same subject.

James’ epistle is not in conflict with the theme of the Apostle Paul, but rather compliments Paul’s writings.

Paul is the author of grace and faith, and James is the author of works and evidence. Paul is speaking of the source, which is grace and faith, and he is speaking from God’s point of view. James, on the other hand, is speaking of the result of faith, which is works.

KEY TO UNDERSTANDING:  Works is the evidence of faith.

You will have no conflicts if you remember that James is speaking from man’s point of view and is concerned with the evidence of faith in the believer.

Man cannot see one’s faith, which is in the heart, thus he can only verify one’s faith by the person’s works.

If he does not see a man’s works, then he is saying, to me your “faith is dead being alone”.

If I see your works, then to me, your faith is real and so your faith is made perfect to me, by what I see, but not before God.

The Pharisees and all those that are trying to show that they are holy, may succeed as far as a man can see. But God looks at the heart, and this is where the real motives comes from.

God will not condemn you as long as He sees your faith. Man will not condemn you as long as he sees your works.

That is, condemn or judge you as guilty. God knows that if you have faith in Him, good works will follow; and to God faith alone is what saves you.

Man deems that you have faith when he sees your good works,
but to him you are saved because of your good works.

When a person says to you that he is a Christian, you may believe and welcome him or her.

But if you do not see goodness manifested in his or her life, you may have doubt of the person’s salvation.

So to you he is justified by works. However we can be mistaken and we only judge or draw a conclusion by what we can see.

There is standoff if you do not understand this as the Christian will stick to Ephesians 2:8,9; and the other religious groups will stick to James 2:20, 26.

You must realize that religious people are speaking from man’s point of view and you are speaking from God’s point of view.

James says; “Was not Abraham our father justified by his works when he offered up Isaac upon the altar.” (James 2:21)

But Paul says; For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

Jesus answered and said unto them,  Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites,  as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Mark 7:6)

If one has faith, it is absolutely true that works will follow. But we must remember that good fruit only can come from God, through His grace, and by our faith, that comes from His love.

A good tree will bring forth good fruit.

God looks at your faith and seeing your faith, He will perform the work in you and eventually through you, and bear the fruit for His glory.

His glory is the attribute of God, and the fruit that is produced by Him, is what others see in you. They come to know Him as they taste the fruit.

A man cannot distinguish a good fruit from a bad fruit immediately, for we cannot look into man’s heart and his motive. Works may deceive the man but not God.

James views the Christian from man’s point of view, and Paul views it from God’s point of view.

James is saying, if you have faith, then works must be evident or your faith is to me is dead, being alone. It is dead to man for man cannot see your faith. James is the book of pure religion, observance, or doing what a man believes in.

He says, if a rich man comes to your gathering, you say to him, come and sit on this good chair, and a beggar comes and you make him sit on the floor, these things ought not be so
(James 2:1-4).

If you believe, than out your mouth, both blessing and cursing should not come, (James 3:10-12). James is saying your works, must substantiate your faith or it is dead to me.

James says; “be ye doers of the word and a hearer only”.

What does God’s word say? “The just shall live by faith”, and “from faith to faith.”

Do not put the cart before the horse. Have faith in His word and good works will follow.

Do not try to put the fruits on the tree. When the tree is mature it will bear fruit.

We need to take good care of the tree, by watering it and taking care of it.

Do not worry about the fruit, a good tree will produce good fruit.

We must learn to sit with Christ and learn of Him, before we can walk in this world, and stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 2:6; 4:1; 6:11).

When a baby is born, surely the parents do not expect the baby to do any work.

The baby must be nurtured and fed and loved, before the baby can even begin to walk.

The parents must spend many hours with the child, imputing in the child, their values and desires, and the way of life as they see it.

   Even Jesus’s childhood life is not mentioned until he was twelve years old. God is very patient. Abraham had to wait 25 years, before his first son of promise, was given to him.

The Jews had to wait hundreds of years, before being restored as a nation.

God did not send His Son to die on the Cross, immediately after Adam and Eve sinned.

Jesus came 4,000 years later and died on the cross. God does things in His time, and we must be patient, and wait on Him, so good works will be produced in us and through us.

  Now let us view the well known verses, that is often quoted, by those who misunderstand the book of James.

Chapter 2:14-26

James asked the question in v.14.
“What doth it profit, my brethren,  though a man say he hath faith,  and have not works; can faith save him?”

Notice that James asked a question, but does not answer it.  Why?

Simply because he is looking from man’s point of view, and cannot answer either yes or no, unless he sees the evidence of works.

When he asked “can faith save him?”

He cannot say NO, because faith and only faith does save. He cannot say YES, because he must see works first, and without works, to him, faith is dead.

In James 2:15-20, the key phrases are:

“one of you say”

“a man may say,”

“show me”,

“I will show thee”.

  “Wilt thou know o vain man.”

By these key phrases, one can see that he is speaking from man’s point of view. What a man sees is works, for man cannot see faith, thus he can only judge by his works. When a person says to us that he is a Christian, we take his word for it, but we wait and look for evidence of his faith.

If we see good works then we believe he is saved, but if we don’t, then to us his faith is dead. That is what James is saying. Faith without works, to me,  is dead, being alone.

James goes on to talk about Abraham;

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works,  when he offered Isaac his son, upon the altar?” 

“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”

That is true, but only to you and I, for we judge only by what we see. God sees the heart and if He sees no faith, his works, though there may be many,  will be burnt up like wood, hay and stubble. It must be based on Gold, Silver and Precious Stones (1 Corinthians 3:12-13).

Apostle Paul says this about Abraham. concerning the same incident.

“What shall we say then, that Abraham,  our father, as pertaining to the flesh hath found,  for if Abraham were justified by works, he hath something of which to glory,  but not before God.” (Romans 4:1-2)

Before men yes, for men see the works which is the evidence of his faith, but God looks at the heart.

So the question must be asked. Are you saved by faith plus works?

If you say yes, salvation is by faith plus works, then you have a problem with Ephesians 2:8-9;

“For by grace are you save through faith, and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God,  not of works lest any man should boast.”

If you say, “No!” then you are saved by faith alone and not of works, and faith must stand alone, even in your walk with God.

Now you can explain why James says “faith without works is dead being alone.”

James is speaking from man’s point of view and saying TO ME, I must see your works or your faith is dead being alone.

A good illustration is found in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus is talking to a Pharisee named Simon, about the woman who washed His feet with her hair. He points to all her works, for Simon cannot see her faith.

But when Jesus turns to the woman, he says in v. 50; “Thy faith has saved thee.”

He did not say, they works has saved thee. Because it is faith that saves,
but works is the evidence that man can see to verify that she has faith.

Thus: Faith without works, is dead to man (James 2:20).
and Works without faith, is dead to God (Hebrews 11:6).

Christianity is:

 not “works” but grace (Romans 11:6).
not “law” but faith (Galatians 3:12).
not “trying” but trusting.
not “laboring” but resting (Matthew 11:28-30).
not “feelings” but knowing
not “I” but Christ (Galatians 2:20).

Christianity is from grace to grace and from faith to faith.

Everything that God gives is by grace and everything we receive is by faith.


Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38.