To understand what each is saying and how they are harmonious it is necessary to understand what justification is and the scriptural terms for being justified. "Justified" is different from "righteous". The righteous angels are, well righteous because they never sinned. "Justified" means that a sinner has been made "righteous" (Just-as-if-I'd never sinned). In the most simple terms it is the forgiveness of sins:
Col 1:14 through whom we have redemption [liberation], [that is,] the
forgiveness of sins.
When applied to God in Romans 3 it refers to an apparent dereliction of duty rectified by his making propitiation to the people:
Rom 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith
in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins
that are past, through the forbearance of God; Rom 3:26 To declare,
I say, at this time his righteousness: that he [God] might be just
[δίκαιος], and the justifier [δικαιόω] of him which believeth in
God of course is free to freely forgive those who offend him but as judge he must punish the wicked or provide a propitiation. This is one of the main reasons Jesus had to die. But Jesus' death is not the basis of the forgiveness of sins. Because God freely forgave the sins of the Jews when they appealed to God for forgiveness (by solemn offerings) he took their sins, metaphorically placed them on a goat and sent them off into Never-Never Land. That was the BASIS of forgiveness of sins under the law.
The BASIS of the forgiveness of sins in the new covenant which provides for the free forgiveness of sins of Jews. To ratify the new covenant with the Jews was another main reason for Jesus' death.
The BASIS of the forgiveness of sins that Paul discusses is faith alone. To be clear: the basis of the forgiveness of sins Paul is talking about is not the death of Jesus, baptism, repentance or good acts. You can do all those things and not be justified. The simple paradigm is this:
Brenton Gen 15:5 And he brought him out and said to him, Look up now
to heaven, and count the stars, if thou shalt be able to number them
fully, and he said, Thus shall thy seed be. Gen 15:6 And Abram
believed God, and it [his faith] was counted to him for
What must one believe? One must believe God. That has taken many forms. Here are some more examples:
Heb 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain
did, and by faith he was declared to be righteous, since God himself
accepted his offerings. And by faith he continues to speak, even
though he is dead. Heb 11:7 By faith Noah, when warned about things
not yet seen, reverently prepared an ark to save his family, and by
faith he condemned the world and inherited the righteousness that
comes by faith.
The BASIS of justification that Paul discusses is faith. Jesus is not the basis, faith is. But the gospel (the announcement of Jesus' death, resurrection and enthronement) is God's "report" that must be believed in this age:
Rom 10:6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not
say in your heart, 'Who will go up to heaven?' (that is, to bring the
Messiah down), Rom 10:7 or 'Who will go down into the depths?' (that
is, to bring the Messiah back from the dead)." Rom 10:8 But what
does it say? "The message is near you. It is in your mouth and in your
heart." This is the message about faith that we are proclaiming:
Rom 10:9 If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be
saved. Rom 10:10 For one believes with his heart and is justified,
and declares with his mouth and is saved.
But while faith is the BASIS, there are also CONDITIONS. The conditions are things that one can do and must do but that will not secure the forgiveness of sins. These are things like:
Mat_6:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will
your Father forgive your trespasses. Mat_18:35 So likewise shall my
heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not
every one his brother their trespasses. Mar_11:26 But if ye do not
forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your
- water baptism (assuming one is able)
Mar_16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he
that believeth not shall be damned.
- coming to or returning to obedience (repentance):
Luk_13:3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all
likewise perish. Luk_13:5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye
shall all likewise perish.
Act_20:21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks,
repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
True repentance has corresponding actions:
Act 26:20 Instead, I first told the people in Damascus and Jerusalem,
then all the people in Judea—and after that the gentiles—to repent,
turn to God, and perform deeds that are consistent with such
THAT is what James is saying. He's saying that while it is only on the BASIS of faith that one is justified in the paradigm of "justification by faith" there are CONDITIONS, one of which is repentance, which as corresponding actions. And it is appropriate to surmise that James has all of the CONDITIONS, including water baptism and forgiving others in his "corresponding actions" that he referred to as "works".
- the BASIS of justification by faith is faith alone
- the CONDITIONS of justification by faith include forgiving others, returning to obedience and water baptism
- the CONDITIONS do not secure justification apart from faith
- faith does not secure justification apart from the CONDITIONS