James 2:14-17

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

Can folks share their thoughts on the famous "faith without works is dead" and "can that faith save him" phrases in James? I don't see questions on this specifically in the SE archives.

We know that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is clear that none of us are righteous enough to be reconciled to God, as Romans expounds upon in detail. What, then, does James mean by this passage, and is salvation tied to works in some way? Not, perhaps, in the sense that we worked to be saved, but that works somehow "proves" we have been saved/changed by God, or that good works will naturally accompany faith in Christ, if that faith is indeed genuine?

  • Every person who reviewed this question (4x) voted to close on the above grounds, but they aged away due to lack of reviewers. I'm in agreement with the consensus that this is presently off-topic.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 20:23

12 Answers 12


I think, for Jews there is no rough distinction between Faith and Works as we perceive it today.

For the new testament writers (who were jews) to have faith is to trust in God and accept his leadership upon you and submit to his will. So faith is not something other than following God/Jesus and doing his commandments. If anyone loves (believes in) Jesus he does his commands.

Faith is not a believe in a historical event such as Jesus birth or death or being a carpenter or whatever. In such case it would be right to make such a distinction between Faith and Works.

Faith simply, is to believe we are sinners in God's eye and so trust in Jesus and follow his commands to go from dark to light. So actually there is no faith without works or works without faith. Faith and works are one.

If so, then why does Paul say that we are saved by faith and not by works? Actually, it depends on how to understand Paul. He says we are saved by our faith in Jesus, it means by knowing that we are sinners and need to know God through Jesus and trust him in Jesus and do the commands/works Jesus taught us.

And in the same time we understand that if we refuse to confess that we are basically sinners in God's eyes, then although we are trying hard to appease God through our own works/law then we are boasting ourselves and we are doomed.

So basically if we are trying to be saved by Law we become under the Law. yet if we accept the way that God offers in Jesus, which is a gift we are saved by our faith in Jesus which normally means by doing his commands.


Luke 17:5-10 (DRB) And the apostles said to the Lord: Increase our faith. 6 And the Lord said: If you had faith like to a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea: and it would obey you. 7 But which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go, sit down to meat: 8 And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper, and gird thyself, and serve me, whilst I eat and drink, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? 9 Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him? 10 I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.

Here the Lord Jesus teaches us that good works - being good people - is our duty. It is not 'above and beyond' duty for a Christian. And how could that fail to be the case? He came to save us from sin, which began with Adam, and to restore Eden, bit by bit, end in heaven. This is where Jesus teaches that Christian good works exclude the "boasting" which St. Paul will often speak of, and exclude the view of works where God is indebted to those who please Him by living well.

Romans 11:35 (DRB) Or who hath first given to him, and recompense shall be made him?

If God is the One who forbears, and awaits while we sin, that He might have mercy on it, then He alone is the reason we are saved absolutely, and exclusively, because we could not do any works, much less pleasing ones, were it not for this forbearance. In this sense, and because of this, we cannot possibly be justified by works, but works must follow justification (or at least the grace which would lead to such a state).

Therefore, from both Jesus, and Paul, we know that grace comes first; and grace is had by faith or trust in God's work, and not our own. This excludes the Pelagian view of works - but not the historical view of works: that whether we good bad works, or omit to do our duty as moral beings, we sin, and fall out of friendship with God.

Protestants and others might have a knee-jerk reaction to this; however, nothing about grace means that free will is destroyed, any more than the grace that Adam had, and was commanded to retain, had his will overtaken or replaced by that grace: grace provides for that is not there - for what was lost - it does not possess a person; it is a gift never given where it is to become "a cloak for malice" (1 Pet. 2:16).

The means of regaining the friendship of God can be had by repentance, which Jesus speaks of profusely. This is not a work of man done which earns God's forgiveness, but the pleading to God, an act of faith, for his grace, of which you are in, quite literally, mortal need.

Therefore, salvation is preserved as being purely by the mercy and grace of God, excludes all boasting, and is had by faith in the work of Christ, but does not exclude works, only a certain view of works.

  • "[Works] - being good people?" No one is a "good person." 1) Acts 2:38: "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;" 2) Acts 22:16: "‘[Ananias to Paul] Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’" 3) Mk. 16:16: "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved;" 4) 1 Pet. 3:21: "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you" All the steps to salvation are works: hear, believe, repent, confession that Christ is Lord at baptism. We must then live godly lives through obedience to God.
    – Xeno
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 18:26
  • Being godly and ungodly = good and bad. According to Luke 1:6 there are good people. It's only ever meant relatively, not absolutely (i.e. they have never needed to ask pardon for their shortcomings), but the generalization of their life as summarized by 'good' is warraneted. Baptism effects regeneration ipso facto (provided true belief), it's not the mere declaration of belief in the presence of water. Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 18:35
  • God isn't interested in "good people." He demands perfection, and that can only be achieved through faithful obedience to His Word. The works that I described cleanse us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7) and all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). Once cleansed through baptism, we must observe worship on the first day of the week including communion and proper teaching (preaching). Look at the example of Noah. Would he have been saved if not for his obedience to God building an ark?
    – Xeno
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 19:35
  • I honestly don't know what you're trying to argue. Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 19:38
  • 1
    No problem, brother. Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 19:46

Faith and belief are both from the word πίστις which means 'to be persuaded'. Biblical faith reflects two interlocking dynamics. The first is the mental acceptance of a set of facts which we regard as doctrine, the second is the action that responds to those convictions.

Belief is the fundamental structure for salvation, but belief is never presented in scripture as simply an intellectual exorcise. Biblical faith is more than just a simple acknowledgement of a set of revealed truths or doctrines. Faith is always presented as behavior that actively responds to the word of God. James makes the point that faith apart from obedience to the will of God is not faith. Faith is legitimized only when it is linked to action. We see this in a number of examples given by the Hebrew writer. In Hebrews 11 belief/faith is inseparably linked to active response that legitimizes what the mind has accepted as true. Without obedience to the will of God, there is no acknowledgement of faith. By faith, those offered as examples, did what God commanded; and because they did, God regarded them as faithful.

Belief is an exercise of the mind and obedience is the pragmatic response. Faith cannot exist one without the other. One simply cannot function without the other. Although “faith” and “belief” in the New Testament are translated from the same Greek word and are very often used interchangeably, there are time when one is clearly differentiated from the other. If there is a difference between faith and belief it would seem to be the difference between the cognitive response (which is the abstract intellectual exorcise of accepting something as truth), and the active response which is more concrete. This is the point James makes about faith. Faith itself is an abstract because faith is not something that can be seen. In order for faith to be legitimized, it must be demonstrated in observable behavior. You cannot see faith but, you can see the results of faith. It was incumbent upon Israel to do more than simply acknowledge the words of the Lord intellectually. They were to “observe all the words of this law to do them.”


"Faith" in Greek is πίστις (pistis). The exact same word is translated in English as "belief". In New Testament Greek there is no distinction between the two. True faith in the Lord is true belief in Him and vice versa.

If one truly believes in Christ, one follows His commandments. These are enumerated quite clearly in the Gospel, especially the Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew 25:35-40. How could one claim to believe in Him, yet deny the necessity of doing what He says? Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46). In this sense, salvation - whether one chooses to understand it as merely escape from hell, or something more noetic - necessarily requires us to do something (i.e. follow the Lord's commandments). These are the works which James is referring to.

This is reinforced in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

For you have need of endurance, so that after you do the will of God, you might receive for yourselves the promise (10:36)

Maximos the Confessor, a 7th century eastern monk and theologian, wrote a commentary here that seems amazingly contemporary:

Now perhaps someone will say: I have faith in Him and faith in Him is enough for me for salvation. But James contradicts him, saying: "Faith without works is dead" ... as also the works without faith ... But those who truly believed Christ, and, through the commandments, made Him to dwell wholly within themselves spoke in this fashion: "And I live, not now I; but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me"


This is a good question, and touches a very sensitive matter in Christian faith:

  • are we justified by faith alone, or by faith and works?
  • is or are there a level or levels higher than Justification, for example: Glorification?

If we take in account the higher level, then the issue is very clear.

Logically, Justification by works alone, while Glorification by both: works and faith.

How ?!

  • By works alone One is to be considered Justified in the eye of the Law and Community, regardless the intentions.

  • To win higher status One must has Faith also, beside works.

This is clear through the New Testament.


  • Faith without Works is Nothing.
  • Works without Faith is Thing.
  • Works with Faith is more than a Thing.

I hope my words are clear.

I noticed misunderstanding and reversed understanding to this issue. For example:

According to Protestants justification is by faith alone – not through good deeds – and is a gift from God through Christ. Look [Justification (theology)- Wikipedia].

It is clear that Protestants didn't take in account the matter of higher status, like (Glorification).

They also didn't take in account the type of Sin, i.e: Sin for death and a Sin not for death. How the atonement act of Jesus atones for a Deadly Sin?

How a Sinner who committed a Deadly Sin passes by his Deadly Sin?

I hope my words are clear.

  • 1
    How about this: Faith without work is hypocrisy; Works without Faith in Christ is philanthropy/charity; Genuine justification by faith is NOT the justification by faith that stands alone!
    – Sam
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 18:55
  • Works without faith may make us justified in the sight of man, but not in the sight of God. Paul addresses this in his letter to the church in Rome. "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (Rom 3:28) "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'" (Rom 4:2-3) "For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void." (Rom 4:14) Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 18:19
  • "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Heb 11:6) Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 18:20

The OP question cannot be properly answered, unless we take into account and compare the position of James and Paul on Faith vs Works.

I believe that my Answer (Faith vs Works, Paul vs James) to the question Faith & Works - Is Paul responding to James or James responding to Paul? answers adequately also this Question here.


“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” These words speak to me of the difficult work, the enormous challenge of living out our faith in our daily lives and relationships or, as James puts it, of proving ourselves “doers of the word, and not just hearers” (Jam 1:22). By “works” of faith, perhaps James is referring to the hard work of detaching ourselves from this world and the things of this world, and of putting our faith into action through works of charity and mercy:

  • Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – Jam 1:27 NASB

These "works" of faith, however, should not be confused with the work of salvation. For Christians, that work belongs to one person alone. Through the laying down of his life for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus opened, or rather, he became the door to salvation for all.

  • I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture – Jn 10:9

  • This is the gate of the Lord; The righteous will enter through it – Ps 118:20

Jesus is the door, but he is also the way that leads to the door:

  • Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. – Jn 14:5-6

  • And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for the one who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, Nor will any vicious animal go up on it; They will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there – Is 35:8-9

For the sake of this discussion, perhaps the works of faith can be considered as the practical steps that pave the “way of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:21). Jesus’ life, teachings and parables show us a way of living or of walking in the the world. They hold profound lessons on how we are to live our lives and how we are to relate to and come into relationship with God and one another. Indeed, all of Scripture is meant to be “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness “(2 Tim 3:16).

  • Lord, who may reside in Your tent? Who may settle on Your holy hill? One who walks with integrity, practices righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. – Ps 15:1-2

  • but whoever follows His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says that he remains in Him ought, himself also, walk just as He walked. – 1 Jn 2:5-6

  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: “ But the righteous one will live by faith.” Rom 1:16-17

As a final thought on the OP’s question, the work of salvation has been accomplished, which opened the door to salvation for all (Jn 10:9). Although it is not for us to judge who may or may not enter (Rom 2:16), our part is to seek the way and, if we are given the grace to find it, to stay the course.

  • Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. – Mt 7:13-14 KJV

I believe that the way to reconcile James with the rest of the Bible, Paul, is to realize that a) James and other saints were Judaizers to extents, influencing the churches and Paul:

If there comes into your synagogue a man with gold rings in splendid clothing...

Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And having greeted them, he related one by one the things which God did among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God and said to him, You observe, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews who have believed; and all are zealous for the law. And they have been informed concerning you that you are teaching all the Jews throughout the nations apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you: We have four men who have a vow on themselves; take these and be purified with them, and pay their expenses that they may shave their heads. And all will know that there is nothing to the things that they have been informed of concerning you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we have already written, having decided that they should keep themselves from idol sacrifices and blood and anything strangled and fornication.

Before some came from James, [Cephas] continually ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to shrink back and separate himself, fearing those of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away in their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not walking in a straightforward way in relation to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; and knowing that a man is not justified out of works of law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, we also have believed into Christ Jesus that we might be justified out of faith in Christ and not out of the works of law, because out of the works of law no flesh will be justified.

Certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And when no little dissension and discussion with them came about through Paul and Barnabas, the brothers directed Paul and Barnabas and certain others among them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this question...And when they finished speaking, James answered, saying, Men, brothers, listen to me...I judge that we write to [those from the Gentiles who are turning to God] to abstain from the contaminations of idols and...what is strangled and blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who proclaim him in the synagogues, he being read every Sabbath.

Jam 2; Ac 21; Gal 2; Ac 15.
And that b), kinda in line with user33515's comment above---How do you define "salvation"?---, Paul, in Gal 2:16 and Rm 3:21-28, addresses nonbelievers, 'sinners,' becoming believers. James's letter, re faith, justification, works, and salvation, addresses us believers' judgment by God (resulting in reward or loss--punishment. Not to our eternal destiny. Paul also, elsewhere, addresses judgment of believers.) There are these 2 broad judgments (Mt 24:45--25:30; Rv 20:11-15. And even a third, particular one, Mt 25:31-46).

Speak and so do as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For the judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What is the profit, my brothers, if anyone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?


Salvation from the bible is eschatological. We are saved from the coming wrath of God, in the day of the Lord, by transferring us from darkness to his marvelous light of his eternal kingdom where righteousness dwells.

God saves us specifically through the person of Jesus Christ alone, for salvation is found in the name of Jesus alone (Acts 4:12). If God the Father made Jesus our Saviour, our righteousness, our sanctification etc. (1 Cor 1:24-25), then, it also means that salvation is theocentric.

Thus, salvation is not a one-time process of accepting Christ Jesus by faith alone. To be delivered by God is a life-long process of change wherein the believer is transformed from glory to glory (1 Cor 3:18).

One becomes a believer by faith so that faith is essential in the beginning of the salvation process (Eph 2:8-9). Continued faith also for the whole lifetime is essential (from faith to faith, Rom 1:16-17). Thus, the core soteriological teaching of the bible is that salvation is trusting the name of Jesus Christ alone for salvation (not trusting one's self or one's good works for one's salvation) and this trust is not alone (this faith in Christ is not alone) but is with good works.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

Doing good works everyday shows that we are justified (declared righteous by the Lord) and the ability to do good works came from the righteousness of Jesus (not our own) in us (Phil 2:11-13, 3:8-9). If the Lord sees that we have his righteousness in us and that we are bearing fruit, these two things justify us before him.

So it is not faith alone [belief alone] that delivers us from evil and death, but faith [trust] in Christ alone showing itself daily through good works.

So good works everyday is very important but the motive should be that to honour Christ Jesus daily because he already saved us through his death on the cross. If our motive to do good works daily is to save ourselves and give ourselves eternal life, it would make the free gift of eternal life not free gift but something we have to work for (See Romans 4:4-5, 6:23).


For example, when the day of the Lord comes and he judges us, i would confess the following in front of the Lord Jesus:

Lord Jesus, i acknowledged that you are my God and Saviour, that you loved me and gave himself for me, that i have no righteousness on my own. You gave me eternal life as a free gift and i received it gladly when i first believed. I will continue to believe with thanksgiving. It is by your grace that i am able to love God and love my fellow human beings as myself. I do good works everyday because i love you Lord Jesus. It is through doing good works everyday that i am able to thank you for the free gift of eternal life which you have given us.


Are we saved by faith alone or by faith with works? James 2:14-17

We are saved by Faith that produces fine works.

James is talking about works motivated, by faith and love. If we are moved by such qualities, we will not merely express kind wishes for a needy fellow worshiper. We will give material aid to a needy brother or sister. James asks: If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? NONE. Such faith is lifeless.

Job 31:16-22


Examples from the scriptures of faith followed by fine works, Abraham and Rahab.


Abraham declared the Father of those that exercise faith.(Romans 4:11-12) Let us assume that Abraham lacked faith that God could resurrect Isaac and fulfill His promise of a seed through him? Then Abraham would have never tried to offer his son as a sacrifice.

However, Abraham showed faith that God could raise him from the dead and so went ahead and offered Isaac on the altar. Abraham’s works in trying to offer up Isaac confirmed God’s earlier pronouncement that Abraham was righteous. By works of faith, he showed his love for God.


Another case in the scriptures of faith followed by fine works is that of Rahab, a harlot in Jericho. She received the Israelite spies with hospitality and send them out by another way so that they eluded their Canaanite enemies. She obviously recognized before that the God of the Israelites was the only true God and this moved her to help the Israelite spies.

Rahab shows faith, that God will deliver Jericho to the hand of the Israelites.

Joshua 2:9-11 NET

9 She said to the men, “I know the Lord is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before[c] you. 10 For we heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan. 11 When we heard the news we lost our courage and no one could even breathe for fear of you. For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below!


John 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

Faith, i.e., to believe, is work (singular).

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

We are not saved by works (plural).

The same James who says in James 2:17

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

also says in James 2:23

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Salvation, per se, is based on the singular work of faith, from which we produce other works of fruit.

  • I would just add: 1) Acts 2:38: "[Peter], 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; '" 2) Acts 22:16: "‘[Ananias said to Paul] Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’" 3) Mk. 16:16: "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved;" 4) 1 Pet. 3:21: "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you" Abraham's "belief" included obedience to God. All the steps to salvation are works: hear, believe, repent, confession that Christ is Lord at baptism. We must then live godly lives.
    – Xeno
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 18:18

There is no contradiction between James and Paul, but for those having a flawed theology, they find themselves in increasingly inextricable contradictions & inconsistencies since the harmony of the whole web is broken. It is no wonder why Martin Luther hated and removed James epistle from his judgement of the Canon, but the contradictions are still not solves, since James was only repeating what Jesus and the other apostles consistently taught that religion alone is worthless, and cannot save you, faith alone is dead. Those who boast in their faith or ancestry while disobeying God are enslaved to sins as God can produce believers from stones (Matt 3:9; Jn 8:33) God is not the God of Jews alone but of the whole world, and he judges everyone according to their heart and works impartially, as Paul expounds upon in details such as Romans 2:6-16. Luther was still left with tons of justification by works doctrine, start with the parables of Jesus, for the criteria of kingdom of heaven, such as the righteous Samaritan being shown superior to the religious priests who have the highest religious yet was having a dead religion (Luke 10). So the problem doesn't go away simply by ripping of James from the NT.

[ESV Romans 3:27-30] 27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

Paul's arguments about the justification by works were only with respect to the antithesis with the Mosaic law, which Christ ended to liberate them from the law covenant, that is defined as grace. But Luther mistranslated Rom 3:28 as "faith alone" based on his misinterpretation that the frequent phrase works of the law refers to human effort in pleasing God, rather than the works of the Mosaic covenant, hence the opposition to James who explicitly wrote against faith alone to the early heretics who mistook the grace/liberty as faith alone which requires no works, exactly what Luther came up with. It cannot be "faith alone" since Paul is not subtracting works from faith to say justification is by faith alone, as if they could continue solely with their existing faith in God. He is showing two different kinds and criteria of justification, one that is by works of the law covenant, but there were other examples of faith justifications like Abraham's without any work. His argument is that law justification is not eternal and only way of justification. A superior criterion for justification has come that requires faith in Christ that replaced the Mosaic law. It is not related with the scope of faith alone or faith minus works in general formula. Even if one attempts to define the beginning stage of justification as faith alone, he cannot maintain that as a creed since God requires works as necessary for salvation (except for someone like the thief on the cross who did not have anything to offer in life at his death moment). This is why the reformers and their followers have been desperately struggling to defend their creed of faith alone against logic.

If one interprets the anti-works arguments of Paul as human efforts then it is inescapable that any & every moral works are not only unnecessary but needless and even undesirable as the modern unapologetic teachers like Paul Ellis [hyper-grace] teach unlike Luther who later tried to apologetically endorse moral works as a secondary preferable ornamental thing with faith to justify himself to the objectors.

Faith alone that works?

Defensive approaches to faith-alone position by attaching works as subordinate to faith are mere slogans, and they fail as logical contradictions such as "faith alone, but the faith is actually not alone": Luther and Calvin. People often attempt to reinterpret or change the meaning of Faith in the two contexts, but those too are easily seen as desperate attempts to solve the dilemma, like making a superficial distinction of genuine vs ungenuine faith. Arguments like James was talking about justification before men as Daniel Wallace argues:

δικαιόω in James most likely refers to vindication before men after one’s actions are seen, while δικαιόω in Paul refers to forensic declaration of innocence before God;
πίστις in James is mere intellectual assent (“even the demons believe and shudder” [Jas 2:19]), while for Paul it is a full embracing of the Savior as the only way in which one can escape damnation;

These do not give justice to the plain text. Neither of the two were concerned about justification for the world, nor they are concerned about trivial redefining of faith on a semantic and attitude level. They both meant the same sotereological criteria for justification. The difference was with the "works" in both context. Paul is teaching about the futility of Mosaic law after the changing of covenant, while James about the moral works of commands or as the law of Christ which are beyond Mosaic law. Paul's audience were those facing the very first heresy of Torah keeping or circumcision aka Judaizers threat; arguments against law-alone when the law has been replaced and no longer valid. James wrote to those facing the second heresy in the Church that is lawlessness or licentious grace that overlooks overlooks general or moral works; arguments against faith-alone. These heretics were likely influenced by twisting Paul's teachings, as Peter also addressed it, and other apostles also seem to address this second heresy of lawlessness:

[ESV 2 Peter 3:14-17] 14Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

Luther's faith alone position is built on the premise of the original sin, solely based on the misinterpretation of a general statement no one is righteous (Rom 3:10-11), a warrant to disregard all the law or commandments of God by making man utterly depraved and incapable of doing good. Thus, this theology puts Paul on its center and everyone else including Jesus is kept aside, some even argue that Jesus and James aren't applicable to the Church as their teachings were of the old covenant. It is not difficult to figure that the works are the Mosaic law works which are no longer valid criteria for justification for God due to the change of the covenant, the coming of the promise (Gal 3, Rom 10). Those who still seek to be justified by the law are refusing the promise covenant of grace, hence establishing their own criteria or righteousness that is opposed to God's criteria of righteousness.

Regarding those passages like Ephesians 2:5-8 saying that by grace you have been saved, not by works that anyone should boast, only represents the grace of God under the new covenant, as opposed to the law based righteousness (Rom 10:4-5, 3:27). As it is by definition grace, it does not exclude works considering grace does not mean freedom from any works but only the law of Moses. The providence of grace or sacrifice of Christ is not a result to anyone's good works and believers works do not add to the atonement of Christ. Atonement and obedience are two independent things.

James, does not mean works are tied to salvation in "some way" but in a necessary way as much as the spirit is necessary for the body to be living, so also faith apart from works is dead (v2:26). Faith is just a beginning of justification, not the goal that faith alone would matter, hence nobody ever wrote such a statement but on the contrary condemned it. Paul puts divine-love above faith in 1Cor 13:13. Divine love that is not a feeling but benevolent works for others. Consider this:

[NASB 1 Cor 7:19-20] Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but [what matters is] the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
[Galatians 5:6] For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Paul says neither circumcision (the condition of the Jewish believers) nor uncircumcision (condition of the gentile believers) but the commandments alone matters. Circumcision or uncircumcision are mere religious conditions of believers, they matter nothing without obedience to God. Faith working through love that is a work; faith doesn't work, man works. Circumcision was the requirement under the old covenant, faith in Christ has replaced the law now. John, Peter, Jude everyone else wrote the same doctrine repeatedly that following the commandments of Christ or the law of God matters. The view that Paul meant human efforts by the law is a grave misunderstanding that leads to messing with the whole theological web, with endless contradictions.

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