“What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? . . . You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:14, 24).
True faith produces good works.
Many false teachers claim that you can earn your own salvation by doing good works. Most Christians understand the heresy of that teaching, but some become confused when they read that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). That seems to conflict with Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith.
But when properly understood, James’ teaching on salvation is perfectly consistent with Paul’s. Paul clearly taught salvation by grace. In Ephesians 2:8-9 he says, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” But Paul also taught that true salvation results in good works, for in the next verse he says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
In Titus 3:5 he says that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy”; but Titus 2:11-12 clarifies that God’s grace leads us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” That’s the proper balance between faith and works.
James also taught salvation by grace. He said that God redeems sinners by the Word of truth and implants His Word within them to enable them to progress in holiness (James 1:18, 21). That’s a divine work, not a human effort. James 2:14-24 follows that up by telling us how we can know that work has taken place: there will be more than just a proclamation of faith but a faith that does good works.
Don’t be confused by how faith relates to good works. Put the two together by being a living testimony to God’s saving grace.