QUESTION: I thought we achieved heaven through faith in Jesus—not by works. James 2:22-23 states that faith is not enough. I would like to understand what I perceive as a contradiction. Thank you.
22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God.Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Verse 24 should stick out: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” This does seem to contradict Ephesians 2:8 which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works.” However, context is key. James here is discussing two different types of faith. The first is a faith that he says is dead. It is a faith that simply acknowledges God with one’s lips, but does not truly resonate within a person’s spirit. This is why he says in verse 19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” I doubt that you would believe that belief demons have of God is equivalent to the saving faith that encompasses the Christian. This is why James’ point is a second type of faith—true faith. True faith is exemplified in the person of Abraham. It does not merely offer lip service to God, but it demonstrates one’s devotion by living out one’s beliefs and convictions.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.