Summary: Romans 4:1-8 and James 2:14-26 do not contradict each other.
Listen to these two verses and think to yourself whether or not they contradict each other:
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5).
"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17).
So are we saved by faith or by works?
I. SALVATION IS RECEIVED BY FAITH (Romans 4:1-5).
Paul asks this question about Abraham:
"What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?" (v.1).
In other words, Paul’s question was, “What were Abraham’s experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith.”
If anyone could be saved by works, it was Abraham. But what does Paul say?
In The New Living Translation verse two reads like this:
"Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride."
Why did Abraham have no basis at all for pride? Paul gives us the reason in verse three:
"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
Here Paul answers his question by quoting what Moses records in Genesis 15:6. What does it mean when it says that faith was counted unto Abraham for righteousness? That word “counted” means “to put on one’s account.” So when Abraham believed God, righteousness was placed on his account.
Most people today have a bank account. Let’s pretend you have a car payment that automatically comes out of your account at the end of each month. But at the end of this month you have only five dollars in your account, and the car payment is four hundred dollars. That means that you’re in trouble. You don’t have enough money to pay for your car. But let’s say someone heard of your need and gave you four hundred dollars to deposit in your account. You now have the necessary amount of money in your account to make you car payment.
The reason why God placed righteousness on Abraham’s account was because Abraham’s righteousness was not enough to save him. Just like your friend would bail you out because you don’t have enough money for your car payment in your account.
For God to place righteousness on a person’s account is justification. Justification is the act of God whereby He acquits a believer of the verdict of condemnation and declares him to be righteous.
Why did God declare Abraham to be righteous? Paul says it was not the result of Abraham’s works. If that was the case then it would be something he earned and had reason to boast about. Abraham was saved when he believed God. He was saved by faith.
This fact is clearly stated in verse five:
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
II. SALVATION IS DEMONSTRATED BY WORKS (James 2:14-26).
In order to properly understand this passage, two significant facts should be observed:
1. Look at verse 14. James does not state that the hypothetical person “has” faith, but merely says that he has faith. This is professing faith. It is phony and counterfeit. Paul refers to the same idea when he says in 1 Corinthians 15:2, “. . . unless ye have believed in vain.”
2. The question, “can faith save him?” is misleading in the King James Version because it gives the wrong impression. James is not asking about faith in general, but that type of faith which one has who makes claims without providing evidence with his life that those claims are true. If we looked at the original Greek, we would see that James is saying, “Can that faith save him?”
Here’s how The New Testament in Modern English puts it:
"Now what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he ’has faith’ if his actions do not correspond with it? Could that sort of faith save anyone’s soul?"
A. What real faith is not (vv. 15-19).
1. Real faith is not empty words (vv. 15-18). Pious cliches and Christian talk are not the evidence of saving faith. There must be a vocation to go along with the vocabulary. You can be very pious and say to an individual, “Brother, I will pray for you, and I know the Lord will provide.” But why not do something about your brother’s need and do the providing.
2. Real faith is not merely believing in God (v. 19). Lip service is not the evidence of saving faith—even the demons believe.
B. Examples of real faith (vv. 21-26).
1. The example of Abraham (vv. 21-24)
Like Paul, James uses the example of Abraham. But does James contradict Paul in verse 21? James writes,