“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:24-26)
James at first glance may seem to contradict himself; however, with further examination James is just restating his original position. Which is true faith( that is genuine faith) produces works pleasing to God. And we understand that works pleasing to God, are those actions which stem from following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And that faith without works (which are the evidence and natural result of faith) is a dead faith. Therefore, such a faith cannot save anyone. We must also remember that Rahab at great personal risk to her own life and the life of her family hid the two spies. She not only hid the spies, but also helped them escape. She did so because of her faith.
Rahab believed the stories of how God had intervened in the lives of the Hebrew people. Through faith she believed how God delivered them from the hands of Pharaoh as well as the surrounding kings and people. Moreover, she understood and believed that God had given them the land. Therefore out of her belief and from her faith in God, she hid the spies. And through this James is once again showing us that works are the natural fulfillment of a mature faith. And that mature faith cannot exist without the presence of works pleasing to God. This shows that faith and works are tied together as faith is the force and the source behind the works carried out by the believer. Faith is believing God. Believing God will lead to action. Faith is the conduit by which all blessings to His people flow.
As James closes this chapter he uses the word “justified” which is the Greek word “dikaioo.” This word has a dual meaning depending on perspective and usage. In one instance the word can mean to declare someone innocent (or righteous) as in a court proceeding. And in another instance, it can refer to the demonstration of existing righteousness. So in reality, these two perspectives are different sides of the same coin so to speak. It only depends from which perspective we are viewing the believer.
In Paul’s case he’s looking from God’s perspective as we are declared innocent by the blood of Christ. As Paul tells us we are declared righteous by God because we receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus based on His work for us on the Cross of Calvary. And in James’ case he is looking at the believer from the human perspective which sees the works performed by the believer. And from that perspective which is evidenced by the works people can see, onlookers then agree that our faith is indeed a real faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To reiterate – salvation is by faith alone. Faith (believing God at His word) is how we are justified before God. Works of faith are how we are justified (our faith is proven) before man.