How can you believe in salvation by faith alone when James 2:24 seems to say that salvation is not by faith alone?

James 2:24 says: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." At first glance, this verse seems to contradict the rest of the Bible which says we are saved by grace through faith. How can Protestants claim that salvation is by "faith alone" when this verse exists? Context is key.

When James says we are "justified" by works he is using the word justified to mean "proven" or "demonstrated." This is a different usage of the word than Paul employs in Romans. When Paul says that we are justified by faith in Romans 3:28, he is using the word "justified" to indicate that we are "declared righteous before God." Reading the entirety of Romans 3 and the entirety of James 2 helps clarify to what each author is referring.

James 2:24 is part of a larger discussion of how people demonstrate their spiritual transformation by their actions: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). Having faith but no accompanying works is useless (James 2:20): "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). The NIV renders James 2:24 this way: "You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." The NLT says, "So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone." James is making the point that the proof of our faith is our actions. We are declared right by God through faith, and the fact that we have been made right with Him is demonstrated in our actions.

Second Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Salvation results in a changed life. We are saved by grace through faith alone—we are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8–9; Galatians 2:16; Acts 16:31); however, true faith will always be accompanied by works, by obedience to Christ (Ephesians 2:10). And this is the point that James is making.

Related Truth:

Is salvation by faith or works or both?

Why is the doctrine of justification by faith so important?

How are good works the result of salvation?

What is the relationship of faith, works, and security in salvation?

What does it mean to be saved by grace?

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