James 2:21-26 is the second half of the “problem” passage where it appears that the Apostles James and Paul disagree about how we are justified. The key to resolving the apparent contradiction is context. James and Paul are addressing two different questions.
In Galatians, Paul addressed the question raised by the theology of the Judaizers: Must I keep the law in order to be saved? Paul strongly asserts that our “works” have no value in bringing us into a right relationship with God. Our outward acts of obedience can not earn us salvation.
James is answering a different question: Once that right relationship with God is established, will “works” will necessarily follow? He answers yes, because genuine saving faith changes us. To answer that question, James gives 4 illustrations:
2:15-17—the poorly dressed, hungry Christian
2:18-20—the demons with correct theology
Notice that James concludes each illustration with a summary statement. These are found in verses 2:17, 20, 24 and 26.
The first two illustrations are negative; they show us what genuine saving faith is not. The second two illustrations are positive; they show us what genuine saving faith is.
Finally, in each pair, one shows how faith acts horizontally and one shows how faith acts vertically. The first (the hungry Christian) and the last (Rahab) show how genuine faith treats a fellow believer. The middle two (the demon and Abraham) show how genuine faith responds to God.
Discussion Questions – James 2:18-26
- Define faith as James uses it in chapter 2.
- Define works as James uses in it chapter 2.
- From your study of James so far, explain in your how words the relationship between faith and works.
- Look closely at the story of Abraham. How does Abraham’s story support James’ argument?
- Where else do you see examples of faith producing works? In your own life? In the church? In the Bible?
- Summarize chapter 2 in your own words.