I was reading through James today and I understand his point was to convey to the Jews that only having faith - but not showing your gratitude for the grace they've received - is not good. He does get pretty close though to saying that without works your are not saved. Especially when he mentions that by leading others back to Christ covers sins:

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. -James 5:19-20

And also:

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. -James 2:17

If faith without works is dead, how can we have salvation by grace through faith ALONE?

I came from a Baptist background to a Reformed theology because I didn't agree with their emphasis on works and not Grace, but the book of James (which was used as a defence for this ideology) is really confusing on this.

Can you comment on how some of these statements are compatible with the Grace by Faith Alone doctrine? I don't read Greek so I'm wondering if something was lost in translation or maybe I don't know enough of the context about this book.

  • Hugely related question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/22919/… Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 22:14
  • @Andrew I appreciate the link but that's not really what I'm asking. I already have a solid foundation on the idea of salvation by grace and not works but I'm wondering why it seems that James contradicts this. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 22:21
  • The whole point is that he doesn't, as my answer there demonstrates. It's not a duplicate question, but the answer (and the other answers linked from it) is entirely relevant. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 22:24
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    @ ecesurfer You seem to be misreading the second part of chapter 5 verse 20, the soul being saved is the one who strayed and the sins covered are the sins committed by the one who strayed not the one who didn't stray. and in chapter 2 verse 17, the point here is that a living and vibrant faith will of it's own spawn good works.
    – BYE
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 0:36
  • @CecilBeckum Thanks a lot I re-read it and you're right :) Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 21:52

5 Answers 5


If you (say you) have faith but don't have works, do you really have faith?

Works are the result of faith. They don't save you. If you have faith, it is only natural that you will have works. James's question is to people who have no works. Why don't you have any works? Where is your faith?

Matthew 12:33 (NASB)
"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit."

[The sum total of] Our works reveal what we really believe. If we believe God loves everyone, won't we act like it and be unselfish? Won't we put their interests or needs ahead of our own? This is the fruit of faith.

Our works do not save us, for our belief (faith) is what puts us in a position to receive God's grace. They only reveal (to us, more than others) what we have faith in.


James is writing his epistle to "my brethren" (1:2), who are already of the church, so he is not writing to unbelievers to tell them how to be saved from their sins an get right with God. His readers have already come to Jesus and had their sins washed away in the blood of the Lamb, been justified by faith, and entered into a saving relationship with God.

Therefore he is writing about an aspect of salvation from that position. For instance, after a person trusts God for salvation and is justified by faith, then he would be expected to work with God to overcome the sinful habits he accrued over the years as an unbeliever. God's goal is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29, and that means actual effort on our part to work with God (Rom. 8:13, Phil. 2:12-13).

See also 2 Peter 1:5-11, in which if we are changing and producing fruit, then we will have a grand entrance into the coming kingdom of God; but if we are not growing in our faith, as seen by the works emanating from a maturing character, then we have forgotten that we were saved from our sins. Those who are working out their faith have not forgotten they have been saved from their sins and are fighting to stay away from sin. Those who are not working out their salvation are allowing sin to control them -- for instance, they are fooling themselves that they are doing well merely because they call themselves "Christian" and go to church.

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    Be very careful about the grace versus works conundrum. By grace (God's kindly benevolence) we are saved by faith, and even that faith is the gift of God (to every man was given a measure of faith): we are saved by the very tool God Himself gave us, so we can't boast in our faith! But it doesn't stop there. When we do works after salvation, those works, too, are supplemented by God's gracious enabling, all surrounded by His gracious mercy. It is all of grace, from beginning to end.
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 6:49

How is the teachings in the Book of James consistent with Salvation by Grace alone?

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Many take the verses of James chapter two and see in them a treatise on salvation.

However, in context James is chastising church leaders for being respecters of important people and neglecters of poor people.

James 2:3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

James illustrates his point with a description of an empty expression of "good luck" to a person without food as completely useless. He then compares this to faith without works. What he is doing is asking them to reflect if they are living by their faith.

James 2:15-17 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

The whole thrust of this chapter is to admonish those who claim to be Christian but suck up to the rich and ignore the poor.

James uses another illustration to make his point that faith is made "perfect" (complete) by works.

James 2:21-22 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

Since James is writing to those he considers Christians (brethren), his description of "faith" may not refer to salvation but rather to the living faith that garners rewards.

James 2:1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

It is by faith that we become Christian, but it is also by faith that we are supposed to live.

Colossians 2:6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

There are those who will live a Christian life only to find out that their works were not of faith.

1 Corinthians 3:14-15 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The thrust of James chapter two is not so much an address to those who want to become Christian as it is an admonishment of those who are Christian that their "faith walk" is questionable. This can be seen in the first verse of chapter three.

James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.


It is not a contradiction he is just stating the obvious. Our good works are a manifestation of our faith. Faith if it hath not works is dead being alone.

James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

The devils believe in Jesus but are not saved. If we have faith the only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ. However if you have faith but are an unrepentant sinner, there is no scripture that says you will be saved in your sin. Just like if you have good works but no faith you can not be saved as well. Faith and our good works go hand in hand. You can not be saved without the other.


Simple. You said, salvation by grace alone. you are right. so that no one will say 'but I did that'.

You just got confused when you said, salvation by grace thru faith alone. Erase the 'thru faith alone'.

Because faith alone does not save

Works alone does not save

Faith and works does not save

The key is James 2:24, no one is righteous. God makes us seem righteous thru Christ. Grace.

Remember that God is asking for some faith. Small as a mustard seed. 'Jesus is lord'

In James 2, the author is saying, let me see your faith, let me see if you a are willing to make a change for yourself, let me see what you are willing to do to be save. But it only makes a statement of salvation until verse 24.

  • I agree in the idea that our faith is given through God, but Ephesians 2 talks about "grace through faith". God in His sovereignty gives his elect faith, but that faith is a gift of grace. It's a fine line but I do see your point. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 22:58

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