Q. I’ve been given to understand that when James says that a faith without works is a dead faith, he’s referring to someone who’s not saved. That’s what “dead faith” seems to mean in that context. But in Romans 4:5, Paul seems to be saying that if a person does no works, his faith in Him who justifies the ungodly is counted as righteousness. In other words, he’s saved. Please help me reconcile what’s being said in James 2:20-26 and in Romans because both invoke Abraham as an example.
A. James was referring to the works we do in gratitude for having received our salvation which are inspired by the Holy Spirit and done in His strength, and serve as evidence of our faith (James 2:17). In Romans 4:4-5 Paul was referring to the work a person does in trying to earn his righteousness which is of no use because our righteousness is imputed to us by faith alone.
Abraham is a good example of both. He didn’t work to earn his righteousness, it was imputed to him by faith. But afterward, when God asked him to offer Isaac, his response was evidence of his faith. Hebrews 11:17-19 says Abraham was willing to offer Isaac because he believed God would raise him from the dead if that’s what it took to keep His promise. That’s faith in action!