Q. In James 2:14 it says, “Can that faith (without works) save him?” Please explain how this seemingly contradictory verse, and others in James, relates to the fact that Christians are saved by faith not by works as discussed in Romans 3: 20 and 27 and other scripture.
A. James wasn’t saying we have to perform good works to be saved. He was saying that saving faith will automatically manifest itself in good works of one kind or another. The Holy Spirit will lead us to perform acts of kindness toward others out of our gratitude for the free gift of salvation.
When we try to force this by acting in our own strength, whether out of a sense of duty or to win the approval of others, we’re actually doing more harm than good. Jesus said if we remain in Him we can produce much fruit, but apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Listening for the prompting of the Holy Spirit and acting as He directs us is our way of saying thanks to the Lord for all He’s done for us. It’s also the only good work we can do that He recognizes as such. Otherwise all the people in the world who do lots of nice things for others but are not believers would have a valid claim against God for refusing to allow them in to His Kingdom.
Then they asked Him, “What is the work that God requires of us? He answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent” (John 6:28-29).