Scripture teaches that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (Jas. 2:17). The epistle of James generates much thinking and discussion regarding works and salvation. An elderly missionary said, I did not receive salvation by works, but I have a salvation that works.” True faith will result in action, and that action will honor and glorify God.
One of the greatest blessings in my missionary ministry in Africa was seeing the results of salvation by faith in the lives of those who were bound by superstition and fear in their religious practices. What a tremendous joy it was to observe people who knew nothing about faith turn from their idols and heathen worship and trust Jesus! The transformation was so great that the newfound joy and peace they experienced radiated from them. The Apostle James wrote, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). For many people of the world, conversion to Christ carries a price with it. When a person is saved out of a background of pagan religious practices, he usually wants to get busy immediately to do all he can to try and share the gospel with family members and friends. My experience on the mission field was to witness a real effort by new Christians to reach others in their tribe.
James informs us that if a man is simply a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a person who looks at himself in a mirror and then goes on his way, forgetting what he looks like. In being doers of the Word, we are to exhibit brotherly love to one another and be good neighbors to both Christians and unbelievers alike. The Bible says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Jas. 2:8). Following this scriptural command will open doors of opportunity to serve the Lord. Obeying this command will place the Lord’s people in various and unusual circumstance. In this same vein of thought regarding faith and works, James wrote, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” (2:14). In this same chapter we read, “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (vs. 20).
This is not in conflict with the writings of the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul spoke of works that man does to try to gain favor with God for salvation. James spoke of works that are done in obedience to the gospel. Wherever you find people, you find the two different works.