In the understanding of how salvation is received, there is the constant pull between the emphasis of Paul’s “saved by grace” and James’ “saved by works.” Many have posited that these two apostles are at extreme differences in their theologies. Martin Luther, that great reformer who sought to correct a system of works righteousness without faith, was so repelled by the letter of James and its “saved by works” message that he called it the “epistle of straw.” But does it reflect the disparity that many claim exists between Paul and James? Paul writes in Galatians 2:16 that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus. “By works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” In appealing to these works of the law, Paul is speaking of the commandments, ceremonial and sacrificial laws; those things whereby all who live by them seek to approach God. These things were to be kept perfectly if they would be effective. To breach one would bring upon the perpetrator the accusation of all the laws. The law, therefore, showed the people their inability to be righteous in their own efforts. Even in the Old Testament “the just shall live by faith” rings from Abraham to the prophets.
James, on the other hand, does not speak of the works of the law except that which he refers to as the “royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” He refers to Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice Isac as a work by which Abraham was saved, and “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” James appeals to his belief and his obedience. Also, Abraham lived 400 years before the law, which Paul speaks of, was given. Abraham was not under the law of works as Paul refers to it. James speaks of the works of generosity. These works Paul also promoted as he said that we are God’s workmanship unto good works.
I see no contradictions between Paul and James. Let us have the faith that saves as we continue in the good works of loving our neighbor as ourselves and Christ above all.-- Ben