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“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14)

The well-known apparent “conflict” between James and Paul focuses especially on this verse. The apostle Paul says emphatically: “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet James, also an apostle, insists: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20).

But no real conflict exists. In our text there is a definite article before the word “faith.” James’ question is, literally, “Can that faith save him?” This is obviously intended as a rhetorical question with a negative answer. In the context, James teaches that a “profession of faith” is not enough to produce salvation if that faith “have not works.”

Since that kind of faith does not save, then what kind of faith does save? The answer is given by Paul in the very verses quoted above. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that |i.e., that faith which is the inference in the original| not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” In other words, true saving faith is not a man-generated faith of some kind, it is a supernatural gift of God! And that faith does save, because it is part of the new nature implanted by the Holy Spirit when a new believer is born again. Furthermore, this faith does inevitably produce good works, for the verse following says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Faith must be faith in something and true saving faith must be centered in the saving gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in His inerrant Word. Such faith will inevitably result in a changed life and good works. That is the faith that saves. HMM

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