The relationship between our faith, works, and salvation has generated discussion and controversy throughout the church’s history. The essential nature of faith in salvation is evident in the Scripture and is not controversial. But the role of works in our salvation is less clear and can be highly contentious. Is my salvation independent of anything I can do? Or are there things I need to do to be saved? Or something else?
You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (James 2:22 NIV)
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith, apart from works. There is nothing I can do, or must do, to be saved. But James seems to tell a different story as he writes about the essential nature of our works. Twice James says that faith without works is dead. And in this passage, he tells us that our faith and actions work together and that faith is made complete by what we do. But is James really at odds with Paul on this?
James is not arguing that my actions will save me, or will even contribute to my salvation. Instead, what James is making clear is the nature of saving faith. Faith is putting my hope and trust in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. It is putting my life into his hands and going where he leads. And that will be reflected in what I do. If your faith has not made a positive difference in how you live your life, then James would say that your faith is dead and useless. Genuine saving faith is demonstrated by the change it makes in our lives and the deeds that it produces.