What does James 2:24 mean?
ESV: You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
NIV: You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
NASB: You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
CSB: You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
NLT: So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
KJV: Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Verse Commentary:
James continues to make the case that those who truly trust in God naturally end up participating in good works. As James showed in prior verses, no one can be saved by good works. Works are not required for salvation—they are a "symptom" of saving faith. In verse 22, he used the Greek word eteleiōthē to explain good works as the "completion," or the natural end result, of saving faith. James is urgently making the case that all those who are saved through faith by God's grace will participate in good works.

It is in that spirit that James writes that a person is "justified" by works and not by faith alone. In verse 21, James used the concept of "justification," which some see as a contradiction to Paul's use of "justification" in passages such as Romans 4. Here, it is common for a reader to assume a contradiction with Romans 3:28: "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

It's important to remember two things, however. First, James is not claiming works are required for salvation. His entire argument has been about what kind of faith actually saves. He is on the attack against the attitude that one can be saved by a faith that has no works. He has stated repeatedly that such a faith is dead, useless. He is not saying that faith is not the means through which we receive God's grace; he is saying that a so-called-"faith" which results in no actions is not a genuine faith. A "works-less" faith cannot justify anyone.

The other thing that is important to remember is this: James has been consistent in upholding faith as necessary for salvation. This includes his quote in verse 23 that Abraham was counted as righteous for believing God.

Context is the key to all Bible study, and especially for resolving apparent contradictions. In Paul's writings, it is clear he is describing "justification" in the sense of salvation: being declared righteous by God. James, according to this context, is referring to "justification" in the sense of proof for human beings. Faith saves, says James, but "saving faith" cannot be a mere intellectual opinion, which produces no resulting actions.
Verse Context:
James 2:14–26 makes the case that how one acts—their ''works''—are a sign of the kind of ''faith'' they possess. So-called-''faith'' which doesn't lead a person to participate in good works is not a saving faith; it is a dead thing. It is pointless and meaningless to believe, or ''wish,'' a poverty-stricken person to be well, if such an opinion leads to no action. In exactly the same way, James insists that it is not enough to mentally agree about certain facts of God. If what a person believes about God does not lead them to act accordingly, then their ''faith'' is not saving faith. It is merely opinion. James never says that faith is not essential for salvation. He never claims works are required to obtain or keep salvation. He is, however, crystal clear that truly saving faith cannot be separated from the evidence of good works.
Chapter Summary:
Genuine saving faith in God leads to good and loving actions: ''works.'' In chapter 1, James discussed the importance of acting on the words of God, not merely hearing them. Favoritism to the rich over the poor demonstrates a lack of faith. In fact, this is a sin. Following up on these ideas, James insists that ''faith'' which doesn't result in good works is dead. Such belief is merely intellectual agreement. It is not trust, or true, biblical saving faith. James doesn't deny that belief in God is essential to salvation, nor does he claim that works are necessary to obtain salvation. Rather, he makes the case that works are to faith what the breath is to the body: a sign of life. A ''faith'' without works is like a body without breath: dead.
Chapter Context:
In chapter 1, James taught that a saving belief in God changes how a Christian looks at trials in their lives. It affects where they turn for help, and who they credit for good. Believers hear the Word and do it. In this chapter, James insists that our faith in God should keep us from showing favoritism to the rich and powerful on earth and should provoke us to love our poor neighbors as ourselves. He also makes the case that so-called-''faith'' which does not result in works, is not saving faith, at all. Despite controversy, this does not clash with Paul's view of salvation by grace alone. James refers to good works as an expected outcome of salvation, not the source of it. In the following chapters, he will continue to show what a life of genuine faith looks like.
Book Summary:
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
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