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James shifts gears into a most practical tension between faith and works.What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for theirbody, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, beingby itself.Here we are back to that most powerful statement. “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”
But someone may wellsay, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without thespirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The tension between faith and works is pervasive among believers and it always has been. The tension takes the form of doctrine versus demonstration-belief versus behavior and theological versus experiential. The same tension is found in two main heresies or extreme opinions-perfection by performance (legalism) versus perfection by experience (Gnosticism).
Maybe the most basic question at the core of spiritual life is: What does God do and what does man do?