One of the main themes that James teaches on in his epistle is the issue of faith and works. This is a difficult and somewhat controversial topic among a majority of denominations. Is it better to have faith? Or works? Which one is more important to a Christian?
Many people have abused the book James and drawn conclusions which are in accordance with the entire Canon of Scriptures. Others have concluded that James and Paul contradict each other in their teachings. Let’s first clarify some things by looking at a definition of the original Greek words.
Faith: pistis. This is a conviction of the truth of anything, belief. The idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it. A strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we get eternal salvation in the kingdom of God.
Works: ergon. Business, employment, that which any one is occupied. That which one undertakes to do, an enterprise, or undertaking.
James clarifies this issue early in the section of his letter dedicated to the predicament of faith and works. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 NKJV). James states that faith if it is by itself is dead, it is lifeless without works. Someone may have faith, but if he does not have works, if he does not have an outward sign of an inward conviction then his faith is not real. When you dedicate your life entirely unto Christ your life will show signs of this change within. If a tree is healthy, if it is strong and fit then it will be bearing fruit. There will be an indication of the new life within.
We must be aware, however, that the works of our faith do not justify us. They do not earn us anything in the kingdom of Heaven. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28 NKJV). Works do nothing to justify a Christian. We cannot do any deed that will earn us God’s favor. The works of a Christian are confirmation, not a substitution of our faith in Christ Jesus.