Paul and James are talking to two different groups of believers. Paul was dealing with Jewish believers who were trying to force gentile converts to keep all of the law of Moses in order to be justified. Paul responded to this by saying that people can’t earn salvation by works; rather, it comes as a free gift of God. However, James is dealing with the new converts who have come into the church believing that since they’re justified by faith, obedience doesn’t really matter.
In order to understand James, we need to read the verse that follows verse 21: “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22 -NKJV). Faith id working together with works. How? The word “perfect” in this sentence means complete. When used in the sentence, it means Abraham’s works by faith were made manifest, that is, they gave evidence to his faith. In other words, his works proved he was justified! We are saved by faith alone but good faith will always manifest itself in good works.
“Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid” (1 Timothy 5:25). This passage shows us that the works of the saved are evident because they are good. You’ll know a saved person by their fruit! 1 Timothy 6:18 reiterates, “That they do good, that they be rich in good works.”
Also, we read “For 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); “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, [and] sincerity” (Titus 2:7); “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:17). Notice that the same person who wrote the above verses is Paul who has written our starting verse Romans 3:26.
In His service,