Justification, Paul and James
Justification is a great Bible truth. One noun translated justification is the Greek dikaiosis. Vine makes the following comment on dikaiosis: "...denotes the act of pronouncing righteous, justification, acquittal" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
There are many factors, if you will, in man's justification. "Who was delivered for our offences," Paul writes of Jesus, "and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4: 25). The Law of Moses served as a schoolmaster or tutor to bring the Jew to Christ so he could have justification (Gal. 3: 24). Man is justified by grace, by works, and by faith (Tit. 3: 7, Jas. 2: 24, Rom. 5: 1).
There are obvious and actual contradictions in the the religious world regarding justification. Many of these contradictions concern the means and nature of man's justification. "Justification, the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life...are solely through faith," declares the Baptist Manual, Art. 5, pg. 48). When Baptists use "solely through faith," they mean faith only - no works or obedience. In fact, many Baptists believe faith itself is acquired totally independent of man. Hear them: "Salvation is a free gift from God...we exercise faith in order to be saved, but even our faith is also a gift of God..." (Cox, Amillennialism, pg. 33). The very passages, Romans 4 and James 2, which explain justification are often rejected on the claim they themselves contradict each other. In harmonizing Paul and James we shall also ascertain the truth regarding justification, especially from the perspective of faith and works.
Usually when Romans 4 and James 2 are compared, the comparison is regarding Paul's statement that justification is not by works and James' statement that justification is by works (Rom. 4: 1-5, Jas. 2: 14-26). Is there a contradiction between Paul and James?
Paul is considering justification from the Jewish perspective. Romans is correctly said to be a treatise on the subject of justification by faith in Christ as opposed to justification by deeds of the law (or of law, 3, 4, 7, 11). Observe, Paul is focusing on Abraham "pertaining to the flesh" (Rom. 4: 1). The Jew believed he could earn salvation. In fact, if the Jew were justified by the law, he would have to merit salvation, perfect keeping of law. Hence, if Abraham "were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory...," Paul argues (vs. 2). If one could acquire salvation simply by law keeping, God would owe such a one justification, Paul reasons in verse four (see 11: 5, 6).
James is addressing the justification of the Christian. James freely acknowledged God's grace (1: 17, 4: 6). James' prompting question was, "What doeth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" (Jas. 2: 14). "Faith" here is faith only, no actions. James then began to answer his question by a series of illustrations (vss. 15-23). He concludes, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (vss. 24, 26). James is not considering earning salvation (Paul's subject), but how faith must be active - even under God's grace.
Thus, Paul and James are not contradicting each other. They are simply writing on justification from different perspectives. Since God's word is inspired, there are no contradictions (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).