When we look into Scripture there is sometimes a confession regarding the Christian's justification. Luther, who is credited as starting the reformation of justification by faith alone was also known to be confused by the book of James being in the canon of Scripture because of its usage of works when speaking to our justification. There is a distinction between deeds and works, although the words can be used interchangeably. Deeds are works we do out of faith. Works are deeds we do to obtain righteousness before God; thus we are justified by our deeds not our works. Confused? Read the Scriptures below related to the subject asking God for wisdom and understanding: Jas 1:5 "(5) If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
James does not hold back, we are justified by works (deeds) and not faith alone, as seen in this passage: Jas 2:21-26 "(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? (22) See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (23) And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (24) You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (25) Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Yet Luke and Paul are clear that no one is justified by deeds (works) of the law, rather faith alone, which appears on the surface to contradict what James has stated, as seen in this verses: Acts 13:39 "(39) And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.", Rom 3:20 "(20) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.", Rom 3:28 "(28) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.", Gal 3:11 "(11) But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.", Gal 3:24 "(24) Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." and of course many others.
Note also, James addresses the requirement echoed by Paul, if one is going to seek to be justified by the law, one must do it perfectly: Jas 2:10 "(10) For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." and Gal 3:10 "(10) For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Paul also states man's inability to follow the law perfectly or Christ would not have been needed: Gal 2:21 "(21) I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteous-ness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Additionally, they both let us know there is a difference between the law of Moses and the law of freedom under grace: Jas 1:25 "(25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.", Jas 2:12 "(12) So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.", Rom 7:6 "(6) But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." and Gal 5:1 "(1) Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
When studying Scripture, detail is important, as well as not adding to or subtracting from the facts listed listed in the verses. Reread the above verses and make note of the wording used! When James speaks about one's works, he referred not to the law of Moses, rather the law of liberty, except when he stated, if one is to seek justification by the works of law, one must do it perfectly, which is to have lived one's entire life perfect. This is actually in tune with both Luke and Paul, they refer to the law of Moses and man's inability to be justified by it because none of us, except Jesus, has done it. These are key points! Also when James and Paul speak of the requirement of justification by the law, both agree it must be done perfectly and both they agree the Christians is judged by the law of liberty (freedom), not the law of Moses. Other key points! James, Luke and Paul are in harmony, not disagreement, which is a promise of God that Scripture will not contradict itself.
Therefore we know, while our faith requires works, which is the visible evidence of what we actually and truly believe in our heart, the works are not the external doings of the law of Moses, which is equivalent to the Pharisees cleaning the outside of the cup and not the inside, rather the internal law of liberty involving our motives. What is the law of liberty? Both James and John say it well: Jas 2:8 "(8) If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:" and 1 John 3:23 "(23) And this is his (God's) commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment." There is no contradiction between James and the rest of the Bible.
Justification is by God through His grace and faith on the finished work of Jesus Christ, not our own works. Rom 8:33 "(33) Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.", Rom 3:24 "(24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:", Rom 5:9 "(9) Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.", Gal 3:11 "(11) But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.", Luke 18:12-14 "(12) I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.(13) And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.(14) I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."