The question is: Does the Bible teach that we are saved by Faith Alone, or a combination of Faith and Works? It gets complicated when it appears that two authors of New Testament epistles have different views on the matter.
A friend (blogger name "Captain Howdy") tells me that his take is that this is an example of a contradiction in the Bible. Here is an excerpt of the exchange of comments on Ray Comfort's blog:
Ray tells us--"Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, without any works."
Everyone turn in your Bibles to James chapter 2--
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
So Ray just told us that salvation is by faith alone, but James tells us that salvation is by both faith AND works!
Hmmm..who to believe...who to believe...?
There are two keys to understanding what some claim is a "contradiction" between Paul's and James' teaching on "justification," and they are easily discerned by reading their respective arguments.
1. The first key is is the different senses in which each is using the word JUSTIFICATION (and it's variants: "justify" and "justified") Paul is talking about being declared legally righteous in God's sight, while James is talking about a person's actions backing up, or justifying, his verbal profession of faith.
2. The second key is this: What errors are each refuting? Paul is arguing (Romans 1:16-5:2) against the notion that there is something we can do that contributes meritoriously to our being declared legally righteous before God. James is arguing (James 1:22-2:26) against antinomianism. That is the notion that the life of someone who prosesses true faith in Christ will not necessarily exhibit works as evidence of (justification of) that faith. "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
Notice also how Paul (in Romans 4) and James (in James 2:21-24) each use different incidents in Abraham's life to illustrate their respective points. See how these two narratives from Genesis 15 & 22, as cited by Paul and James, complement and support each other.
The law of (non-)contradiction is:
"A" can not be "non-A" at the same time and in the same sense.
I have shown that Paul and James were each using the word "justification" in a different sense. Therefore, there is no contradiction.
The debate is still a live issue today however. The slogan of the Reformers, "Salvation by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, because of Christ Alone, for the Glory of God Alone" is challenged not only by Roman Catholics, but various sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons and even segments of Evangelicalism. Skeptics see the issue as a contradiction in the Bible, nullifying it's authority.
Reformed churches have consistently believed and taught that God graciously saves us solely through faith in Christ and His perfect life and His death on the cross on behalf of sinners. We believe that this faith is a gift from God and is a faith that produces works necessarily.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. __Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV
Cartoon by Richard Gunther