I have read the Bible many times in my lifetime, but I am always finding new things or new understanding. It makes the Bible always fresh for me. Sometimes a focus on one verse can bring me to make several connections throughout the Scriptures.
James 2:24 is a verse that speaks about being justified through works and not faith alone. Pondering this idea and connections with other passages has led me on a fun exploration of love and works in the Bible. In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says that we are saved by grace and that it is not from works. Do Paul and James contradict?
Paul speaks of justification by faith, but Paul also talks much about works. There is no doubt that works are an important part of a believer’s life and they are evidence of a living faith. It is interesting that Paul contrasts justification by faith against the works of the Law.
James does not use the same phrase. He merely speaks of works. “I will show you my faith by what I do” is his message (James 2:18). Paul speaks of works and about fulfillment of the Law. In Galatians 5:14, he says the whole Law is fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself. This love cannot happen without action, without works.
In John 13:34, Jesus gives a new commandment to His disciples that they love one another as He loved them. In the next verse, He says this is how people would know that they were His disciples. Is Jesus commanding them to have an emotion or commanding them to action? Love requires action. Can emotion be commanded?
The Hebrew word for commandment is mitzvah. In common usage today it denotes a good deed. In Judaism, there is a lot of emphasis on mitzvot, but not always in Christianity. I think this goes against the New Testament Scriptures. I don’t know if anyone has ever come up with a number of commandments in the New Testament similar to the 613 commandments of the Hebrew Scriptures, but there are quite a few. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that we were created in Messiah Jesus to do good works.
I think any follower of Jesus should seek to have that faith that is not useless. James says that faith and works work together and faith becomes perfected (2:22). Faith is perfected in good works. Love is the most important work. God demonstrated this great work when He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). There is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus demonstrated this perfect love for us (John 15:13).