Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. – Romans 3:28, ESV
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. – James 2:24, ESV
Many people who compare Romans 3:28 and James 2:24, see the apostles Paul and James in direct conflict over justification by faith or works.
However, Paul and James are not in conflict; they are reflecting opposite sides of the same coin. Paul uses the terms justification and works differently from James. Paul uses justification to mean receiving salvation (becoming a Christian), while James uses justification to mean revealing salvation (being a Christian). Paul uses works of the law to mean trying to earn salvation through the law of Moses; James uses works to mean good deeds to show salvation.
Thus we see that James 2:24 is not a contradiction of Romans 3:28 after all. Paul is saying that a personal faith alone is enough to become a Christian, for good works cannot earn our salvation. James is saying that an intellectual faith alone is not enough to live a meaningful Christian life, for good works can show a person is truly saved.
Paul would agree with James. Notice that in Romans 3:31, Paul says that he does not nullify the law of Moses: “On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Paul was not against the law of Moses. He had already said in verse 21 that the law points to salvation in Jesus. Paul upholds the moral standards as valid, he simply says they cannot save us. Only faith can save.