The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are saved by faith alone, however, the book of James, says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24, ESV). James 2:24 is the only verse in the Bible to use the phrase “faith alone,” yet this verse seems to argue against the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.
Such is the danger of cherry-picking particular verses from Scripture. Without understanding the translation used and the meaning of a word in context, and without understanding a verse in context of its passage and in context of the Word as a whole, it is easy to misunderstand a verse completely.
More importantly, the Bible does not need to mention the exact phrase "faith alone" in order to teach salvation is by faith alone.
In order to determine the meaning of James 2:24, we must understand the meaning of the word “justified” in this context. James is using the word “justified” to mean “proven.” James is saying that a person is proven by his or her works and not by faith alone, not that a person is saved by his or her works and not by faith alone. Other translations clear up this misconception. The 2011 NIV translation of the Bible uses the words “considered righteous” instead of “justified.”
- James 2:24 NIV - "You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone."
- James 2:24 NLT - "So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone."
Salvation Is By Faith Alone -- But That Faith Will Never Be Alone
The second chapter of James offers further explanation as to what "true" faith is.
- James 2:17 says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (ESV). Here, James is saying that faith without works is dead faith, and a dead faith is no faith at all. Therefore, works are a demonstration of faith. Works are not required for salvation, but they will accompany the faith required for salvation.
- James 2:18 says, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (ESV). Here, he is saying that faith and works cannot exist apart from one another. Our actions demonstrate our faith.
- James 2:20 asks, “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (ESV). Earlier in the second chapter of James, James asks rhetorically what good it would be to tell someone who was hungry and in need of clothes to go in peace and be clothed and full without actually giving that person clothes and food. Doing so would be useless.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are numerous verses which attest to salvation by faith alone, even if they do not use the words “faith alone.” John 3:16, perhaps the best known verse of the entire Bible, tells us that God loved us so much that He gave his only Son, Jesus, so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV).
*It's important to know that any Bible verse that corresponds salvation to faith or belief, with no other requirements is an affirmation that salvation is by faith alone.
Here are several more verses that attest to our salvation by faith alone:
- Romans 3:28 in the ESV translation uses the same word as James 2:28, “justified,” albeit in a different context, when it proclaims that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Paul uses the word “justified” to mean “declared righteous” in this verse.
- Romans 5:1 also uses the word “justified” to mean “declared righteous” and says that we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV) because of our faith which justifies us.
- Acts 16:31 promises, “...’Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household’” (ESV). This verse makes no mention of being saved by works; only by our faith in Jesus are we saved.
- Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (ESV). Indeed, we do not save ourselves. It would be rather arrogant to think that we could do that. Only Christ can save us from our sins.
- Galatians 2:16 explains why salvation by faith is so important. Nobody could be saved by his or her works “because by works of the law no one will be justified” (ESV).
The New Testament without question teaches that salvation is a product of God's grace in response to our faith -- and requires nothing else.
I leave you with this passage: Romans 3:27 says: "Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith."
Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification