Those that believe in works salvation often refer to James 2:20 (faith without works is dead) as a rebuttal to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone.
This verse in James doesn’t change the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, not at all (Ephesians 2:8&9). James is saying that if anyone has saving faith there will be evidence of it. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (II Corinthians 5:17). James is also saying that anyone who claims to have faith without any evidence or fruit of it, his/her faith is dead. Works are evidence of salvation, not the cause of it.
Saving faith trusts the merits of Christ alone. His perfect life fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, which we could not do. His substitutionary death on the cross paid our sin penalty, a debt we cannot pay. The Lord’s declaration from the cross; It is finished….and His resurrection from the dead completed the work of salvation.
God offers to us the righteousness of Christ, which is the perfect gift of salvation, to all those who accept the sacrifice of His Son as God’s provision for our sin. This gift includes forgiveness and eternal life which is received by grace through faith.
Grace is God’s enabling. No man can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. Faith is a firm persuasion or conviction based on hearing the word of God.
And he (Abraham) believed in the LORD; and he (God) counted it to him for righteousness. Genesis 15:6
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Romans 4:4-8
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. Galatians 5:1-5
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Hebrews 10:10-14
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18
Are you a debtor to the law or are you a recipient of His grace?
Note: But what about all the verses that mention judgment according to works? There are two things to understand here. In Scripture there are two judgments. The Bema Seat is for believers. Believers will be rewarded in heaven according to their works on earth which include faithfulness and stewardship.
The Great White Throne Judgment is for unbelievers. They will receive degrees of punishment in hell based on their works on earth which include consideration for the amount of truth rejected and opposition to the truth.
The difference between believers and unbelievers is that believers have accepted God’s provision for their sin; Jesus Christ, our only hope of salvation. Unbelievers have not.
…let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…