James writes, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24) The works to which James refers are the acts of obedience to God’s will. He demonstrates this truth in the case of Abraham. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scriptures were fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the Friend of God.” (verses 21-23) Abraham was “justified by works” when “he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar.” This God had commanded him to do. (Gen. 22:1-2) The “works” of which James speaks are the acts of obedience to God. And so James concludes (“ye see then”) how that by works (obedience to God) man is justified, and not by faith only.
This is not to say that men may devise their own ways and acts of obedience. Obedience to the creeds of men will not save man. The “faith only” theorists, while denying that obedience to God is necessary, will establish their own righteousness and demand obedience of all who are in their fellowship. These are the works (of man’s righteousness) that Paul denounces in Eph. 2:9, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” He is not speaking of works of obedience to God (as James speaks of), but of works of which one might boast. If a man can be saved in churches that men have established, in worship services that man has designed, and by deeds that man may designate, then he can boast of his salvation! When one obeys God, he has nothing of which to boast. His obedience demands humility and destroys any pride (from which proceeds boastings). This contrast is clearly established by the inspired writers. Paul, in speaking of the Jews, says, “For bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Fore they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom. 10:2-3) Their own righteousness is not the same as God’s righteousness. Works of which one may boast are not the same as the works of God. To work one’s own righteousness by submitting to the doctrines of men is vain. (Matt. 15:9)
Sometimes those who lack respect for God’s authority, who speak of some of God’s commands as being “non-essential,” try to prove that man does not have to obey God to be saved. They array Eph. 2:9 against James 2:24, as though the Bible contradicts itself, whereas these statements are in perfect agreement: we are saved by obeying God; we are not saved by obeying man. Some even go so far as to say that if a man does any work (any act of obedience) to be saved he denies the grace of God. Yet how absurd! Does not the “faith only” theorist know that faith is a “work”? It is a “work of God”! (John 6:28-29) If their brazen assumption be so, then man could not even believe God without denying grace. The grace of God, according to this position, would save men without faith. (Heb. 11:6) but notice that the works of God do not deny grace; obedience recognizes grace—grace teaches obedience. (Titus 2:11-12) Paul affirms this in the very text where he denies the boastful “works” of man. “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (a work of God itself). Salvation is a gift of God and can be obtained only by obeying God—it cannot be earned, which would be the case if man could work his righteousness unto salvation. (Eph. 2:8-9) Whatever “good” deeds man may perform as a Christian can never substitute for the things that God commands in order to become a Christian!
As God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac, and when he did he was justified by works, even so God commands those who believe to be bapized (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, 10:48): and all who gladly receive His word are baptized. (Acts 2:41) “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?”