Because of God’s grace, some Christians can be genuine Christians with all the flaws, weaknesses and sins previously listed in James 1:1 – 2:13, but when James starts talking about what kind of faith we have, a line is being drawn to distinguish between real Christians and fake Christians. Salvation is at stake here in learning what kind of faith we have. There is only one kind of faith that can save a human soul, and that is found in Christ, Ephesians 4:5 & John 14:6.
v16, “Go in peace” was a Jewish farewell blessing and saying. It means, may the Lord bless you and go away from me. It is saying to someone, stay warm, while you are in a warm home with a spare coat and they have no coat and are out in the cold. But, the Law explicitly commands us to provide hospitality (Deut. 10: 17-19; 15:7-8; Isa. 42:3-4; 58:6-7; Matt. 14:14-21; 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 4:18). Many Jews did; however, many refused and used their faith as the reason not to give help to others-a perverted reason.
Saving a soul or saving a body, is not the question James is concerned about answering, but it is whether or not our faith is real enough to save either, afterall, once body and soul are separated, we’ve lost any opportunity to believe or do anything. Jesus connected the two in a Christian’s duty to the Lord, Matthew 25:31-46.
A dead faith described in v17, is like a dead end, but a living faith is the avenue that brings a person into eternal life, Ephesians 2:8. God’s part is in being gracious, our part is in being obedient, therein is that living faith. Do not for a moment think that this refers to just baptism as a work on our part. Baptism is a work on God’s part, Colossians 2:12. Our faith is seen as trusting obedience through all the action we are compelled by the gospel to do, like confessing, repenting, being baptised and living faithfully. The act of baptism alone is not a work that we do as deserving salvation, it’s simply a part of many steps towards saving us, see 1st Peter 3:21.
The type of work or labor James refers to in v18 can not be better described than by reading 1st John 3:23-24. To believe in the name of Christ and love your brother is a work akin to salvation, having the same importance as obeying the Lord in baptism. This is why Paul can say we must work out our own salvation, Php. 2:12 and yet still need God’s grace.
Abraham was saved by his faith in God (Gen. 15:6; 22; 26:4-5). What Abraham did was prove his faith by trusting in God and then backing up that trust by his obedience to God’s directive, even though it seemed irrational to offer up his only son, for whom he had waited so long.
Rahab trusted in God and she was saved. She then hid the spies sent from Joshua. She knew the city was judged and doomed and that the Hebrews were God’s own. She was willing to sacrifice herself so that God would be honored and so that perhaps her family could be saved too (Josh. 2:1-21; 6:17-27; Heb. 11:31).
Two completely different people in nationality, gender, class & personality, yet they both had the same living faith which moved God to be gracious in forgiving and saving both of them. If either of them can be moved by faith to obey God, then God can move us too.
Paul also was saved by trusting in God. His life was radically transformed, so he put the same, if not more, energy into equipping the church as he had in trying to destroy it (Rom. 4:1-5). Paul and James do not contradict. Paul tells us outright that faith will have a response to it; so, Paul and James do not contradict, but rather complement each other. Salvation is a gift, not a reward (2 Cor. 5:10)