"And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:23-24).
The Scripture cited here by James is Genesis 15:6 which contains the first mention of "believe," or "faith," in the Bible—thus introducing the great doctrine of justification by faith. Paul refers to the same passage in Galatians 3:6, and Romans 4:22, in both places making the strong point that salvation and justification (i.e., being declared righteous before God) come only through faith in Christ. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Yet James said a man is justified by works! How can we resolve such an apparent conflict? The answer is that genuine, saving faith is necessarily productive of works which demonstrate the reality of that faith.
It is significant that James speaks of Abraham's works as being a "fulfillment" of the Scripture. The testimony in Genesis that Abraham's faith was counted as righteousness was thus, in effect, a prophecy! That prophecy was fulfilled when Abraham's faith was demonstrated as he "offered Isaac his son upon the altar" (James 2:21). Abraham obeyed God because he believed God! This is the obedience of faith.
Thus, a person is justified by faith plus works—justified before God by his faith, and justified before men by his works. God looks on the heart, but the world must look on the life. Abraham could not even know that his own faith was genuine until it was tested in the crucible of obedience, and the same is true for us today. A person is saved by grace "through faith. . . . Not of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9), but that saving faith is "unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10), and the one inevitably produces the other, if it is real. HMM