Dave, Asker of Good Questions, left this question in a comment a couple of days ago. It came as a result of reading a book about the reformation:
"... one of the main points of contention was justification by faith alone or justification by faith and works (faith without works is dead). I've always loved the book of James in the NT but never hear it preached. So I admit to being a faith and works guy ... what say you oh wise women of Whatever He Says?"
I'd love to hear what others have to say on this too, but it made me think about what I've been reading in The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. I love the way Pastor Nee sets things out systematically. He establishes a foundational point through scripture and then reinforces it several times over so that you really start to "get it," and when you have really "got it," he builds on the point as if he is building a great cathedral.
The Normal Christian Life is a book about the two problems mankind has; "Sins" and "Sin."
When I think about justification, I think about "Sins." I remember learning years ago that to be "justified" meant "just-as-if-I-died."
Romans 8:33-34 (New International Version)
33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Watchman Nee says, "Never should we try to answer Satan with our own good conduct but always with the blood."
However in my NIV Life Application Bible commentary on the book of James it says about some Christians, that, "Possessing all the right answers, they contradict the gospel with their lives,"
James 2:18 (New International Version)
8 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
We cannot separate the two things, which seem to contradict one another, but really fit together like a hand into a glove.
I think that the passage that states this most perfectly is in Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:8-10 (New International Version)
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In these verses is evident that we need do nothing and can do nothing in order to be saved, but need only accept the free gift of salvation and yet we are created "for" something.
Isaiah 53:5 (New International Version)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
I once heard someone preach on this verse in Isaiah and say that the word "iniquities" referred to our proclivities; our tendencies and inclinations. He was crushed for them because they are part of our flesh, as a bruise is part of our flesh. So he was pierced for our transgressions, our past violations of the law. But he was also crushed for the way we are "bent". The price was paid for both, and as we open ourselves to his Holy Spirit, he will come make us new inside, giving us new desires and new hearts. Out of this new life flowing within, will come a desire to live a life that honours him and shows that we are, as James says, "Doers of the Word." (James 1:22-25)
Thanks Dave, for giving us all something to think through and try to express in words. The point is that we gravitate to justifying ourselves by what we do but we can never do that.
And yet; what we do matters.