What do we do when we get to James 2? Usually get into a discussion of how what James says compares to what Paul said in Romans 4. James says “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his on Isaac on the altar?” (2:22) and Paul said, “If in fact Abraham was justified by works he had something to boast about — but not before God…” (Romans 4:2). So there is a long scholarly debate – it involves whether James wrote in response to Paul, or to those who misunderstood Paul, or was Paul writing over people like James? It revolves around whether, despite the words being similar, if the two are really talking about the same thing.
For the Record Paul says that his goal is “…to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5). And there is a lot in Romans 5-8 on a new way of life, no longer giving our bodies over to sin, but to God, not sinning so that grace multiplies, not being in death but in our resurrection (about Baptism) and living in the Spirit. James has previously to chapter 2 talked about birth by the word of truth (James 1:18) and the word which is able to save our souls (1:21).
Paul’s opponents were those who wanted to add works to faith for the purpose of achieving salvation. James is teaching against he idea that we can just listen but not do what the word says. So I conclude that there is not final conflict.
Yet, here is my point. Before we debate with Paul and James together, we should read and “listen” to them separately. Let James speak, read him as a whole and in context. See how what he says in chapter 2 fits into his overall flow of thought. Then do that for Paul in Romans. Only THEN are we ready to put the two in the boxing ring to let them go a few rounds.
Too often we flit about like bees or hummingbirds among the flowers – a little sip here and little sip there. When we need to rest at the feet of the teacher and let the whole lesson sink in.