The apostle Paul believed that faith without works is dead just as James taught in his epistle, referring to works within the context of the faith we are called to live.
Paul’s teachings regarding justification by faith without works is often misinterpreted because there is a tendency to interpret Paul’s teachings based on a few random verses from Romans and Galatians, where Paul’s argument is that justification does not come through the works of Jewish Law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul did not teach a different message about faith than James. Contrary to the belief of some, Paul did NOT view saving faith as a one time event which had nothing to do with how one lives afterwards.
Paul tells the Galatians “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain” and “I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.” (4:11, 20)
Paul says these things not because he was second guessing if they had actually believed the gospel at one time. Instead he says these things because they were not living according to the faith he had preached to them and taught them to live by.
In chapter 5 Paul says to them: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (v 7-9)
Paul affirms that they had been running well in their faith, but had since been hindered by the leaven of those teaching that they should obey Jewish law. The Galatians were having their faith undermined by the Judaizers who were attempting to make Jewish proselytes of them.
Paul did not teach the Galatians to just simply pray a prayer and believe one time and “wa-la” they’d be in like flynn. Paul had taught the Galatians “the just shall live by faith” (3:11).
In Paul’s theology justificaion by faith in Jesus Christ is not a reference to a one time believing experience. It is a reference to living your life by faith in Jesus Christ.
When James says faith without works is dead, he uses examples of showing love and kindness as the works he is referring too. Paul says basically the same thing in Galatians when he says, “faith works by love.”
Paul also agreed with James’ statement – “faith without works is dead” – when he says to Titus that those who “profess to know God but deny him in their works are abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.”(Titus 1:16)
Also in 1 Thessalonians Paul speaks of “the work of faith.”
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. So that ye were EXAMPLES TO ALL that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:3-7)
Reading Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, and to Timothy, and to Titus; we can see that Paul did not think of faith as something that was merely a one time gift bestowed which had nothing to do with how we live.
It is error to think that Paul taught that there is a chasm between saving faith and faith we are called to live by. Paul refutes such notions much throughout his epistles. Paul did not teach that saving faith stands alone as an independent entity from faith which produces godly living. Saving faith IS the faith you are to live by.
In Romans, Paul’s doctrine of faith is that we become servants to righteousness through belief in Jesus Christ.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:16-23)
Notice that verse 23 – For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – is not written within the context of a one time believing experience, but rather within the context of becoming a servant to Jesus Christ.
In Romans, Paul never communicates a faith that isn’t lived out, otherwise he wouldn’t have written chapters 12-16 which deal with living out our faith in practicality.