Jms. 2:20-22 “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”
This is a strong rebuke, resonating with the use of “fool” in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as one who is morally bankrupt, hopelessly unreasonable. All of scripture teaches us that faith, alone, is what saves a soul. James is not presenting a contradiction to that stand. He is simply telling us that saving faith is never alone, it is always accompanied by a changed life that desires to join God in obedience to love and bless people.
God through James says “Don’t be a fool and press this point! If the faith you claim is not transforming your life, take another look and consider the possibility that it is useless to you.”
Jms. 2:21-22 “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
What resided within Abraham’s heart was genuine faith in God. The action that came forth in his behavior was a willingness even to sacrifice his son, if God required it. His faith was shown to be genuine by what he did, in obedience. (Abraham even trusted in God’s ability to raise his son from the dead if he offered him as a sacrifice, see Heb. 11:17-19.) God did not require that Isaac die but he did require other difficult things in Abraham’s life and his faith continued to be demonstrated in obedience so people could see what faith in God looks like. That’s what James is talking about.
Jms. 2:23-24 “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Righteousness, being made right with God, is required for one to be redeemed, forgiven of sin. It was on account of faith that Abraham was made righteous – faith that was given to him by God. It was not his obedience, but his faith. The obedience proved that his faith was a genuine, redeeming faith. Without behavior that proves the faith to be genuine (at least the beginnings of the process of transformation) a person has reason to question the genuineness of their faith.