How do we know Abraham had faith in God? Scripture tells us we know it by what he did (Heb. 11:8–19). He left his home to go to an unknown country. He trusted God to keep a humanly impossible promise to give him and Sarah a son. He was willing to sacrifice that son at God’s instruction. His works didn’t save him—salvation comes only by faith. But his works were the evidence of his faith!
James stated that “his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (v. 22). One demonstrated the other. The phrase “made complete” means “made mature” or “brought to maturity.” James illustrated the point he had been arguing throughout this letter, to which only a “foolish person” would object (v. 20).
If it was true for Abraham the Patriarch, then it was true for all Jews and all followers of Jesus the Messiah. Furthermore, if God’s testing of Abraham (by asking him to sacrifice Isaac) had helped bring him to maturity (v. 21), then persevering in trials could do the same for James’s readers (1:2–4).
Interestingly, Paul used the same example to argue that Abraham was saved by faith not works (see Romans 4), while James used it to illustrate the necessary connection between faith and works. They both quote Genesis 15:6 (v. 23; Rom. 4:3)! Their points are not in conflict but in harmony with one another.
James maintained that Abraham’s faith was verified or shown to be authentic by his actions (v. 24). He was “considered righteous” by others because they had external evidence of his internal faith. Or as Paul put it, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Is your faith seen in your actions? Gospel words without a gospel life will not be listened to. Americans tend to think of spirituality as a private matter with mainly internal effects. James and Paul thought of it quite differently! Saving faith is not just a ticket to heaven but a powerful reality to be lived out in the real world.