Explaining the Tension Between Paul’s statement in Romans 3:21-4:25 with James 2:14-26
Salvation is God’s greatest gift to meet our greatest need. This grace of God is not what we do for God; instead, what God freely does for us. Salvation, therefore, is not through our merits or efforts, but the free gift of God. While saving grace is God’s over-the-top provision for humankind, faith in Christ Jesus is the indispensable channel through which we appropriate this free gift.
Paul’s opening thesis in Romans 3 posits0 that God’s righteousness that could not be had through the law is now “available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.” The result is, rather than carrying out the condemnation in Romans 3:20, sinners are declared righteous, which is “justified freely by His grace” (Rom 3:24). Paul builds his case by claiming that “all have sinned and all “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:20); however, Christ offered His blood as the sufficient offering for the sins of all humanity (Rom 3:25-26). In giving Himself as a sacrifice of atonement, Christ paid the price of sins of all people both before his time (Rom 3:25b) and after (Rom 3:26a)”.
As a result of Christ's perfect sacrifice, God’s justice is satisfied, and God can still be “just,” even while declaring righteous those who don’t deserve it but who put their faith in Christ (Rom3:22, 24, 26). To underscore this awesome righteousness of God we have received through Christ’s redeeming grace (Rom 3:24), Paul concludes by presenting God’s covenant promise to Abraham as an example. He claims that God’s promise to Abraham was not based on law but faith (Rom 4:13), and because we have believed God’s promise of salvation, we have received God’s righteousness, just as Abraham did.
James, in his epistle, proclaims that faith without works is “dead,” for “that kind of faith cannot save anyone … We are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone” (James 2:14, 24). Paul and James’s statement of faith and works are not contradictory but complementary. James is merely saying that “the kind of faith that saves (2:23-24) will be evident through good works it produces”. James teaches that it is not the silent “easy believism” that demonstrates saving faith but rather dynamic faith in Jesus.
James illustrates his doctrine by citing two people: Abraham, a godly Jewish man, and Rahab, a sinful gentile woman (James 2:20-26). Two people different in many aspects but identical in how they practiced their faith. James emphasized that true saving faith leads to action. He remarked, “Abraham was considered righteous for what he did … his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (James 2:21-22). James stressed the joint role of “faith … and actions … working together.”
Paul declared that Abraham had faith and was, therefore, declared righteous (Rom 4:9). James emphasized the joint role of faith and actions working together. Wiersbe notes, saving faith “is the dynamic faith of men like Abraham and women like Rahab, faith that changes a life and goes to work for God.”
James states, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:18). “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26). In essence, faith is the force behind the deed. The deed is the finality of the faith. In sum, if faith is salvation’s basis, works are its barometer.
Linebaugh, Jonathan A. “The Epistle of Enoch and Romans 3:21-31.” In Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism, ed. by Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston, pages 59-65. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.
Moo, Douglas J. Romans. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Roustio, Edward R. “Ephesians.” In KJV Bible Commentary, pages 1561-1580. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B. (General Editors). The Bible Knowledge Commentary. New Testament. An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty., David C. Cook, Colorado Spring, CO, 1983.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol.2. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989.
Willington, Harrold L. Wilmington’s Bible Handbook. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997.
 Edward R. Roustio, “Ephesians,” in KJV Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1565. Ideas from my comment derived from Dr. Roustio’s commentary.
 Douglas J. Moo, Romans, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 126.
 Jonathan A. Linebaugh, “The Epistle of Enoch and Romans 3:21-31,” in Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism, ed. by Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 59.
 Moo, Romans, 129-130
 Harrold L. Willington, Harrold L. Wilmington’s Bible Handbook (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 1997), 668.
 Ibid., 765
 Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol.2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 357.
 Willington, Harrold L. Wilmington’s Bible Handbook, 766.