|“|| Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
This is one of the most well-known claims of a contradiction in the Bible, and has been excellently debunked by the Scofield Study Bible III.
|“|| "James in this passage uses the word 'faith' in the sense of intellectual orthodoxy (compare v. 19); Paul, when he uses faith in a personal sense, means trust in the atoning work of Christ to the extent of full commitment to Him.
For James the word 'works' means the believer's works, the outward evidence of a saved life. On the other hand, Paul sometimes employs works to denote the deeds of the unsaved person whereby he vainly hopes to gain acceptance with God, while at other times he speaks of 'good works,' by which he means the fruit that the justified man must produce...
Thus in their views of justification Paul and James complement one another (2:23); Paul stresses acceptance with God wholly by grace through faith, whereas James presents the continual evidence before men of the initial transaction. For the definitive N.T. statement on faith and works in which both views are brought together, see Eph. 2:8-10."
-Scofield Study Bible III
As mentioned by the Scofield Study Bible III, Ephesians 2:8-10 is the passage which brings both views together:
|“|| Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
In other words, we are saved by faith, not works, it's God's gift not man's doing, lest anyone should boast. However, we are created by Jesus to do good works and it is God's will that we do them. The works themselves do not save, but are the outward evidence to others, and to ourselves, that we have indeed undergone an inward redemptive process of salvation.
True saving faith will ultimately produce good works as the result of a changed heart and a new spirit. Thus if a person shows no interest in doing good works once becoming a Christian, and for years lives without any change, then as James points out, that faith without works is a dead faith and no faith indeed.