For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
The Claim: Ephesians says we attain salvation through faith, but James says salvation is attained through works.
The Explanation: Ephesians and James are talking about two slightly different things, so let’s analyze each one. Ephesians says we are saved through faith, which is true. You cannot be saved without faith, and the Gospel Message page discusses the need of faith as well. Ephesians 2:8-10 goes on to talk about how salvation is a free gift from God. No one can earn their way to salvation by doing enough good works.
James says that faith, without works, is dead. What James is talking about here is that works should follow with our faith. Note the difference here. Ephesians says that we GET salvation through faith, by the free gift of God. James says that we should do works BECAUSE we are saved. James is talking about not just believing the word, but doing the word.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourself.
As you continue on your own personal Christian walk, there should be evidence that you’ve been changed, which is what James is referring to in James 2:14-17 about how works should follow salvation. Colossians also discusses having evidence that you’ve been changed, by putting on the new self.
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:12-17 goes on to describe what this should look like in a person’s life. Jesus also commanded us to love others. How a person has changed by becoming a Christian may look different from person to person, but regardless, there should be evidence of this change (works being one example), and there are some key indicators, such as loving one another as Jesus talked about. There is no contradiction here.