Jam 2:14-26 chiastic structure:
1a) Jam 2:14-18, Faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself;
1a) Jam 2:14-16, Can faith without works save a man;
1a) Jam 2:14a, What good is it, my brothers;
1b) Jam 2:14b, If a man says he has faith, but has no works?
central axis) Jam 2:14c, Can faith save him?
2b) Jam 2:15-16a, Example of faith without works: the needy brother or sister who are not given the things needful;
2a) Jam 2:16b, What good is it?
central axis) Jam 2:17, Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself;
2a) Jam 2:18, Can faith be shown to be faith without works;
1a) Jam 2:18a, Yes, a man will say, “You have faith;”
1b) Jam 2:18b, “And I have works;”
central axis) Jam 2:18c, Show me your faith without works;
2b) Jam 2:18d, And I by my works;
2a) Jam 2:18e, Will show you my faith;
1b) Jam 2:19a, You believe that God is one;
central axis) Jam 2:19b, You do well;
2b) Jam 2:19c, The demons also believe, and shudder;
2a) Jam 2:20-26, Faith apart from works is dead;
1a) Jam 2:20, But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead?
1b) Jam 2:21-23, The example of Abraham’s faith with works (offering Isaac);
central axis) Jam 2:24, You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith;
2b) Jam 2:25, The example of Rahab’s faith with works (receiving the spies);
2a) Jam 2:26, For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.
When James asks the question, “Can faith save him?” he is seeming to contradict everything we have read in Paul’s epistles, that by works of the Law no man is saved, but only by grace through faith. Now we know that they are not really contradicting each other, because the first rule of logic, is that Truth Does Not Contradict. So we have to investigate and see how they are in harmony with the truth.
James is addressing a specific idea or heresy in the church, which is: I believe in God, therefore I am saved, and since the works of my life cannot save me, then I can lie, cheat, steal, and live a reprobate life. This heresy actually has been strongly rooted in modern American Christianity. However, James is saying, someone can make a mental affirmation of a truth, but, as in the case of the demons who also know that God exists, if that mental affirmation has not taken root in the heart so as to produce a corresponding change in nature evidenced by the good fruit now borne by the life, then salvation, which produces that change, has not occurred.
James is asking the question: Can faith be shown to be faith without works? And answering it, No.
Paul does not contradict him:
Therefore it is already altogether a defect in you, that you have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? No, but you yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that against your brothers. Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. 1 Cor 6:7-10
The Corinthians were making the same argument to Paul: “But, all things are now lawful for me since by the works of the Law no man is saved!”
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are expedient. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be brought under the power of anything. 1 Cor 6:12
So Paul is also making the case that faith is what saves a man, but the faith that saves a man also sets him free from the bondage to sin, to make a man a slave of righteousness rather than a slave of unrighteousness (Rom 6:16-18).
More importantly, they are merely echoing the teaching of Yeshua:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’” Mat 7:21-23
So the biblical principle is not faith vs. works, as if they were opposites, but faith AND works, for faith in the heart produces works which align with the Father’s will in the life. It is not only faith, the heresy that James was addressing, nor only works, or obedience to the Law, the heresy that Paul was addressing. But one flows from the other, and neither are in isolation.