James maintains that faith is a two-step process. Belief is the first step of faith and works is the last step.
According to James, faith is not completed without works because works is belief put into action. Faith starts with belief, but works is the culmination of belief. Belief is faith sitting down. Works is faith walking!
To prove his point, James uses the example of Abraham, the penultimate example of justification by faith. James links Abraham’s belief in God’s promise in Genesis 15: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gensis 15:6) with Abraham’s obedience to God’s promise, his offering and attempted sacrifice of his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.
According to James, Abraham’s belief in Chapter 15 isn’t the complete story of his justification by faith. Because Abraham believed God (that God’s chosen people would descend through Isaac), then Abraham’s obedience to God (the offering of Isaac) was the related action of his belief. For James, faith equals belief plus obedience.
James concludes that Abraham was justified by his works (offering of Isaac) because that was the action corresponding to or associated with his belief in God’s promise to him: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected…” (James 2:21-22).
So, James wasn’t necessarily saying we’re justified by works. He was saying we are justified by faith that works!
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NASB)