“As you read the epistle of James, you discover that these Jewish Christians were having some problems in their personal lives and in their church fellowship. . . . difficult testings, temptations to sin . . . catering to the rich . . being robbed by the rich . . competing for teaching offices . . not living what they professed to believe . . . their mouths were causing divisions among them . . . . talking but not living the truth (2.14ff) . . . . no control of tongue (3.1ff) ” – Warren Wiersbe Commentary on James, p. 335-336.
James deals early on with salvation in 1.18. “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits of His creatures.”
It speaks of the New Birth here. God brought our salvation exercising His will, His plan, His intention, not man’s striving. “It is divine. Nicodemus thought he had to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, but he was wrong. This birth is not of the flesh: it is from above (Jn 3.1-7). It is the work of God. Just as we did not generate our own human birth, we cannot generate our own spiritual birth. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, it was God who performed the miracle.” Ibid 344.
“It is gracious. We did not earn it or deserve it; God gave us spiritual birth because of His own grace and will. ‘Which were born, not of blood [human descent], nor of the will of the flesh [human efforts] nor of the will of man [human assistance], but of God.” (John 1.13) No one can be born again because of his relatives, his resolutions or his religion. The new birth is the work of God.” Ibid, 344-345.
Skipping to the controversial verses in James 2, he is addressing those who talk the faith but do not live it out. “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can that faith save him? . . . and if one of you says to them, Go in peace . . . But some one may well say, You have faith and I have works, show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2.14,16,18.
James has dealt with salvation in chapter 1. He has made it clear that salvation is of God–supernatural. He is not changing his mind a few verses later. Here he is simply saying ‘walk your talk. Don’t be a hypocrite. Get involved.’ If a man takes a job at Jones Supply Company, he can walk around town claiming to be their employee. Bu if he will not report in to work is he really an employee? Likewise with the army recruit who does not report to basic training. He is AWOL, a fake. One is not saved by good works but for good works–after his redemption event. The Cross is proof that a man can not save himself. if so, Jesus died in vain–Gal 2.21.