A Fruitful Faith
What does this mean? Does it mean that we really MUST do good works to earn salvation? Does God really count the "stars in our crowns?" Or are we missing an important link?
There is an apple tree in our backyard. Each year it does what apple trees must do, by their nature - yield apples. In years when the apple count is low, my husband will say, "I think the apple tree is dying." He doesn't mean that without enough apples, the life of the tree will fade; he means that the fruit is evidence of the state of the life of the tree. Fruit indicates a healthy tree.
I think the same could be said of faith. Good works are the fruit of a healthy faith. A healthy faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, does what it must do by its nature - yield fruit. James was not saying that without the fruit, the faith withers. He was saying that good works are the fruit of a healthy faith. Without their evidence, one must question the health of the faith.
As we are sanctified by grace, moved closer by God to God's image, the fruit of good works will become the inevitable outcome.