Several of Paul’s epistles criticized those who relied on Old Testament legalism over faith in Christ. But many who read or heard that message took it to another extreme, believing that justification by grace alone excused subsequent immorality.
James wrote to the Jews who fell under that extreme. Unlike Paul’s urbane, verbose letters, James was direct and unsubtle about how sick he was with those who ignored the Old Testament law. Paul had never actually denounced the old laws, but rather held that salvation must be followed with true transformation of character in which one holds to God’s commands. James summed up that concept with a quick rhetorical question: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”
Many of the commands James issues parallel the Sermon on the Mount, which of course was where Jesus stated He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.