The Relationship between Faith and Works in the Christian Life
The relationship between faith and works is not an issue for ivory tower theologians but for every man and woman who cares about where they will spend eternity! Continue reading . . .
The relationship between faith and works is not an issue for ivory tower theologians but for every man and woman who cares about where they will spend eternity!
The NT is clear: Faith alone is the condition of salvation but works are the consequence of it. If there are no works, there likely has been no faith. Faith is the root and works are the fruit. Faith is the cause and works are the consequence. We aren’t saved by works but we are saved for works. Several texts make this clear. We’ll look only at four of them.
The first comes from the passage in James 2:13.
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
James is alluding to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount where he said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Jesus appears to suspend our receiving of mercy upon our doing of mercy. How can he do that? Does that not make the receiving of mercy from God dependent on what we do, dependent on our work? Yes. But he can say that because Jesus, like Paul and James, believed that the person who has truly received mercy will be merciful to others. The person who has been the object of God’s saving mercy and grace and forgiveness will invariably show mercy, grace, and extend forgiveness to others. If there is no mercy in our treatment of others it reveals the sad fact that we don’t truly know Christ, and that leads to judgment. But if we’ve tasted his mercy through faith in Christ we will show mercy in works of compassion and kindness and that mercy is the evidence of our faith. And that mercy will carry us through the judgment.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Paul clearly affirms that the only thing that counts with God or reckons us acceptable to God is our faith in Jesus Christ. But what “kind” or “sort” of faith does he have in mind? It is the kind of faith that “works through love.” Saving faith is the kind of faith that is of such a nature or quality that it produces love.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
We are set free from the condemnation of our sin through faith and not by anything we do. But don’t use that truth to justify living in sin. Faith alone saves you, but if it truly saved you it will work. If you find someone who claims to be a Christian, who claims to have faith in Jesus, but they use that as an excuse or opportunity to indulge in sinful and fleshly behavior, that is not saving faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Note well that Paul does not say we were created in Christ Jesus because of good works, but for them. Good works are not the cause or the ground of our salvation but its purpose and goal. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But this wonderful saving faith is never alone, but is always accompanied by obedience and the fruit of the Spirit, the very works that God ordained from eternity past that we should walk or live in them.
So I conclude that James in 2:14-26 of his letter is not arguing for works without faith. Rather, he is arguing against faith without works. Or again, James is not saying that saving faith without works is dead but that faith without works is not a saving faith.
To the person who asks, “Is it faith that justifies us, or works?” the apostle Paul replies, “Faith alone justifies, without works.” When that same person asks again, “But does all faith justify?” James replies, “No; the faith that is alone, the faith that does not work, does not justify.”