Our staff is going to meet later on today and continue our walk through the book of James. Our topic this week is faith and works. Our main passage is James 2:14-26. Are the two separate or do they have anything to do with one another in God’s economy? Some teach that you have to work for your salvation. Others say that faith alone is enough and works have nothing to do with salvation. There are some who argue that James and Paul contradict each other in their epistles, claiming that Paul teaches faith alone and James teaches faith with works. Is this true?
In this article, I would like to examine James’ views on faith and works, Paul’s views on faith and works, and Jesus’ views on faith and works to see if their complement or contradict one another.
Before we get into the meat of the text, I would like to review the previous lessons.
- Living faith vs. Dead faith
- Living faith vs. Dead faith part II
- Trials and Temptations; what’s the difference?
- Genuine faith in action
- Two spiritual births; death and life
- Living faith in action
- Living faith revealed
I. James on faith and works
James writes very clearly about the connection between faith and works. If you have faith that does not produce good works, then your faith has not produced salvation. This faith is dead, as James writes, or in other words, it is useless. It is not doing anything positive for you. According to James, genuine faith is shown to be genuine by the good works that it produces. When referring to good works, James has in mind the good works of obedience. We know this because of his examples of Abraham and Rahab. The good works that accompanied their faith were the good works of obedience to the Lord. The good works of obedience actually demonstrate (prove) that your faith is genuine. If you claim faith without the good works of obedience, James’ question to you is, “what makes your faith different than the faith of the demons”? The demons believe the Truth about who God is. They shudder because they know who He is, yet, their faith does not produce the good works of obedience. Their faith is dead, useless.
Does the apostle Paul have a different opinion about faith and works? Keep this outline in mind; Faith –> Salvation –> good works of obedience. We will examine some of Paul’s epistles to see if this outline appears again.
II. Paul on faith and works
The most quoted passage from Paul when dealing with faith and works is Ephesians 2:8-10. I would like to examine this passage, keeping in mind what we have learned from James. Let’s outline this passage; Grace –> Faith –> Salvation –> For good works. Do you see a pattern? Is Paul against works? Paul also mentions works, the works of obedience. The good works of obedience come as a result of faith and salvation. Paul does not have an opposing view to James. He has the same view that James does. What does genuine salvation look like, according to Paul. Keep in mind that the word “salvation” mean to be rescued from something. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul shows what salvation looks like. Just like the deeds of the flesh (sin nature) are evident, so is the evidence of salvation, the Holy Spirit.
Here are the deeds of the flesh:
- Adultery (sexual immorality, sex outside of marriage, sex with a married person who is not your spouse)
- Fornication (any form of sexual relations outside of marriage, both physical and mental, included pornography and sexual fantasies)
- Uncleanness (in a moral sense, a result of sexual immorality)
- Lustfulness (desiring to have what is not yours, what belongs to someone else)
- Idolatry (placing anything else above your relationship with God)
- Sorcery (witchcraft, horoscope, communicating with the dead or with spirits)
- Jealousy (anger toward others because they have what you want, you either want them to lose it or you want to take it from them)
- Rivalry (I raise myself up by putting you down)
- Division (small groups that bicker and fight with other small groups)
- Heresies (not totally believing the Word of God, believing something contrary to the Word of God)
- Drunkennesses (intoxicated from any form of drug)
- Reveling (nocturnal carousing, going from party to party, living a party lifestyle)
When salvation takes place because of faith, which is based on the grace of God, the fruit is present. Here is what the good work of obedience looks like:
- Joy – Instead of anger and hate, I know produce joy. I have the joy of the Lord and I am not longer looking for satisfaction in idols. I am not worried about circumstances that are in God’s hands so I stay away from sorcery.
- Peace – With the lack of anger and hatred that leads to conflicts, I am able to have peace in every circumstance of life. I am content with God and no longer need idols.
- Patience – Now that I have the Lord’s patience, I no longer lose my cool with the people around me, getting angry at them and lashing out causing fights and divisions.
- Kindness – I am now able to act kindly toward others, even when they do not deserve it.
- Goodness – I become useful to the people around me because I know longer live by my own selfish desires. I seek to love and serve those who are around me, for their good.
The transformation is obvious. If the transformation is not there, here is what Paul has to say in I Corinthians 6:9-11, you will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, do not be deceived (letting others deceive you or deceiving yourself). The last piece of evidence is in Titus 2:14, 3:8, where Paul encourages the believers to be zealous for good deeds and engage in good deeds. Paul wrote exactly what James wrote. Faith –> Salvation –> Evidence (good works of obedience). What about Jesus, does He have a different view on faith and works? Let’s take a look.
III. Jesus on faith and works
In order to find out Jesus’ views on the subject of faith and works, we need to turn to one of His greatest sermons, the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s look at Matthew 7:13-29. Jesus preached this sermon to people who grew up claiming to have faith. He is not trying to teach them to have faith. He is trying to show them that there is faith that leads to transforming salvation and then there is dead faith that leaves people like they are. He divides everything into 2’s. There are false prophets who are going to teach dead faith, leading you down the broad path. When you have dead faith, it is seen in your actions. You may call Jesus Lord and serve in miraculous ways, yet, you do not produce the good works of obedience. You will not enter the kingdom because you do not do the will of the Father and you practice sin. Living faith leads to the narrow path which produces the good works of obedience. You call Jesus Lord and serve while also doing the will of the Father. You no longer practice sin. You now practice obedience, hearing the Word of God and applying it to your life.
Jesus teaches the same thing that James taught and that Paul taught. This is the clear teaching of the Scriptures. We do not work to our salvation. It is by grace through faith in Christ. The good works of obedience flow out of our salvation, if our faith is living and genuine salvation has taken place. Dead faith likes to encourage us in extremes, either working to salvation or receiving salvation and then living as we please. May the Lord protect us from these extremes, encouraging us to living faith revealed in His Word.