The Relationship Between Faith and Works
What the Bible Says About... | The Relationship Between Faith and Works
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The salvation of man comes as a gift of God's grace, but it can only be appropriated by faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition God requires for salvation. Our acts of righteousness are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and thusly, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. It is completely and totally the work of Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross. Faith is not merely a profession, but a change in behavior and actions. It is not enough to say, "I believe in Jesus Christ." James told us, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2:19). The word "believe" is translated from the Greek word "pisteuo" which means to commit it, to put trust in, and to have confidence in.
The New Testament conception of faith consists of four parts:
(1) Faith means believing and trusting in the sacrifice of Calvary and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our risen Savior. It involves yielding our wills and committing our total being to Him. Paul said to the Romans, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10). Again to the Romans, Paul wrote, "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." (Romans 6:17).
(2) Faith involves repentance and turning from your life of sin with true sorrow and grief, and turning to God through Jesus. True saving faith is always a repentant faith. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets." (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV). "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," Paul said to the Galatians, "and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20).
(3) Faith involves obedience to Jesus Christ and His word. Our faith changes and inspires our way of life, not only because of our gratitude to God, but also through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3). In John 14:15, Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Paul wrote to the Romans, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1-2).
(4) Faith includes love and devotion to Jesus Christ. It expresses itself through loyalty, trust and gratitude. When Mary Magdelene interrupted the dinner of Jesus and the Pharisees and began washing the feet of Christ with her tears, Jesus said to them concerning her, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven --- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.... Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven.... Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:44-50 NIV). Peter said in his epistle, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:8-9).
The relationship between faith and works can be summed up thusly: a true saving faith will cause one to perform works, not to be saved, but because one is saved. James added much insight to this relationship between faith and works. "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (James 2:14-26).
James is not saying in this passage that faith and works together save us, but that works naturally spring forth from the person who has saving faith. Abraham was called the Friend of God, yet his faith in God was justified when he exhibited total commitment and loyalty to God by offering his only son Isaac upon the altar of sacrifice. In the New Testament story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), we find Zacchaeus, who was a wealthy tax collector, giving away half of his wealth to the poor, and restoring fourfold any thing he has taken from someone falsely. Jesus exclaimed, "This day is salvation come to this house."
At first glance it may seem that James is contradicting Paul's teaching in Romans, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... Where is boasting then? it is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:23-24,27-28). But the works which James refers to are those that proceed from a sincere saving faith and a pure heart which seeks to labor for God, help others, and please Him. James teaches that a person who claims to be saved, yet does not have works nor bears fruit for the kingdom, does not have true saving faith. The works which Paul refers to are those which man tries to do to save himself, or to seek favor or merit from God, It is trying to find salvation through obeying the law and not through faith in Christ. Paul said I want to "be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Philippians 3:9).
In Paul's teachings on grace, he reaffirmed the fact that we are saved by grace and not works, but also stressed the importance of exhibiting works. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast," Paul tells us. We usually stop quoting at this point, but Paul continues in the very next verse, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Again to Titus, Paul declared, " But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Again, we usually stop quoting at this point, but Paul continues in the next verse, "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men." (Titus 3:4-8).