What Shall We Say About Faith and Works?
What shall we say about faith and works? The greater question is this: What does the Bible say about faith and works? To completely answer that question would require more space than what is permitted in this publication. However, there are some passages which we can illuminate. For instance, give consideration to Ephesians 2:8-10. The apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) When a person develops a persuasion, a conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and His word is the only word to follow, that person will come to Jesus Christ. His persuasion, his conviction that the Bible is truth will drive him to turn and follow Jesus. Of course, this persuasion will only come with sufficient studying and learning of God’s word. A person cannot be truly persuaded of something without seeing the evidence of that something. The apostle Paul wrote, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Once a person develops true belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that person will obey the commands of Christ to repent and be baptized (cf. Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16) After doing such, as the apostle Paul wrote, that person will walk in a newness of life, having been baptized into the death of Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:3-4)
This newness of life, this forgiveness of sins, this salvation comes by the grace of God. This brings us back Ephesians 2:8-10. According to the words of Paul, Christians are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). When a person is born again (see John 3:3-5; 1 Peter 1:23), he is a “new creation” in Christ Jesus and, as such, he must live as a “new creation.” The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Being a “new creation,” a Christian must do the works for which God created him. God created the Christian for works of faith which are works of obedience. No Christian will enter into heaven with only a profession of his belief. One who is truly persuaded, one who is truly convicted will do the works of obedience.
Consider the examples of faith seen in Hebrews 11. Beginning with Abraham and going through Samuel and the prophets, the Hebrew writer gives examples upon examples of people who were fully convicted and persuaded to faithfully follow and obey Jehovah. These wonderful examples show us how true faith in the Lord brings with it obedience, “good works.” There is not one example seen in Hebrews 11 of a person who was fully persuaded to change his life, yet who did nothing towards obeying God.
Another passage which addresses faith and works is found in the book of James. In James 2:14-26, the writer establishes the simple fact that faith without works is dead. Again, one may say that he believes and he may truly acknowledge the existence of Jesus Christ, however, if he is not fully persuaded to change his life and follow Christ, then his faith is simply a dead faith.
James begins this section by writing, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14) According to this passage, we find that faith does not always save. But who does faith not save? Consider again what James wrote: “What does it profit . . . if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” We see this same thought in verse 17, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). The person who says he has faith, but does not have works is the one whom faith will not save, for his faith is dead.
The idea of faith being dead without works may seem contrary to much of what the religious world teaches. (Some religious leaders try to find a middle road and say that faith without works is dead after one is saved, but that works have no part in one’s salvation.) However, three times in James 2:14-26, James refers to faith without works being dead. (see verses 17, 20, 26). Logically speaking, James’ statement makes sense. If to have faith in Jesus Christ means to be fully persuaded and convicted enough to turn and follow Christ, then yes, a faith where one is not persuaded to turn and follow Jesus is nothing more than dead faith, even for one who is not yet a Christian. True faith demands, and cannot be had, without turning and following Jesus. For instance, Jesus taught in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” If one truly believes in Jesus, this person’s belief will be accompanied with obedience to the command to be baptized. If one says, “I believe, but I will wait to be baptized,” how can he say that he is truly persuaded to follow Jesus? Faith without works is a dead faith.
Consider one more thought before closing. What works is James considering? The works under consideration would be the simple works of obedience in all areas of a Christian’s life. These “works” are the same “good works” as seen in Ephesians 2:10; good works for which Christians are created. If a person does not have enough faith to obey the commands of Christ to believe (Mark 16:16) repent (Luke 13:3; cf. Acts 2:38), and be baptized (Mark 16:16; cf. Acts 2:38), then his faith is a dead faith. If once a person becomes a Christian, he ceases obeying Jesus Christ, he ceases his “good works” for which God created him, then his faith is also fruitless and dead.