Welcome back to our second study on faithfulness. This week we’ll be focusing on how faith comes alive through works. Although works alone don’t save us, they are important in relation to our faith. Let’s explore this important teaching by studying what James tells us in the New Testament.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”James 2:26 NKJV
First, let’s review last week’s definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV).
We know that faith isn’t wishful thinking. In fact, faith is probably the most practical possession we possess in our Christian walk. Do you realize that faith is a living thing, just like our physical bodies? Just as our bodies are dead without our spirits, our faith is also dead unless it shows action, proving it is alive.
James explains it by giving an example in James 2:15-16: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”
Helping others in need is a basic Christian work. All missionary and charity work flow out of our faith’s love for Jesus. We are all commissioned as believers to spread the gospel to those in our sphere. These noble works spark tangible life into our spirits, assuring us that the Lord is well pleased.
Faith versus works…
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14 NKJV).
James may come across as controversial with this question. In the Greek language, this question demands a negative answer. However, according to the Scriptures, we know that faith alone does indeed save us. But we need to realize that James is speaking to a specific group of Jews who, before Jesus died on the cross, only believed in salvation through works. His argument is an effort to base salvation on faith first, but second, to also show that works have an important place in the Christian walk. Christian belief can only motivate us one way–to do good works as part of our worship and love for our Lord and Savior.
Justification by faith alone…
Paul teaches that salvation is graciously extended to the Gentile as well as the Jew. He clearly tells us in Scripture that David and Abraham both agreed that salvation is through faith, not works:
“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.”Romans 4:5-6 NKJV
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”Romans 4:3 NKJV
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”Romans 5:1-2 NKJV
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also…”Romans 3:27-29 NKJV
Saving Faith versus professing faith…
James is examining salvation is a different light. He sees it as a two-sided coin–as saving faith versus professing faith. For James, justification is by a faith that works—by a genuine faith that manifests itself in post-conversion works.
James explains that although a person may believe in God’s existence, that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is saved. “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19 NKJV). We must first have a conversion experience by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Afterward, our faith grows and comes alive through good works.
John Calvin said, “Faith alone saves, but a faith that saves is never alone.” Thus, James’s question is not simply “Can faith save?” but as the Greek text may suggest, “Can that faith save him?”
“For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”Romans 14:10 NKJV
Although good works don’t produce salvation, they are going to matter after we get to heaven. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, believers’ works will be judged by fire, and each one will receive rewards based on them. However, if a Saint has no works or if all his works are burned up, that person will still be saved.
“Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NKJV
James refers to Abraham’s justification, citing his willingness to sacrifice his son on the altar as his work to prove his faith.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”James 2:21-24 NKJV
I hope James’s teaching has inspired us to put our faith to work! Although works cannot save, we are commissioned by the Lord to go forth doing good and helping others as we are enabled. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our lost and dying world, spreading the gospel of the Good News. Let’s remember Jesus’s promise to us to reward every good work:
“‘And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.'”Revelation 22:12 NKJV
How do good works prove your faith?
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us that we all need to breathe life into our faith by doing good works. May we be inspired to serve You more by sharing our faith and ministering to one another. May we have acceptable, pleasing works to lay at Your feet at the judgment seat of Christ. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.