Faith Apart from Works is Dead

James 2:14-17 ESV

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Many people today are teaching a faith that is more like an emotional experience than it has anything to do with a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. For, they are just looking for something to make them feel good inside and perhaps to ease their own guilty consciences when they know they are doing wrong. For, they want a Savior who does everything for them and who expects nothing in return.

The “love” that they feel for God/Jesus is often also based on emotion and how he makes them feel, or it is based on what he does for them or they think he is doing for them. So, it isn’t biblical love, for according to Scripture to love God is to obey him, and if we don’t obey him we don’t love him, and we don’t know him, and he doesn’t know us (1 Jn 2:3-6; Jn 14:23-24).

For, biblical love is not based on our feelings but it is what we do. If I tell my husband that I love him but I don’t show love to him by what I do, then those are just empty words, especially if I was one who was doing the opposite, i.e. if instead of demonstrating genuine love via my actions that what I demonstrated was hate to him via sinning against him.

In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament God has always defined faith by obedience. If we obey him we love him and we know him and he knows us. For we are slaves of the one whom we obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness. For God sees obedience as faith and disobedience as unbelief (1 Co 10:1-22; Heb 3:1-19; Heb 4:1-13; 1 Jn 2:3-6; Rom 6:16; Jn 14:23-24; Rom 8:1-17).

Also, a lot of people these days are teaching that works are not involved in our salvation at all. Yes, it is true that we are not saved by our own good works done in our flesh. We can do nothing to earn or to deserve our own salvation. It is only by God’s grace through faith that any of us are saved, and even the faith to believe in Jesus is a gift from God and not of ourselves.

But we are saved to do the works of righteousness that God prepared in advance that we should walk in them. We are to always be abounding in the work of the Lord. And in obedience to our Lord we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Eph 2:10; 1 Co 15:58; Php 2:12-13).

And we are to walk in a manner fully pleasing to the Lord, and we are to say “No!” to sin and “Yes” to God as a matter of habit, and we are to live godly, upright, and self-controlled lives while we wait for his return, which is what his grace instructs us to do (Col 1:9-14; Tit 2:11-14; Rom 6; Rom 8).

As well, we are going to be judged by our works. And if we are self-seeking and we do not obey the truth but we obey unrighteousness, heaven will not be our destiny, but there will be wrath and fury. And if sin is what we practice and righteousness is not our practice, we will not inherit eternal life.

[Rom 2:6-8; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:3-6; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; 2 Co 5:10; 1 Co 6:9-10; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Gal 6:7-8; Matt 7:21-23]

James 2:18-19 ESV

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”

There are a lot of people who think that the Apostle Paul and the Apostle James taught what was opposite of each other, but no, they didn’t. Paul taught equally that faith and works go together. For Paul said if we are slaves to sin it ends in or leads to death but if we are slaves to obedience that it leads to righteousness and to sanctification, and its end is eternal life.

It was Paul who said we must walk no longer according to the flesh but according to the Spirit and that if we walk according to the flesh that we will not have eternal life with God. It was Paul who said that if sin is what we practice that we will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. He is the one who said if we sow to please the flesh, from the flesh we will reap destruction, but if we sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit we will reap eternal life.

Paul taught a gospel of salvation that taught a faith that involved obedience to our Lord and that if we did not walk in obedience to our Lord that we did not have eternal life with God. We learn all throughout Paul’s teachings, which were God’s God-breathed words to us, that faith and the works of the Spirit (not of the flesh) that God prepared in advance for us to do go hand-in-hand. So, we can’t just say we “believe” in Jesus. We must walk in obedience to his commands or we don’t have eternal life with God.

James 2:20-24 ESV

“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

The New Testament does teach that Abraham believed God and he was considered righteous. But it also teaches us that we must repent of our sins and obey our Lord and that we must love others and not hate if we want to have eternal life with God. And it teaches that if righteousness is our practice then we are righteous.

So, we have to read the whole of the New Testament, in context, and then compare Scripture with Scripture. James was not alone in what he taught here. Paul taught the same, perhaps in just different wording. We can’t “believe” in Jesus and not have a change of heart and conduct. If we say we believe in Jesus but then we continue in deliberate and habitual sin, then we don’t have genuine faith, and we don’t have eternal life.

Love for God is action. It is what we do, not what we feel. We show him we love him when we obey him and we do what he said. So, faith is obedience. It is not keeping a bunch of liturgical and ceremonial laws which have no impact on the heart, but it is surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, dying with him to sin daily, and walking in obedience to his commands.

[Lu 9:23-26; Jn 6:35-58; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Co 6:19-20; 2 Co 5:15; Tit 2:11-14; Jas 1:22-25; Rom 12:1-2; Eph 2:8-10; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Gal 6:7-8]

Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer

Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897
Music by W. J. Kirkpatrick, 1897

Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Oh, to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.

O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.

O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

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