Faith, Grace, Works, and Law

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.”

This whole subject of “faith, grace, works, and law” is one of the most talked about and sometimes hotly debated subjects in Christianity in America today, I believe. And there are many reasons why this is true, but one of them is because so many people are being taught these things out of context, and therefore many of them are drawing faulty conclusions.

Let’s take for example Ephesians 2:8-9, which says:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

So, from this many are concluding that our salvation is totally absent of all works. Not true! Read verse 10:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

So, what is this saying? Well, for one it is saying that even the faith to believe in Jesus is not of ourselves, of our own making, but it is also a gift of God to us, so we can’t just create our own idea of what faith in Jesus looks like. We need to study the Scriptures to see how they describe faith so that we make certain we are of the true faith, and that we are not of a false faith believing in a lie. For true faith comes from God, not from ourselves.

[Eph 2:8-10; Heb 12:1-2; Jn 6:44; 2 Pet 1:1; Lu 9:23-26; Jn 6:35-58; Jn 8:31-32; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Co 6:9-10, 19-20; 2 Co 5:10, 15; Tit 2:11-14; Jas 1:22-25; Rom 12:1-2]

And this is also differentiating between works done in the flesh, trying to earn favor with God, and works that are of the Spirit of God which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them, in his power. And to walk is how we conduct our lives. It is our habits, our practices, our thinking, our believing, our speaking, our actions, our behaviors, and our attitudes, too.

So, are there works required of us for salvation? Yes! We do have a part in our salvation, but this is not of our own doing, but it is of God’s doing that we should do what he prepared in advance that we should do under his direction and guidance, and in his power and strength.

[1 Co 15:58; 2 Co 9:8; Gal 5:6; Col 1:9-14; 2 Thess 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:21; Tit 2:11-14; Jn 15:1-11; Tit 3:8; Jas 2:17; Rom 11:17-24; 1 Co 15:2; 2 Tim 2:10-13; Heb 3:6, 14-15; 2 Pet 1:5-11; 1 Jn 2:24-25, plus verses above]

And what if we choose not to do the works that God prepared in advance that we should walk in them? Can we still be saved? No! For, if we refuse to submit to God’s will and purpose for our lives, and if we choose not to obey him and his commands, and if we choose to continue living in sin, deliberately and habitually committing sin against God and others, then the Scriptures say we will not inherit eternal life with God.

[Rom 2:6-8; Gal 6:7-8; 2 Co 5:10; 1 Co 6:9-10; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:3-6; Rom 6:16; Rom 8:1-17; Jn 15:1-11; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Rev. 2-3; Rev 21:8, 27; Rev 22:14-15; Matt 7:21-23; Heb 10:26-27]

James 2:18-24 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!

“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.”

Some people say that Paul and James taught the opposite of each other, and they claim that because they haven’t really studied the writings of Paul. For look at how many of the Scriptures referenced above are from the writings of Paul.

Paul said that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who WALK not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For if we walk according to the flesh we will die, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, then we will live (See Romans 8:1-17).

It was also Paul who said that if we practice (are doing, are engaged in) such things as lying, cheating, sexual immorality, moral impurity, fits of anger, drunkenness, orgies, idolatry, sorcery, etc. that we will not inherit the kingdom of God. And it was Paul who warned us not to be deceived, for he said that we will reap what we sow, and if we sow to the flesh, we will reap destruction (death), but if we sow to the Spirit, we will reap eternal life.

[Rom 2:6-8; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; 1 Co 6:9-10; 2 Co 5:10; Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8; Eph 5:3-6; Col 3:5-11; Heb 10:26-31 (maybe Paul)]

So, faith and works are inseparable. It can’t be genuine faith if it does not result in us doing the works that God prepared in advance that we should walk in them. So, if we do not submit to the Lordship of Christ, if we do not walk in obedience to his commands, if we hate our brothers and sisters in the Lord, if we do not love God and others, and if we do not forsake our lives of sin to follow Jesus Christ where he leads us, then we don’t have salvation from sin nor eternal life with God (see all Scripture references above).

I hear so many people quote Romans 10:9 as their doctrine of salvation:

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

For the Jew of that time, that was the kiss of death if they did that. They were choosing to possibly lose their lives if they did this. For an American today, it mostly means just giving lip service to God, and just making some intellectual acknowledgement of who he was and is and of what he did for us in dying on a cross for our sins.

And besides that, context is everything. We need to read the whole of Romans, not just one or two verses. The whole of Romans does not say we can merely confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and say we believe in his bodily resurrection and we are saved. So, read the whole book, and see what all Paul wrote about our salvation and what constitutes us having salvation and eternal life with God.

For, it is true what James said here that even the demons believe in God. But they are not saved. They are not going to heaven. So, what is the point? Faith is more than just lip service or an intellectual assent to who Jesus is and to what he did for us. Faith is action. In fact, God sees obedience as faith and disobedience as unbelief.

[1 Co 10:1-22; Heb 3:1-19; Heb 4:1-13]

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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