Are Works Necessary?

James 2:14-19,26 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.

“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! … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

Now some people have this notion that this teaching of James was somehow different or even opposed to the teachings of Paul, but not so. In fact, one of the favorite passages of those who are opposed to any kind of works being involved in our salvation is Ephesians 2:8-9, but they leave off verse 10 which says,

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

And going along with that is Titus 2:13-14 which says,

“… Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Paul wrote these passages of Scripture, too:

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6-8).

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

“ as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:10-11).

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8).

And this doesn’t even include all the passages of Scripture which teach us that we must die to sin daily, deny self, follow Jesus in obedience, forsake our sins, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, put off sin, put on righteousness, don’t continue in sin, continue in righteousness and holiness, love others, don’t hate, don’t quarrel, do good, speak the truth in love, walk according to the Spirit, and don’t live according to the flesh, etc. And most of these (if not all) were penned by Paul as he was led by the Spirit.

And this also doesn’t include all the passages of Scripture which warn us of what will happen to us if we do not obey our Lord and if we continue in deliberate and habitual sin. And probably most of those were penned by Paul, too. And they teach us that if sin is what we practice, and if righteousness, godliness, and obedience to our Lord are not what we practice, that we will not inherit eternal life with God, and heaven will not be our eternal destiny, regardless of what faith our lips have professed.

So, let’s set the record straight. Yes, we are not saved by our own works of our own flesh of our own doing. We can never be good enough in our own flesh to be approved by God and to have salvation from sin and eternal life with God. And not one of us can even come to faith in Jesus Christ unless God the Father draws us to Christ (John 6:44). For, Jesus is the author and the perfecter of the faith which comes from God, and which is gifted to us by God, and which is not of our own doing (Hebrews 12:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9).

But since this faith is not of our own doing, then we cannot define it by our own flesh. And the meaning of this faith is “persuasion,” and in this case, since it is God who draws us to Christ, and since the faith is authored by Jesus Christ, and since the faith to believe is gifted to us by God, this faith is going to be defined by God and by his word. So God the Father is going to persuade us of his righteousness and holiness, and of our sinfulness, and of our need to repent of our sins and to walk in obedience to our Lord.

And so he is going to teach us his ways and counsel us in his truth and righteousness, and he is going to show us the way of salvation and what it means to be saved by God’s grace. And that is what he has done in the Scriptures where he teaches us that we must walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh, and that we must no longer walk in sin but now in righteousness and in obedience to our Lord. For if sin is what we practice, and if obedience is not what we practice, then we do not have eternal life with God.

[Matt 7:21-23; Matt 24:9-14; Lu 9:23-26; Rom 1:18-32; Rom 2:6-8; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-14,24; Rom 12:1-2; Rom 13:11; 1 Co 6:9-10,19-20; 2 Co 5:10,15,21; 1 Co 1:18; 1 Co 15:1-2; 2 Tim 1:8-9; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5; Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8; Eph 2:8-10; Eph 4:17-32; Eph 5:3-6; Col 1:21-23; Col 3:5-17; 1 Pet 2:24; Tit 2:11-14; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6,24-25; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Heb 3:6,14-15; Heb 10:23-31; Heb 12:1-2; Rev 21:8,27; Rev 22:14-15]

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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