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FAITH OR WORKS?
by David Hill

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. Ephesians 2: 8 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2: 16

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? James 2: 14

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. James 2: 24

Apparent contradictions in the Word of God!

Are we saved by simply having faith in Jesus Christ, or is there something that we must do to inherit eternal life? It is vitally important that we understand this question as it effects our very assurance of salvation!

Something you need to know!

Can we be sure that faith is enough to save us in the light of James 2: 24? If there is something that we need to do in order to have eternal life, then we need to know what it is! If we are truly sincere toward God we must find out what part "works" play in God's plan of salvation. However, we want to be sure that we don't become separated from Christ by trusting in our own righteousness. "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." Galatians 5: 4 Look it up in your own Bible


Actually it is grossly unfair to take a verse from the Bible out of context and use it to prove an argument. I would encourage you to read several verses before and after those quoted. Having done this, you will notice that both sides of the argument use Abraham as an example. Let's look briefly at the story of Abraham from Genesis 22.

The Story of Abraham

"Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And he said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had toldhim.

Just kidding Lord?

Now do you think perhaps that Abraham knew all along that God would not require the life of his son? Do you think that he chopped wood, saddled the donkey and set out on his journey, knowing that he was, in some morbid way, humouring his God by pretending to be sacrificing his son? Not at all! For the Angel of the Lord plainly said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." Remember this was a test! If Abraham had been unwilling to kill his son he would have failed that test. God was testing Abraham's ability to keep the very first commandment that he was to later give to Israel. After passing this test, God, swearing by himself, reaffirmed the promises that he previously gave to Abram before Isaac was conceived. And God did so because (note this well) "because you have done this thing, and not withheld your son, your only son, in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven .." Genesis 22: 15-17


Abraham Had Works

So we clearly see that Abraham had works. His unquestioning obedience is clear. But did Abraham have faith? Hebrews 11: 17-19 tells us "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense."

Abraham did have faith, and it was this faith (in the resurrection) that enabled him to do the "works". Without the faith, he could not have done the works. Faith came first. Faith, then testing, then works, then God's approval. It was faith that made him rise early, cut the wood, and set out on his journey. "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" James 2: 22

Without Faith?

Suppose Abraham didn't have faith in God to resurrect Isaac, and had refused to offer him up. He would have had neither faith nor works. So works, of the "justifying" kind, are dependant on faith.


Faith Without Works?

But can one have faith without works? ".... faith by itself if it does not have works,is dead." James 2: 17 You see the kind of faith that does not show itself with actions, deeds, or works is dead faith. Can dead faith save you?


Living Faith Saves!

Now when God says in Galatians 2: 16 that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, is he referring to "living" faith or dead faith? Of course He means genuine living faith, for the scriptures also say that "a man is justified by works, and not by faith only." So it is by livingfaith that we are justified.


Not Justified by Works Alone

The letter of James is not saying we are justified by works alone. It is however clarifying the word "faith". The epistle of James is preaching justification by faith, but is also making it very clear that living faith is the kind that shows itself by works. Obviously some of those to whom this letter was addressed, were claiming to have a faith that was not shown by their actions. They were offering lip service only. James counsels these people in Chapter 1 verse 22

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." This letter was not addressed to those who were servants to legalism and trying to be justified by the law. It was written to those who were trying to "... turn the grace of God into licentiousness...." Jude 1: 4


Works of the Law

On the other hand, the verses from Ephesians and Galatians were addressed to those who were being persuaded by those of the "circumcision" group who insisted that the Gentiles be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. For this reason there is an emphasis on justification by faith in Christ Jesus not by works. Now the works referred to in Galatians are the "works of the law". This letter was specifically written to those who were seeking justification by the law, not by faith. They were putting their trust in their own ability to keep the law, rather than God's ability to conform them to the likeness of Christ. The apostle Paul makes a clear distinction between the works of the law and the good works of faith. He does this by using a completely different term when referring to the good works of faith. Notice in Galatians chapter 5 verse 19, where Paul lists the "works of the flesh". Then in verse 22, in contrast to the evil works of the flesh, he lists the good works of the Spirit. He distinguishes these from the works of the law by using the term "fruit" instead of works.


Fruit of the Spirit

In a Christian's life then we should see the evidence of the good works of faith or fruit of the Spirit. A Christian cannot be saved if his life does not show, to some degree, the fruit of the Spirit. That person is deceiving himself. 1 John 2: 9 says "He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now."


The Role of Works

Let's look at the role of works in the Christian life. When Paul faced Agrippa, he outlined the gospel that he preached to the Gentiles in this way "that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance". Acts 26.20 Paul, in addition to belief in Christ, actually preached works! And it is not surprising, because true repentance is always followed by a changed life. True conversion means turning away from a life of sin to a life of good works. Paul's words in front of Agrippa were no slip of the tongue either, for in 1 Timothy 6:18 he advises Timothy to command the wealthy Christians to "be rich in good works". Again to Titus he says, "I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God shouldbe careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men." Titus 3:8


Not by Works but for Works


We are not saved by works but for good works. Speaking of Jesus Christ, the Bible says "who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works." Titus 2:14 Are you zealous for good works? Then in Ephesians 2:8-10 the subject is fully explained as follows "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.


By what means?


How do we accomplish good works? How can we overcome our sinful desires? Only by faith in God who is able to give us the strength to put to death the deeds of the body by his Spirit. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die: but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Romans 8:13


Let Your Light Shine

In summary we can clearly see that there is no contradiction in this case. We are saved by grace, justified by faith in Jesus Christ, (which shows itself in the fruit of the Spirit) for the good works that God has prepared for us. Let's not be frightened to put our faith in Christ Jesus to accomplish the good deeds that he required of us." Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Additional copies of this booklet and other literature can be obtained by writing to the address below.
D. Hill -- P.O. Box 7 Beerburrum Qld 4517 Australia



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