To the Children of the Kingdom;
Grace and mercy in abundance from God, our Father, and from Jesus-Christ, our Lord and Savior. Faith in Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian life. And in stark contrast to the Old Testament, we are saved by grace through that faith, and not by any work we could possibly perform.
Ephesians 2:8,9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Unfortunately, this profound truth has also given rise to much perversion of the scriptures with regards to the relevance of works in the Christian life. Such false doctrines are often the reason for the difficulty that many a Christian finds in reconciling Ephesians 2 above with other passages such as James 2.
James 2:26 – For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The purpose of this letter is to share some scriptural truths which I hope you will find useful in bringing clarity to the subject.
In a nutshell: Works can never save you or anyone else. Only the grace of God through your faith can. On the other hand, your faith can only be manifested, proven, or shown, through works. If your faith cannot be evidenced, if it cannot be seen, it is simply because it does not exist.
Consider what was said of Abraham. Abraham is a particularly interesting example because he is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11)! There is no better example of faith (Jesus evidently excluded) than Abraham.
Romans 4:1-6 [NASB] – What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.
This passage makes it clear that it was not a set of works, things that Abraham did that got him justified. That is not how he was declared righteous. It was his belief in God, his faith! Abraham did not work to become righteous. He simply believed.
But the question now is…how do we “know” that Abraham believed?
James 2:21-23 – Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
James says that when Abraham offered up Isaac as a sacrifice, the scripture that had already declared him as righteous was fulfilled. Further, James indicates that the sacrifice of his son was the “work” that Abraham performed.
What is noteworthy about the work without which your faith is dead (James 2:26), according to James is that it can ONLY be performed BECAUSE you believe, hence, it is the very proof that you believe, it is the imprint, the cignet of your belief! Not the cause of it…but the evidence of it!
Consider the sacrifice of Isaac: Could Abraham have performed that sacrifice before Isaac was born? Of course not! In fact, the promise, and therefore the opportunity to believe in the promise was given before Isaac was even conceived.
Genesis 15:4-6 – Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
First there was belief, then came the opportunity to manifest, to demonstrate, to evidence that belief. This type of works, the kind of works that are meant to prove that we believe, are the works that every believer will at some point, be asked BY GOD to perform. Hence, may I submit that this kind of work cannot be manufactured, engineered or even imagined by anyone. They are designed by God Himself, and can only be performed AS GOD INTENDED if there is faith.
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Consider the believers that the Apostle Peter wrote to:
1 Peter 1:6,7 – In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
We see that those believers were distressed by a number of trials. Their responses to those trials were their works! Their responses demonstrated the faith they had. And just like in the case of Abraham, they could not have possibly engineered, conceived or even timed those works themselves, since those trials came precisely because they first believed.
As a last example, consider what is said about the prostitute Rahab from Jericho, who hid the two Israelites who came to spy her country as Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, sought to destroy it.
James 2:25 – In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
Look at the reason Rahab had given to the spies for hiding them and helping them escape
Joshua 2:8-11 – “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
The reason was not simply the fact that everyone in Jericho was trembling as Israel was approaching, but her personal declaration of faith that the God of Israel was in fact God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
She believed that He was the true God, and here was the opportunity, orchestrated by God, to demonstrate that faith! Hiding those spies was her work! The demonstration of her faith that God had indded given Israel that land. “If you really believe that Rahab, if you really believe that God has already given your land to Israel, then demonstrate your faith by hiding the spies rather than delivering them to your people, as an attempt to save your city“. Could she have designed, orchestrated or even timed that work? Obviously not.
Now, in stark contrast to the kinds of works which only God can design and bring at His divinely appointed time, which can only be successfully performed if faith is present (the bible often refer to them as good works), there is a category of works that is vehemently denounced and rejected by the scriptures, which can literally bring a curse on the one performing it. These works seek to take the place of the grace of God, the place of Jesus, making light of who He is and of His sacrifice. The offense one commits by performing those works is so grave that they can literally cause the person to fall from grace (Galatians 5:4), with hell promised as a sure destination! These works are manufactured by men, and hence, no matter how appealing and godly looking they might even appear, they do not necessitate any kind faith to be performed.
The most notorious, but perhaps also the less obvious of them (because they were originally instituted by God) are the works pertaining to the Mosaic law. Performing them do not require faith in God. Perhaps this is the reason why the scriptures say
1 Samuel 15:22 – …Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…
And if one chooses to live by that Law, then he is obligated to perform the whole of it, hence the curse, since it is impossible…
Galatians 5:3 – For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
But the Mosaic Law is but a subset of those cursed works. To it, we should also add anything anyone chooses to do, not as the result of recognizing the Lordship of Jesus over them, but as an attempt to show themselves worthy before God through their own performance. How to perform them, when, how often, where and even with whom, may all be decisions that are firmly in the individual(s)’ hands. And therefore, even if they happen to be designed with good intentions, they have absolutely no value in restraining sin (i.e. rendering that person more holy) and justifying anyone before God.
Colossians 2:20-23 – Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Dear Christians, make no mistake, you have been called TO DO sacred works. Stand up and be courageous for there is work to do. Grace and works are not in opposition. The works you have been called to perform are designed by God, assigned by God, measured by God, and evaluated by God! They are the works designed not only to strengthen your faith, but also to manifest it and to impact your environment through the glorious light of the gospel that your works will so exquisitely display.
You do not need to worry about whether those works will come, they absolutely will, and there is no shortage of them! The question is…will your faith pass the test as Abraham’s did? Will it pass everytime? Will you rise to the challenge upon the mighty call of the Most High? Ask the Father to recognize those works He places before you when they come, ask Him for the strength to perform to His honor, and He will give you wisdom, discernment, and understanding and strength.
Nevertheless remember who it is that bought you at a great price. Just as Israel was warned, we too, the Church, have been warned…
Hebrews 12:25 [NASB] – See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.
May our Lord, in His great mercy, preserves us blameless for His own glory. May our lives give Him His praise and His worship, as we abound in all the good works He has prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Glory to His Majesty!