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Faith Without Works: He Who Is Not With Me, Part 2

By Watchman | September 8, 2010

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus 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 without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works….For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  (James 2:13-18, 26)

“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 2:8-9)


     Many of those who choose to dismiss scriptural accuracy on the basis of what they call “contradictions” in the Bible often point to the above two references in order to illustrate that the Bible contains only man’s opinions.   How, they ask, can both writers (James and Paul) write such differing accounts of the means of salvation?  This misreading of the intent behind these scriptures is an easy mistake to make if we forget Isaiah’s words that “precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”  When read as a totality, we find that there is indeed no contradiction between the two views; rather, Paul and James were addressing two completely different issues:  Paul was addressing salvation by grace while James was writing of the actions by which true believers may be identified. 

      In Paul’s epistle to the church in Ephesus, he rightly points out that salvation is by grace; “the gift of God, not of works.”  Nowhere does he suggest that we are in no way obligated to live after our salvation in a way that is worthy of this great and sacrificial gift.  We are saved through our faith by the grace of God, but if we refuse to walk with Him and do those things He requires of us, then it certainly begins to look as though our salvation was a transitory one; accepted possibly with a great deal of emotion and thanksgiving and then somewhat regretted when it is discovered that the Christian walk involves some discipline and sacrificing of the self.  Paul cautioned his followers frequently against allowing themselves to slip back into the sinful ways of the “old man” and gave constant encouragement to them to “let us do good to all…” (Galations 6:10) 

     When James proclaimed that “faith without works is dead“, he was not negating Paul’s words that salvation was the grace of God by faith alone, as has been suggested along with the notion that he was saying that works are needed to obtain that salvation;  but rather he was pointing out that faith that does not manifest itself  after  salvation in good works might not be a true faith to begin with.  In Matthew 22: 37-40, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  Can anyone one legitimately claim to love the Lord  and yet remain unmoved by the needs of those whom He loves for both physical and spiritual sustenance?   Consider this:  most of us have seen marriages or relationships in which one spouse or the other is neglected or abused either physically or emotionally by the other.  Usually, the abusive spouse claims to “love” the victimized partner.  Most of us, myself included, usually sarcastically think when we hear this,  “Yeah, right!”  Because, of course, true love is not about selfishness and self-aggrandizement, but about giving and building up one another.  Loving God works the same way.  Remember, our relationships here in this life are supposed to reflect our relationship with the Father.   If we show no mercy on those whom the Father loves, He will show no mercy to us.  If we refuse to help those whom He would have us help, we are showing Him neither love nor obedience, no matter how strongly we claim to love Him, which equals rebellion against His word.  In fact, if we say we have faith but show it not in our works, then we are exhibiting only a dead faith.  Of course, this is one of the places in our lives where the “judge not” commandment comes into play, because only God knows the truth behind our actions.  There are, no doubt, many people who loudly proclaim the Lord and do good works ostensibly in His name, yet have very little real faith in God and refuse to obey Him in their private lives, preferring the kingdom of self-consequence to God’s.  On the other hand, there are many believers who remain unknown in the world but quietly go through their lives doing all that God has laid upon them to do; without fanfare or thanks they continue to bless those that they come into contact with by easing their burdens, by prayer and by their silent witness.

     Both Paul and James are explicit about the fact that the good works follow faith and salvation.  “Love your neighbor as yourself”  is secondary to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  Many in today’s mainline churches are choosing to believe that the relief of poverty should be the main goal of the Christian community.  While it is undoubtedly the obligation of the Christian to provide relief for others insofar as he is able, we must never lose sight of the fact that our first obligation is to feed the spiritually hungry with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Some in what are called the “emergent churches” feel that Jesus needs to be “repackaged” to be acceptable to those of other faiths, or to the unbelievers.  While a helping hand should certainly be extended to those in need regardless as to their faith background,  it is our duty and our priviledge to make clear that all help comes from the Hand of our Father God and from His Son, Jesus.  We help no one if we fill their stomachs but leave them to die in the sin of worshiping a pagan god.  Naturally, believers are not the only people who can do good works, but the works themselves are not the goal: the glorification of God is. Jesus wasn’t just a good man who told us to be nice to one another.  He came to bring us new life in God’s presence, and it is this that we must most share, which the false religions cannot:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

  He was and is the Son of the living God, and He has said that “he who is not with Me is against Me.”    His choice is clear.  We may either accept His free gift of salvation and live our lives in Him, or we can reject Him.  There is no in-between.  Are you willing to choose Him now?  Are you willing to walk in obedience to Him; to show your faith through your works and your love?





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