or “Faith Without Works is Dead”
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. – James 2:26
Produce Fruit. In the prior chapter on obedience, we learned that the life of a Christian is marked by obedience to the commands of Christ; many of those commands refer to doing “work” for the Lord, and for the Kingdom of the Lord, which you are now in as a believer in Christ.
Make no mistake, Christ expects your faith to be an active faith, not passive or idle. As we covered in the prior chapter on obedience, it is not the hearers and idle professors (“make believers”) of the Word which are saved, but doers of the Word – and you cannot be a “doer” of Christ’s word without having “works” as a result. A true Christian desires to do the will of God; you cannot do the will of God without doing works. Christianity is as much about action as it is faith.
Scripture says point blank that “faith without works is dead,” and that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”.
Friends, those are very explicit, direct, hard hitting, no nonsense, crystal clear verses in the Bible that cannot be explained away or twisted into some other meaning. It sometimes seems as if the entire book of James has been ripped out from the Bibles of many “modern” (so-called “reformed”) Christians and Pastors.
Now I must confess right up front here that this chapter was by far the hardest for me to write. While the all the other chapters in the book came pretty easily, through diligent reading, studying and prayer of course, I think I’ve had to rewrite this one at least 5 times in an attempt to find the best way to present it to you. Why was this one so hard?
Because of the staggeringly loud noise the “saved by faith only” false teaching crowd is making today in so-called “modern” and “reformed” Christianity. The message that you are saved by “faith only” is blaring nonstop 24/7/365 from nearly all pulpits, broadcasts, seminary schools and publications. You see, I too was deceived by it for quite a long time, as it’s the ONLY thing I ever heard preached.
So, what I’ve decided to do for this chapter is list as many different ways I could think of to explain this subject to you in the hope that one way might resonate with you, so you get that “ah ha” moment about it and shatter the brainwashing you’ve likely already been exposed to on this subject. If you haven’t been exposed to this “faith only” false teaching yet, that’s great, but please follow along anyway as the same material applies and you’ll have a much easier time of this as you won’t have to unlearn a lot of false doctrine. You also will be exposed to that false teaching at some point in your Christian life. So here goes.
First, I’d like to start this discussion with an example if you will, which allows you to use simple common sense to get started on this subject.
Let me ask you: What if someone promised to give you a million dollars, but days, weeks, months, and even years go by and they never give you even one single cent. Now I’m not talking about someone who said it jokingly, but someone who genuinely meant it and had the means to back it up and actually do it. Would you think their profession of giving was genuine? I don’t think you would! In fact, if they keep professing to give you the million dollars over and over again and never actually give you anything, you would soon realize they are a liar, a fake, and a fraud and that they are not genuine in their profession of giving.
In the same way, God expects you, and Scripture commands you, to prove your faith is a real by backing it up with action: this is called doing “good works,” or “producing fruit” for the Lord after you have been born again. Scripture is ABUNDANTLY clear that you must ACT ON YOUR FAITH to be saved (justified before God)!
What if Noah, Abraham, Moses and even Jesus Himself didn’t ever “do anything” after they claimed faith in God? – i.e. Noah never actually did build an ark or Abraham never went to offer Isaac. What if Jesus made a lot of claims that He could heal people but never actually healed anyone? Would you believe that any of their professions of faith or claims were real and genuine?
And now, let’s take this up to the very top, the absolutely highest pinnacle of authority possible: God Himself. What if He talked constantly about how He wants you to be saved from sin to have eternal life with Him in heaven but He never DID anything about it? What if He never gave His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for you? You see friend, even God Almighty Himself backs up His professions and words with action.
Faith and works aren’t mutually exclusive nor are they in opposition to each other; they are like the front and back of your hand, they both work together for good for a Christian. It is my works which testify (prove) that I am a Christian. Likewise, it’s your works which testify (and prove) that you are a Christian.
True genuine saving Christian faith manifests itself in producing good works for the Lord, for it is written: “Faith without works is dead”! Do you think that a “dead” faith will save you to eternal life? Will a “dead” faith please God? So now I ask you straight away: Do you want “dead” faith? Does the Bible state that God accepts “dead” faith? Does the Bible state that God even accepts “lukewarm” faith? The answer is unequally “no” to all those questions.
It is also written that Christ expects to find you “doing” when He returns (at his 2nd coming to judge the world)! In fact, Scripture condemns those who profess to be in Christ in faith but who are found idle.
You cannot be obedient to Christ and obey His commandments, and yet not “do” anything! Christ commands you to “produce fruit” as a Christian, so if you are obedient to Christ which we covered in the prior chapter, you will be producing fruit.
I think you can see now that it is by actual deeds and works that you prove to God, and even to yourself, that your profession of faith in Christ is real, live, saving faith! It is not hearers of the word that are saved, but doers of the word! Doing implies action backing up your profession of faith!
So, let’s make a list of what the Bible says:
- “Faith without works is dead”,
- “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone”,
- “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself”,
- “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves”,
- “that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples,”
- “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,”
- “If someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”,
- “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?”,
- “…as a result of the works, faith was perfected,”
- “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works”,
- “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
- “…that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”,
- “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”
And to drive the point home further, let’s list a few things the secular world says on this subject:
- “Talk is cheap”,
- “This is where the rubber meets the road”,
- “Actions speak louder than words”,
- “Put up or shut up”,
- “Putting your money where your mouth is”,
- “You’ve got to walk the walk and not just talk the talk”
Notice that even the secular world understands this concept very well. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re not to get your Christian doctrine from the secular world, but I think you can see that even they know: that actions prove professions.
So, I hope that one of those ways of explaining this subject has really resonated with you, for Scripture is very clear that you are not saved “by faith alone” as it is often taught, shouted and preached from many pulpits and popular writers, but by obedience in faith, which therefore produces/includes “good works” (fruit) for the Lord.
And before the ink has even dried on that prior sentence, the howls and shrieking accusations will start to come at me from the “faith only” crowd. This crowd teaches that you are saved by “faith only”; i.e. that your eternal (final) salvation is gained simply by your initial profession of belief in Christ with no further actions whatsoever required on your part ever again in your lifetime. Friends this is a false teaching, as it is in clear contradiction to Scripture, which you can clearly read above.
This “faith only” crowd will then claim that I’m advocating a “works based salvation”. Frankly I don’t care what they accuse me of, as what I’m telling you is straight from Scripture. Please read the material provided herein, and the Scripture shown, and make your own mind up.
This is such an important topic, and the “faith only” false teaching is so widely shouted and believed from nearly all “modern” and “reformed” churches, pulpits and publications, that I feel it must be dealt with right here and now, inline in this chapter, as opposed to deferring it to the Wolves chapter.
First, we must understand what these terms mean, and where they originated from. The “you are saved by faith only” came about as a reaction to the OTHER false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (itself an apostate church chock full of false teachings and false doctrines), when “reformed” Protestantism arose, to counter the blatantly unscriptural teachings of Popery. Popery included “selling indulgences (sins),” and also that good works can justify man (before God), and that these good works could be obtained by giving money to the church! Obviously very false teachings. This is what they are referring to by “works based salvation”: obtaining salvation by doing meritorious works.
Their opposition to the corruption of Popery was welcome and much needed; however, in their reaction to the false teachings of Popery, the Reformed Protestant movement (started by Martin Luther in 1517) erred in the opposite direction by pushing the pendulum too far the other way, if you will, of coming to the position that you are saved by “faith only”. In fact, Martin Luther objected to the book of James; he did not think it was part of the Canon of Scripture. He even rewrote a verse (Romans 3:28) by adding the word “only” to it, when that is not found in original Greek texts, which he was translating from.
So, when they claim I’m advocating a “works based salvation”, they are in effect saying I’m advocating what corrupt Popery is advocating, which is ridiculous. They are mixing apples and oranges, to borrow a metaphor. And strangely, while erroneously classifying my teaching as “works based salvation”, they simultaneously fail to see the blatant errors in their own “faith only” teachings. Not only is what they are accusing me of wrong, they are wrong themselves in their own doctrine. So, they are doubly wrong, and don’t even recognize it; remarkable! Frankly, “reformed” Protestantism (along with its “Calvinism”) is almost as chock full of error as Popery! See the Wolves chapter for more information.
The “faith only” false teaching can actually lead a new Christian to believe they don’t have to do anything other than process faith in Christ and even if they don’t do anything in faith thereafter, they are eternally saved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Anyway, with that history out of the way, let’s dig more into some of the Scripture that is involved in all of this, so you get a fuller understanding. Much of the confusion comes from trying to reconcile the following verses:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (written by Paul)
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. – Romans 3:28
“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” – James 2:17 (written by James)
So why does one say that salvation is not the result of works, and the other writes that faith without works is dead? How are these verses to be reconciled? Keep in mind that Scripture is 100% truth, so both have to be true statements, when correctly interpreted. You cannot interpret one of them in a way that contradicts the other! No correct interpretation/understanding of one part or verse of Scripture can result in contradicting any other part or verse Scripture!
If you do this, then it is your interpretation that is wrong, not Scripture! In a more general rule, you cannot interpret some verses of Scripture (which may be more difficult to understand, which are more obscure) in a way that contradicts other simple, clear direct and easily understood verses of Scripture.
Yet, this is precisely what people do. They pick one verse they like and disregard the other. Friend, that is faulty exposition, which leads to faulty teaching! They are taking Paul’s verse in Ephesians out of context. Paul doesn’t conflict or contradict James, nor vice-versa.
First, let’s present the teaching of James 2 in full context here inline, as it will be crucial to arriving at a correct understanding:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 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. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. – James 2:14-26
So how are these two verses (Paul’s and James’) reconciled, when they appear to contradict each other? Since it is not possible for Scripture to contradict itself, we must go beyond just a simple reading of the words and carefully consider the context of the verses. Simply put, Paul is talking about trying to “earn” salvation through doing works under the Law, while James is talking about the works that result from obedience. There is no contradiction.
Additionally, what about this verse where Isaiah says our deeds are as filthy rags:
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” – Isaiah 64:6
As usual, the false teachers of the “faith only” crowd engage in their most common magic trick: they take a verse completely out of context and distort and generalize it to mean whatever they wish. In the verse above, Isaiah is lamenting how wretched and pitiful (disgusting) the ancient Jews had become in their worship of the Lord. Even when they did occasionally do “righteous deeds” in accordance with the Mosaic Law, they did them half-heartingly, without sincerity, in a rote of mechanical observation without any hint of true reverence for the Lord.
The Isaiah verse is not to be generalized and applied to the works that a born-again Christian does in obedience to the explicit commands of Christ. Why would actions done in obedience to Christ’s commands be interpreted to be “filthy rags”?
By way of illustration, surely God would not consider the act/work of preaching the Gospel to all creation (which is an act of obedience to one of Christ’s commands) to be viewed as a filthy rag, now would He? Such an interpretation does great violence to the gospel, and even to Christ Himself! May it never be! On the contrary, God would view such an act/work/deed of obedience as being “well done” by a true and faithful servant!
In summary, one doesn’t “earn” salvation through meritorious deeds as Popery teaches, one does good works through obedience as a result of salvation – through genuine, active, loving and saving faith. Such obedience doesn’t diminish what Christ did on the cross; in fact, such obedience glorifies Christ even further, and also brings glory to God the Father as Christ commanded.
It is however important to discuss one last point. Your “good works” in no way give you the right to boast before men or God; for it is Christ, not our own wretched selves, that deserve all glory for any “good works” done or fruit produced for the Lord. We are the created beings; He is the Creator! There is nothing “good” in us whatsoever; salvation is a gift of God. And it’s not that we are doing “enough good works” to “earn” salvation, for even we didn’t prepare the works that we are doing, as it is written that “God prepared” the works for us to talk in! Furthermore, we are only able to do them by and through the power of Christ in us, and by allowing Him to work in us. Remembering this always keeps us properly humble, both before men and God. It is Christ’s righteousness that counts, not ours, for we have none. And I hope also that the following verse now makes sense to you:
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:18
We are doing works to demonstrate our faith is genuine, not to be justified before God; and, I want to show God that my faith is real! Faith and works go hand in hand.
At this point, I feel it’s best to present the commentary written by Matthew Henry on all of this, as I think He states things perfectly (and correctly), and I could not have written it any better. It may also help you to hear it coming from a great Saint of the Faith.
He correctly states that faith alone is not what saves; he also helps us understand that we have no reason to boast before God, even of the works we do out of obedience to God, for we are all fallen sinners undeserving of God’s unmerited grace:
In this latter part of the chapter (James 2), the apostle shows the error of those who rested in a bare profession of the Christian faith, as if that would save them, while the temper of their minds and the tenor of their lives were altogether disagreeable to that holy religion which they professed. To let them see, therefore, what a wretched foundation they built their hopes upon, it is here proved at large that a man is justified, not by faith only, but by works. Now,
- Upon this arises a very great question, namely, how to reconcile Paul and James. Paul, in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians, seems to assert the directly contrary thing to what James here lays down, saying if often, and with a great deal of emphasis, that we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law. Amicae scripturarum lites, utinam et nostrae – There is a very happy agreement between one part of scripture and another, notwithstanding seeming differences: it were well if the differences among Christians were as easily reconciled.“Nothing,” says Mr. Baxter, “but men’s misunderstanding the plain drift and sense of Paul’s epistles, could make so many take it for a matter of great difficulty to reconcile Paul and James.” A general view of those things which are insisted on by the Antinomians may be seen in Mr. Baxter’s Paraphrase: and many ways might be mentioned which have been invented among learned men to make the apostles agree; but it may be sufficient only to observe these few things following: – 1. When Paul says that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law(Rom 3:28), he plainly speaks of another sort of work than James does, but not of another sort of faith. Paul speaks of works wrought in obedience to the law of Moses, and before men’s embracing the faith of the gospel; and he had to deal with those who valued themselves so highly upon those works that they rejected the gospel (as Rom. 10, at the beginning most expressly declares); but James speaks of works done in obedience to the gospel, and as the proper and necessary effects and fruits of sound believing in Christ Jesus. Both are concerned to magnify the faith of the gospel, as that which alone could save us and justify us; but Paul magnifies it by showing the insufficiency of any works of the law before faith, or in opposition to the doctrine of justification by Jesus Christ; James magnifies the same faith, by showing what are the genuine and necessary products and operations of it. 2. Paul not only speaks of different works from those insisted on by James, but he speaks of a quite different use that was made of good works from what is here urged and intended. Paul had to do with those who depended on the merit of their works in the sight of God, and thus he might well make them of no manner of account. James had to do with those who cried up faith, but would not allow works to be used even as evidence; they depended upon a bare profession, as sufficient to justify them; and with these he might well urge the necessity and vast importance of good works. As we must not break one table of the law, by dashing it against the other, so neither must we break in pieces the law and the gospel, by making them clash with one another: those who cry up the gospel so as to set aside the law, and those who cry up the law so as to set aside the gospel, are both in the wrong; for we must take our work before us; there must be both faith in Jesus Christ and good works the fruit of faith. 3. The justification of which Paul speaks is different from that spoken of by James; the one speaks of our persons being justified before God, the other speaks of our faith being justified before men: “Show me thy faith by thy works,” says James, “let thy faith be justified in the eyes of those that behold thee by thy works;” but Paul speaks of justification in the sight of God, who justifies those only that believe in Jesus, and purely on account of the redemption that is in him. Thus we see that our persons are justified before God by faith, but our faith is justified before men by works. This is so plainly the scope and design of the apostle James that he is but confirming what Paul, in other places, says of his faith, that it is a laborious faith, and a faith working by love, Gal 5:6; 1Th 1:3; Tit 3:8; and many other places. 4. Paul may be understood as speaking of that justification which is inchoate, James of that which is complete; it is by faith only that we are put into a justified state, but then good works come in for the completing of our justification at the last great day; then, Come you children of my Father – for I was hungry, and you gave me meat, etc.
- Having thus cleared this part of scripture from everything of a contradiction to other parts of it, let us see what is more particularly to be learnt from this excellent passage of James; we are taught,
- That faith without works will not profit and cannot save us. What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?Observe here, (1.) That faith which does not save will not really profit us; a bare profession may sometimes seem to be profitable, to gain the good opinion of those who are truly good, and it may procure in some cases worldly good things; but what profit will this be, for any to gain the world and to lose their souls? What doth it profit? – Can faith save him?All things should be accounted profitable or unprofitable to us as they tend to forward or hinder the salvation of our souls. And, above all other things, we should take care thus to make account of faith, as that which does not profit, if it does not save, but will aggravate our condemnation and destruction at last. (2.) For a man to have faith, and to say he has faith, are two different things; the apostle does not say, If a man have faith without works, for that is not a supposable case; the drift of this place of scripture is plainly to show that an opinion, or speculation, or assent, without works, is not faith; but the case is put thus, If a man say he hath faith, etc. Men may boast of that to others, and be conceited of that in themselves, of which they are really destitute.
- We are taught that, as love or charity is an operative principle, so is faith, and that neither of them would otherwise be good for anything; and, by trying how it looks for a person to pretend he is very charitable who yet never does any works of charity, you may judge what sense there is in pretending to have faith without the proper and necessary fruits of it: “If a brother or a sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled, notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? Jas 2:15-17. What will such a charity as this, that consists in bare words, avail either you or the poor? Will you come before God with such empty shows of charity as these? You might as well pretend that your love and charity will stand the test without acts of mercy as think that a profession of faith will bear you out before God without works of piety and obedience. Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being along,” Jas 2:17. We are too apt to rest in a bare profession of faith, and to think that this will save us; it is a cheap and easy religion to say, “We believe the articles of the Christian faith;” but it is a great delusion to imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven. Those who argue thus wrong God and put a cheat upon their own souls; a mock-faith is as hateful as mock-charity, and both show a heart dead to all real godliness. You may as soon take pleasure in a dead body, void of soul, or sense, or action, as God take pleasure in a dead faith, where there are no works.
- We are taught to compare a faith boasting of itself without works and a faith evidenced by works, by looking on both together, to try how this comparison will work upon our minds. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works. Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works,Jas 2:18. Suppose a true believer thus pleading with a boasting hypocrite, “Thou makes a profession, and sayest thou hast faith; I make no such boasts but leave my works to speak for me. Now give any evidence of having the faith thou professes without works if thou canst, and I will soon let thee see how my works flow from faith and are the undoubted evidences of its existence.” This is the evidence by which the scriptures all along teach men to judge both of themselves and others. And this is the evidence according to which Christ will proceed at the day of judgment. The dead were judged according to their works,Rev 20:12. How will those be exposed then who boast of that which they cannot evidence, or who go about to evidence their faith by anything but works of piety and mercy!
- We are taught to look upon a faith of bare speculation and knowledge as the faith of devils: Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe, and tremble,Jas 2:19. That instance of faith which the apostle here chooses to mention is the first principle of all religion. “Thou believest that there is a God,against the atheists; and that there is but one God, against the idolaters; thou doest well: so far all is right. But to rest here, and take up a good opinion of thyself, or of thy state towards God, merely on account of thy believing in him, this will render thee miserable: The devils also believe, and tremble. If thou contentest thyself with a bare assent to articles of faith, and some speculations upon them, thus far the devils go. And as their faith and knowledge only serve to excite horror, so in a little time will thine.” The word tremble is commonly looked upon as denoting a good effect of faith; but here it may rather be taken as a bad effect, when applied to the faith of devils. They tremble, not out of reverence, but hatred and opposition to that one God on whom they believe. To rehearse that article of our creed, therefore, I believe in God the Father Almighty, will not distinguish us from devils at last, unless we now give up ourselves to God as the gospel directs, and love him, and delight ourselves in him, and serve him, which the devils do not, cannot do.
- We are taught that he who boasts of faith without works is to be looked upon at present as a foolish condemned person. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Jas 2:20. The words translated vain man– anthrōpe kene, are observed to have the same signification with the word Raca, which must never be used to private persons, or as an effect of anger (Mat 5:22), but may be used as here, to denote a just detestation of such a sort of men as are empty of good works, and yet boasters of their faith. And it plainly declares them fools and abjects in the sight of God. Faith without works is said to be dead, not only as void of all those operations which are the proofs of spiritual life, but as unavailable to eternal life: such believers as rest in a bare profession of faith are dead while they live.
- We are taught that a justifying faith cannot be without works, from two examples, Abraham and Rahab.
(1.) The first instance is that of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the prime example of justification, to whom the Jews had a special regard (Jas 2:21): Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Paul, on the other hand, says (in ch. 4 of the epistle to the Romans) that Abraham believed, and it was counted to him for righteousness. But these are well reconciled, by observing what is said in Heb. 11, which shows that the faith both of Abraham and Rahab was such as to produce those good works of which James speaks, and which are not to be separated from faith as justifying and saving. By what Abraham did, it appeared that he truly believed. Upon this footing, the words of God himself plainly put this matter. Gen 22:16, Gen 22:17, Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; therefore in blessing I will bless thee. Thus the faith of Abraham was a working faith (Jas 2:22), it wrought with his works, and by works was made perfect. And by this means you come to the true sense of that scripture which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, Jas 2:23. And thus he became the friend of God. Faith, producing such works, endeared him to the divine Being, and advanced him to very peculiar favours and intimacies with God. It is a great honour done to Abraham that he is called and counted the friend of God. You see then (Jas 2:24) how that by works a man is justified (comes into such a state of favour and friendship with God), and not by faith only; not by a bare opinion, or profession, or believing without obeying, but by having such a faith as is productive of good works. Now besides the explication of this passage and example, as thus illustrating and supporting the argument James is upon, many other useful lessons may be learned by us from what is here said concerning Abraham. [1.] Those who would have Abraham’s blessings must be careful to copy after his faith: to boast of being Abraham’s seed will not avail any, if they do not believe as he did. [2.] Those works which evidence true faith must to works of self-denial, and such as God himself commands (as Abraham’s offering up his son, his only son, was), and not such works as are pleasing to flesh and blood and may serve our interest, or are the mere fruits of our own imagination and devising. [3.] What we piously purpose and sincerely resolve to do for God is accepted as if actually performed. Thus Abraham is regarded as offering up his son, though he did not actually proceed to make a sacrifice of him. It was a done thing in the mind, and spirit, and resolution of Abraham, and God accepts it as if fully performed and accomplished. [4.] The actings of faith make it grow perfect, as the truth of faith makes it act. [5.] Such an acting faith will make others, as well as Abraham, friends of God. Thus Christ says to his disciples, I have called you friends, Joh 15:15. All transactions between God and the truly believing soul are easy, pleasant, and delightful. There is one will and one heart, and there is a mutual complacency. God rejoiceth over those who truly believe, to do them good; and they delight themselves in him.
(2.) The second example of faith’s justifying itself and us with and by works is Rahab: Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? Jas 2:25. The former instance was of one renowned for his faith all his life long, This is of one noted for sin, whose faith was meaner and of a much lower degree; so that the strongest faith will not do, nor the meanest be allowed to go without works. Some say that the word here rendered harlot was the proper name of Rahab. Others tell us that it signifies no more than a hostess, or one who keeps a public house, with whom therefore the spies lodged. But it is very probable that her character was infamous; and such an instance is mentioned to show that faith will save the worst, when evidenced by proper works; and it will not save the best without such works as God requires. This Rahab believed the report she had heard of God’s powerful presence with Israel; but that which proved her faith sincere was, that, to the hazard of her life, she received the messengers, and sent them out another way.Observe here, [1.] The wonderful power of faith in transforming and changing sinners. [2.] The regard which an operative faith meets with from God, to obtain his mercy and favour. [3.] Where great sins are pardoned, there must prefer the honour of God and the good of his people before the preservation of her own country. Her former acquaintance must be discarded, her former course of life entirely abandoned, and she must give signal proof and evidence of this before she can be in a justified state; and even after she is justified, yet her former character must be remembered; not so much to her dishonour as to glorify the rich grace and mercy of God. Though justified, she is called Rahab the harlot.
- And now, upon the whole matter, the apostle draws this conclusion, As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,Jas 2:26. These words are read differently; some reading them, As the body without the breath is dead, so is faith without works:and then they show that works are the companions of faith, as breathing is of life. Others read them, As the body without the soul is dead, so faith without works is dead also: and then they show that as the body has no action, nor beauty, but becomes a loathsome carcass, when the soul is gone, so a bare profession without works is useless, yea, loathsome and offensive. Let us then take head of running into extremes in this case. For, (1.) The best works, without faith, are dead; they want their root and principle. It is by faith that any thing we do is really good, as done with an eye to God, in obedience to him, and so as to aim principally at his acceptance. (2.) The most plausible profession of faith, without works, is dead: as the root is dead when it produces nothing green, nothing of fruit. Faith is the root, good works are the fruits, and we must see to it that we have both. We must not think that either, without the other, will justify and save us. This is the grace of God wherein we stand, and we should stand to it.
So friend, it is very clear from Scripture that faith and works go hand in hand, closely related, in eternal salvation.
Good works always accompanies a saving faith for the Lord. If you are waking up each day seeking to do Gods will instead of your own, good works will result. You are loving and serving others instead of pursuing selfish worldly interests.
God says that He will reward the one that is faithful to Him; and Scripture then goes on to clearly define what faithful means: it is one who actually does the Word of God, not the one who just hears the Word of God. Idle professions of faith are not pleasing to God.
God expects those who are saved to “work” in His vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), which is the kingdom of heaven. God does not condone nor tolerate “idleness”; idleness is condemned and those who bear no fruit will be cut off.
This isn’t to imply that you are being placed again under a great burden to “produce good works” continually or you lose your salvation. In fact, it is written: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Compared to working for sin as your master under Satan (which leads to death) or trying to fulfill yourself 100% of the requirements of the Mosaic Law (which no man can do), you are under the amazing grace by faith in Christ! Furthermore, Christ abiding in you will now give you the necessary wisdom, strength, power and perseverance to produce fruit (through good works) for Him. Friend, do you see how easy and light that is?
I am simply telling you what the Bible says in very clear words and commands. You cannot simply pick some verses while ignoring others; and yet this is exactly what many do, even many Christian pastors and teachers in positions of leadership.
We have discussed prior another perfect example of this selective picking and interpretation of verses: Mark 16:16, which says: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” People try to weasel word this verse, ignore it, twist its words or pretend it doesn’t say exactly what it says! You cannot pick some verses about salvation and ignore others. They must be viewed together in aggregate unity which comprise the necessary conditions for true salvation.
We are simply indicating that true saving faith (by the grace of God) is confirmed throughout your life as a Christian by continued good works, continued Christian attitudes and behavior, and by producing real fruit (through your good works) for the Lord. Quite simply, this is done by following Jesus command: love God and love others. If you love God, you will do what pleases Him. What pleases Him is that you love and serve others. How do you show love? You support, help, instruct, provide for, care for and serve others, as if they were yourself. You place other people’s needs first. This is what produces fruit.
We are also told to share the gospel far and wide, to the very ends of the earth; I don’t believe that there is any dispute over this “good work” that is commanded. This book is an attempt at doing just that. There is no ulterior motive, and hopefully it will be counted as a “good” work, but I won’t know until the great Day of Judgment when all works are tested as if by fire, to see if any of them stand as worthy of having been done. I want to hear: “welcome good and faithful servant” from the Lord on that day! I’d like to see some of my works survive as having produced fruit for the Lord.
Know that Scripture even states that Christ will condemn those who profess faith (only) and are found idle when He comes. Once again, the writings of Matthew Henry on this topic are very instructive. He writes on 2 Peter 3:14:
“That you be found of Christ without spot, and blameless. Follow after holiness as well as peace: and even spotless and perfect; we must not only take heed of all spots which are not the spots of God’s children (this only prevents our being found of men without spot), we must be pressing towards spotless purity, absolute perfection. Christians must be perfecting holiness, that they may be not only blameless before men, but also in the sight of God; and all this deserves and needs the greatest diligence; he who does this work negligently can never do it successfully. “Never expect to be found at that day of God in peace, if you are lazy and idle in this your day, in which we must finish the work that is given us to do. It is only the diligent Christian who will be the happy Christian in the day of the Lord. Our Lord will suddenly come to us, or shortly call us to him; and would you have him find you idle?” Remember there is a curse denounced against him who does the work of the Lord negligently, Marg. Jeremiah 48:10. Heaven will be a sufficient recompense for all our diligence and industry; therefore, let us labor and take pains in the work of the Lord; he will certainly reward us if we be diligent in the work he has allotted us; now, that you may be diligent, account the long-suffering of our Lord to be salvation.
Scripture is abundantly clear that the Lord notices what a man DOES, as much (and maybe I dare say even more so) what he says. A final great example of works being used to prove their profession of faith is the case of Nineveh, in the book of Jonah (Jonah 3). At the preaching of Jonah (when he finally went to Nineveh, after his 3-day detour in the belly of a fish), the city of Nineveh repented of their sinful ways.
The people of Nineveh turned to God and repented after the preaching of Jonah. However, it is important to note how Scripture says God viewed this situation. Notice what Scripture says:
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. – Jonah 3:10
It was their deeds that God notices as proof of their repentance, so He relented on the judgment that He had pronounced on them. God needed to see their profession of faith proved out by their actions. They proved their repentance was genuine and sincere by their works! This is a great example of how your profession of faith and repentance are to be backed up by works, which prove your sincerity of heart.
One last example, from the book of Revelation, it’s clear once again that Scripture states that God sees (and notices) your deeds:
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. – Revelation 3:1
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds….’ – Revelation 3:7-8
I feel it’s important to add a final note to this chapter. Many will claim that if you believe what I’m writing herein that no one can ever “be sure” about their salvation (or that a Christian will always live in doubt of their salvation); or, in other words, how do you know if you’ve “done enough good works” to be saved? I say nonsense.
You want to know how to be sure of your salvation? It’s so simple it apparently confounds the learned experts and Dr.’s of divinity and theology degrees. Here it is: accept Christ and then trust in Jesus Christ every single day of your life. How hard can it be to understand that!
You do this first when you accepted Christ and become born again. You then choose to do it each and every day of your life as you follow His teachings, His commandments and submit to His will. It’s just that simple. Are you doing that? Then you’re saved. And Christ will never forget you, leave you or forsake you, ever! And He will lift you up on the last day as it is written. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to understand this.
Some will be called to great works and others to more routine works – but all works done in obedience to Christ are good works, remember it is written: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).
Your works PROVE your faith is genuine, just as the giants of the faith which have come before you have also done – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Paul, etc. For if you do not act on your faith, your faith will neither justify nor save you to eternal salvation; it is what the Bible calls a “dead faith”. A “dead” faith cannot save you to eternal life.
Friend (speaking specifically to the “faith only” crowd here), it doesn’t matter what name you give or don’t give to the subject of this chapter, Scripture is very clear that one who professes faith in Christ proves that faith is genuine through works. Noah did. Abraham did. Moses did. Jesus did. And even God Almighty did.
Let me close with this verse, and then you make up your own mind on what Christ has commanded for those who call on His name in faith: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.”
False Teaching(s) You Will Encounter:
- Saying the “sinner’s prayer” “saves” you forever to eternal life, no matter how you live your life thereafter (i.e. even if you don’t repent and lead a changed life, nor are obedient to Christ, nor prove your faith through works, nor persevere in faith unto death)
- You are saved by “faith only”
- A Christian is “once saved always saved” no matter what they do or how they live the rest of their life
- Being “born-again” is the only required step one has to take for eternal life (i.e. obedience, works and perseverance are not required)
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” – Matthew 9:37-38
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 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. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. – James 2:14-26
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. – James 1:22
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. – Galatians 5:6
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. – Matthew 7:15-20
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” – John 15:1-9
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. – Hebrews 13:16
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. – Colossians 3:23-24
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. – Galatians 6:9
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. – James 4:17
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
When it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back,
And tomorrow I will give it,”
When you have it with you. – Proverbs 3:27-28
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23
So that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:17
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. – Matthew9:37
They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. – Titus 1:16
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. – Titus 2:11-14
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. –Hebrews 6:10
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. – Hebrews 10:24
This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. – Titus 3:8
Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. – Titus 2:6-8
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. – James 2:8
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 15:58
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:9-14
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. – Matthew9:37
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless. – 2 Peter 3:14
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. – Jonah 3
‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. – Revelation 2:19
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. – Hebrews 11:7
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” – Hebrews 11:17-18
I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws. – Genesis 26:4-5
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. – Revelation 3:1
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds….’ – Revelation 3:7-8