Have you ever been asked the question: “What must I do to be saved?”
So you pull out your handy dandy Bible and turn all of the highlighted pages to this one verse. You point your index finger and read:
“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” - Romans 10:9
“Oh great! That’s easy enough.”
Then you continue flipping through, and you happen to stumble on this one verse that kind of interrupts the narrative:
“Faith without works is dead.” - James 2:17
“Wait, I thought you said all I had to do was believe!”
So, someone sparks a fire in your heart by saying “Yes! Believe in the Lord Jesus and His resurrection, and your name will be written in The Book of Eternal Life”, and then someone else comes along and says, “Yes! But without the work - your faith is dead!
I think it’s important for us to practice understanding what the Bible is trying to tell us, without the constant urge to draw assumptions. I believe what James is NOT saying is - “faith is not enough”. He’s not saying that your faith, your undoubted belief in Jesus is not enough to claim yourself a Believer. What he’s saying, is that it simply does not make sense. It doesn’t make sense for someone to claim faith, but bear no fruit.
In other words, if you really believe that Jesus is Lord, and that the same power that resurrected Him from the grave is the same power that lives on the inside of you, it simply doesn’t make sense for you to not have the natural urge to take action in that belief.
If you fully read in Chapter 2, James explains it best when he gives the example saying “Imagine a person being hungry and naked”. Two physical needs that require attention. For one to pray saying “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled”, without clothing and feeding them - simply does not make sense. The faith to pray is not justified by the work to give. I mean, how many times a year do we get on our knees to pray, asking God to move in our lives, but we are unwilling to move ourselves? Unwilling to put feet on our request, and walk by faith. Even that phrase “walk by faith”. It suggest that Faith requires a movement. Action.
Even The Lord Jesus Himself said that “If anyone wants to be my disciple, they must first deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Me”(Matthew 16:24). To me, that sounds like there’s some work to be done. Denying yourself requires some action. Intentional resistance to things that could throw you off track. Picking up your cross requires some endurance skills, that don’t just come by sitting in a chair and waiting until Jesus returns. And following Jesus - well, let’s be honest, Jesus did a lot more than just attending Sunday service.
What is faith and what is work?
The Bible says;
“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Confidence - the state of being most certain.
Hope - the expectation and desire of a specific outcome.
Assurance - a positive declaration intended to produce confidence.
The Bible also declares that faith is without need of sight. Or any physical sense. Faith is a matter of the heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the people who have not seen Me, and yet still believe.” (John 20:29).
But, Faith can be many things to many people . . .
Kenneth E. Hagin Sr. once said that, “Faith begins where the will of God is known”.
Larry Huggins - “Faith is the confidence in the veracity of what God has said.”
Carrie Judd Montgomery - “You get faith by studying the Word. Study the Word until something in you “knows that you know” and that you don’t just hope that you know.”
All in all, I believe it’s important to understand that it’s faith, in Christ alone, that is the force behind the heart of every believer, that pushes them to live a life that reflects God’s light and the truth of His Word.
Now, concerning work. There’s no verse in the Bible, that I know of, that strategically outlines what work is, but if you intentionally read scripture, and understand the nature and character of God - you’ll understand what work is. Even logically, one can understand that the Bible itself, is a result of faith and works. The faith to Believe in the message of the Gospel, and the works to write it down resulted in what we now call "The Bible".
Therefore, works is the means by which faith becomes justified in action. And I’m not just talking about attending Sunday service, posting scriptures on Twitter, or even writing a blog. Let me show you a few examples from the Bible to help you better understand why the Believer’s faith and work go hand in hand.
In Mark Chapter 5 we discover a woman with a blood condition. She had been suffering with this condition for 12 years. But the Bible shows us how her faith and her works produced healing.
“If I can just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” - Mark 5:28
Somehow this woman, who had simply heard about Jesus, came to the conclusion by faith, that if she could simply touch Jesus’ clothes, the suffering she had endured for twelve years would suddenly disappear. What greater reflection of faith can we find?
“When she saw Jesus, she came up behind Him and touched His cloak” - Mark 5:27
Now Imagine if the Bible said that she had simply “saw Jesus and thought “if I can just touch Him, I’ll be healed”, but neglected to say that she actually did the work - pushed her way through the crowd and touched His cloak. Yes, by faith she was healed, but the work she carried out to display that faith was just as important to the outcome.
“For God so loved the world” - John 3:16
Again, a very familiar passage of scripture. It’s telling us that God loves us. That somehow He has the kind of divine insight to produce the kind of faith in humanity, that allows Him to overlook our bad, and still see the good in us - so much to say that He deeply loves us. But one of the most important aspects of this sentence is the word “so”. It suggest that there is a volume of love to be measured here. Measured how? By what?
“That He sent His only begotten Son” - John 3:16
I mean, could you imagine if it had just said “God loved the world.”? The half-emptiness of that statement would leave so many to not have any understanding of God’s character, or just how far He’ll go to prove it’s validity. Not only did God declare that He still loved a broken, sinful creation, but He was willing to do the work to prove it. Sending His Son, who spilled His blood, to gain redemption for those who believe, and to have the eternal hope of salvation.
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life.”
Let’s be honest, it takes a lot of faith to understand and believe this. That even while we were in opposition to God, He still paid the penalty for our sins. That one death covered every sin. For every person. Ever. But that was one event… that happened over 2,000 years ago. What about now?
“Being confident in this, that He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 1:6
In other words, Jesus’ death wasn’t just a one time event in history, that we believe happened by faith. That He didn't just die on the Cross for past sins, and leave it up to us to conquer present and future sins. But, that even now Christ is continuing to save! The work He started in us on the Cross did not end there. When God starts something, He completes it. The Apostle Paul is describing the process of the Believer’s spiritual growth, and boldly declares that development began when that person had faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and will continue until the day he returns.
I want to end with this: Understand that faith is not simply something you can acquire and own, like a common skill. And work alone is not what gains salvation for the believer. If faith was yours and belonged solely to you, then you could own it and boast in that. But it simply is not! Faith is GIVEN to those who seek God, so that no man can boast, and that when you do come to have faith, the Glory belongs to God, and God alone. And yes, faith without works is dead, but work without relationship is false. If one neglects the faith to believe, and the genuine fostering of a personal relationship with Jesus, every work they’ll do “in His Name” is false. Rather, it’s your genuine faith, that’s been given to you by God, that should be the force encouraging your work in telling others about Jesus, serving in the Church, reaching the homeless, and whatever else you feel led to do.
This is my prayer for all of God’s people, that He would give you faith strong enough to not fail in the face of temptation or adversity. And that your works, no matter what you intend to do, would bring Him the glory He so rightly deserves.
Please feel free to respond, ask questions, and provide more insight for those who read below.
Dylan Rucker | UI Executive Director